Dreaming Up An Answer

Kate Flora: Often, at bookstore and library events, I, and other writers are asked where we get out ideas. There are many answers–overheard conversations. Stories in the newspaper. Things that happened to us or people we know. Something we read or saw. A strange incident we passed on the street or observed happening in another car. Something we read in a book that made us wonder how it we be if we flipped that. I’ve never heard anyone say: It came from a dream. But that’s sometimes where story ideas, or characters, or plot twists come from.

I used to wonder if this happened with other writers. I’ll have hit a snag in my plot and after several hours of struggling to find the answer, I’ll give up and go to bed. Sometime during the night, I’ll suddenly wake up and know what I need to write. I used to have to jump out of bed and immediately go and write it down–behavior that my husband found unfriendly. These days, even though I can’t remember my grocery list or why I dashed into a room, I can usually hold a plot idea in my head until morning. Just last night I was immersed in So Dark The Nightthe new book I’m finishing, and suddenly I thought: a ring! The vision was so clear I could even see the ring.

This morning I am at my desk, wondering whether I do want to weave a ring through the plot, and it’s very exciting.

We’ve all heard the expression, “to sleep on it,” and for me, this seems particularly true. Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 2.55.39 PMSometimes it not just a plot point or some small detail I need to work out. Sometimes the story I’ve been writing during the day goes on in my sleep like I’m watching a movie. During the wonderful and intense four and half months when I was writing Playing GodI was so deeply into story that it never fully left me. I would drift off to sleep at night with the next scenes from the book beginning to play in my head, and in the half-asleep hour before I woke, I would already find myself composing those next scenes, hearing the dialogue, watching my characters begin the next bits of action in the book. I could put on my robe, stagger to the computer with my coffee, and the part of the story planned in my sleep would pour onto the page.

According to this article in the LA Times, I am not alone. Stephen King has incorporated his dreams into books and William Styron got the opening for Sophie’s Choice while sleeping. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-jul-18-mn-56942-story.html

E.B. White’s Stuart Little was reportedly inspired by a dream, as was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 2.57.09 PMAs Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22 told the Paris Review: “I was lying in bed in my four-room apartment on the West Side when suddenly this line came to me: ‘It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, Someone fell madly in love with him.’ I didn’t have the name Yossarian. The chaplain wasn’t necessarily an army chaplain—he could have been a prison chaplain. But as soon as the opening sentence was available, the book began to evolve clearly in my mind—even most of the particulars . . . the tone, the form, many of the characters, including some I eventually couldn’t use. All of this took place within an hour and a half. It got me so excited that I did what the cliché says you’re supposed to do: I jumped out of bed and paced the floor. That morning I went to my job at the advertising agency and wrote out the first chapter in longhand…. I don’t understand the process of imagination—though I know that I am very much at its mercy. I feel that these ideas are floating around in the air and they pick me to settle upon.”

More such stories can be found in this article from Paste Magazine: https://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2013/10/10-great-stories-inspired-by-dreams-and-visions.html

So, dear readers, do stories come to you in dreams? Are plot ideas winging at you on the street? In a coffee shop? While you’re driving? A few years ago, I suddenly had this vision of a weary and desperate young woman going into a coffee shop. She orders coffee, goes to the ladies room, and when she comes back, a strange man is sitting at her table. He tells her, “Smile, and pretend you’re glad to see me.” Their story became Wedding Bell Ruse.

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3 Responses to Dreaming Up An Answer

  1. kaitlynkathy says:

    When I was a kid, I used to go to sleep every night adding on to the continuing serial I wrote in my head. I was the main character, of course. As a grown up, that doesn’t work as well, but I do find I most often get ideas for solving plot problems when it’s hardest to get to pen and paper—in the shower, washing dishes, driving the car, and, of course, waking up out of a sound sleep. If I don’t write it down, all I remember by morning is that I had an idea. On the other hand, whatever I scribbled may not be legible in the AM either!

  2. Monica says:

    I recently emailed one of my writing buddies to say ‘this is where stories come from,’ and proceeded to tell her about an empty house on the street behind mine where the shades are always drawn. This week a car showed up. Lights blaze all night behind closed blinds and whoever is in there did not even come out to shovel off the snow. The windows are covered all day even with this blazing sunshine we’re having. Hmmm.

    Otherwise, yes, whole scenes play in my head while I try to sleep but I cannot recall what they were in the morning.

  3. The older I get, the more vivid and memorable my dreams become. Some would make great fodder for sci-fi/fantasy/horror stories.

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