Some of the best, most original stories I am working on as a writer came from something I dreamed. I call these “story dreams.” For instance: this morning I dreamt of a story about a woman, some kind of shapeshifter, who has a baby who is like a totally new species or hybrid; with human baby proportions, but with kitten fur and face and chocolate eyes. There was a guy who was not the father but the kitten thought he was; he was some kind of criminal, but meeting the shifter and her baby changed all that. But the main thing I dreamt of this morning was myself planning this story. I was at a big loose gathering of people, wandering around with some friends/acquaintances. There were two people, a guy and a girl that picked on me in gradeschool, who suddenly came up to me and were asking after me and my writing, excited about this new story. And another guy, reading my mail for me, announced that a major movie company had loved my story idea, and was giving me the go to make a mini-series. He also said that they’d decided most of the money profited from it would go to me!
I just felt this admiration from my old “enemies” and the support of the company was a really good sign.
I had a friend who described a dream she had that to me was clearly a story; she interpreted it as a bad thing as it was so violent and sad. But I always feel the stories are outside of me, that I’m watching a movie or I’m playacting as a character (sometimes I remember who I am and am just acting, doing what I know they would do; other times I’m within the character’s pov as they go through the events acting naturally). I often know background information or parts of the plot that I haven’t witnessed yet. It’s like when you’re flipping channels and find a movie: you missed the beginning credits but you say “Oh yeah, I remember, this is the one where the guy is a thing and so-and-so does this, that and the other”. Only then I wake up and realize nobody’s made that movie yet (and I better get cracking on it before somebody else picks up on that wavelength).
In my writing I feel like these characters do exist somewhere in another, semi-parallel universe. I feel they are subconsciously reaching out, wanting their story told, wanting to be seen and share their experiences. So writers, in this world and any other, have some kind of mental antenna for picking up these signals. It’s like tuning a radio, though: you never get it to sound like real live music. So the skill in writing is in two parts: extending your antenna to better receive more and more story signals; and learning how to do story structure, pacing, verbal style, how to express who a character is without info dumping too much or leaving too many unexplained blanks for the reader to fill in. In other words, how to translate the raw intuition of a world, characters, and events into something that clearly and entertainingly communicates your vision. And you also have to remember: these are parallel universes: you can change a story even after you’ve written that first draft and still stay true to the essence of the story, because parallel worlds are all slightly different. Respect and honor your characters, they are not your puppets, but don’t sacrifice the quality of the book for the sake of “accuracy” to their original lives.
Back to skill number one, though: working on that antenna! If you want to write (or this goes for artists too!): take notes, notes, notes. Keep a small notepad (or note cards) in your pocket or purse at all times, a notebook in your car (great for hanging out at the coffee shop and brainstorming), take them with you when you travel, have one in every room of your house, and above all, have pen and paper within arm’s reach of your bed (along with a lamp). If you wake up in the wee hours from a strange dream, or even an ordinary one, whether scary or happy, write it down! Not in the morning, NOW. The more you do this the more you will remember your dreams, and the more plot details you will save from your story dreams.
I get story, characters and scenes, as well as moving and surreal visuals. These stories I see are the most original, the most fresh, the most pure. (I also recommend do NOT watch TV or read novels before bed or watch several episodes from one series in a row over several consecutive days; you tend to dream about the show, which is not good for your daily life much less your writing.) Your sleeping mind is sometimes influenced by your daily life, but it’s not as distracted as you are when you’re awake and immediately surrounded by bombarding information. Within the quiet of your resting mind, you process what you know, you draw information from the Universe and the Collective Unconscious, your mind is open ideas that might not occur to you while awake.
If nothing else, story dreams can be a jumping off point, or simply a refreshing exercise before you go back to that grand novel you’ve been working on half your life. Even if you’re not a writer, your dreams are not figments to be brushed off. They are the deeper workings of your mind, paraded out across a stage for you to observe first hand. And when it comes right down to it, only you can interpret them (though archetypes may be similar, everyone’s internal symbols are different). Think about how a symbol, person, or situation in a dream feels before you try to translate your dreams out of a book. And trust the Sandman: put away your dreamcatchers (or put them outside your bedroom, for display), and let him show you what he will. The night is your friend, and the Dreamworld is not to be feared, but to be utilized and explored.