This whole thing of finding ideas for our stories can be a challenge. There are ideas everywhere, of course, but which ones will have staying power? Which ones will hook into our hearts in a way that we’ll have the energy to finish that story we started with such eagerness. In my next few blogs I’ll share some things that work for me.
Number one thing (for me) is the idea HAS to be a sound from my heart, like the title of this blog. That is, it has to tie in emotionally for me in some strong way. That’s why I like to pay attention to my dreams. Yes, I mean my real dreams, the ones that come in the night as I’m sleeping.
But how to do that? And how does it help? Lots of folks say they can’t remember their dreams, and others don’t want to. What I’ve found is that I CAN remember at least some of my dreams, with a simple prompt which I’ll share in a moment. And I’ve also found, if I write down, “journal” my dreams right away in the morning, I often find a spark of a story in that seemingly jumbled dream made of of lots of images from my previous day.
Here’s how it works: I tell myself, just before I fall asleep, “Tonight I’m going to remember my dreams.” Then I go to sleep. As soon as I wake in the morning, before getting out of bed, I think, “What did I dream?” After a night or two of doing this, I begin to remember at least tattered shreds of my dreams, and I write these down right away in my journal. Oftentimes, even writing them down, little “Aha!” moments come to me, and I’ll see a meaning I didn’t before–something I’m struggling with clarifies, or an insight I didn’t have before comes to me. Some of these help me in my life, some of them come into my stories. I think I’ve shared before in another blog, that the ideas that work for me in creating story are almost always two ideas coming together, creating a spark that runs right up the back of my neck, sometimes giving me a literal chill. Oftentimes one of the ideas will be something that is troubling me, or that I’m struggling with, and that is the piece that often surfaces as I’m writing down my dream. When that piece comes together with another idea–could be a story I’m working on, or something one of my grandkids does, or something I read about in the paper–ZING! I’ll feel that little tingle up my neck, and I know I’ve got an idea that’s got staying power.
Example: An actual dream I had a while back. I was climbing a grassy hill, trying to get to a little stone house at the top. Behind me was a roar, and I realized a monster was heading up the hill behind me. I ran, trying to reach the top of the hill, the little stone house, and safety. But you know how it is, running in a dream–slow going. The monster was gaining, though I was running as fast as I could. I made it though, to the stone cottage, out of breath, the monster hot on my heels, and I turned the door knob, struggling to open the door.
It was locked.
The Monster was upon me, and I couldn’t get into that house, that place of safety.
I stood there, hopeless, helpless, waiting to be destroyed by this huge furry monster that was breathing over my shoulder. Then, looking like one of the monsters in Maurice Sendak’s book, this giant being reached around me, unlocked the door, and gently let me in.
I wrote down the dream, knowing even as I wrote it, the clear meaning: The very thing I fear the most will be the thing that lets me into the place where I most want to be.
What a profound truth. I’ve thought about this dream many times, in my own life, and in the life of my characters in my stories. At the time, in the book I was working on, SAFE AT HOME my main character Tony had to face the scary monster of his Mom’s alcoholism. He spent a good part of the book determined not to look back over his shoulder and see that monster. But eventually he got brave enough and looked.
In the book I’m working on now, TWO MOON JOURNEY, Simu-quah has to face her own anger at the Red-Bearded Soldier who has been so cruel to her father. She avoids that for a long time, but of course in the climax chapter, she has to come face to face with her own anger and decide what to do about it. In this case Forgiveness opens the door and lets her into that place where she needs to go.
I’ve journaled lots of dreams over the years–and insights from those dreams have powered my stories in all kinds of ways, from specfic images or characters, to plot events, to sharp awareness of story theme.
Starting tonight, I challenge you to dream along with me, and write it all down in the morning.
Who knows what doors you’ll unlock?