Monday, July 9, 2012

Using your dreams in writing fiction

Dreams often provide great inspiration for those capable of remembering them. But dreams come in different ways for everyone. There is no standard mode by which a dream is constructed, remembered or even understood, despite what the dream interpretation books babble on about. Why that is, is simply because we've all got unique wiring in our brains despite the overall structure being largely the same. What neurons fire and connect and what they mean to us when it comes to dreaming varies from person to person and even day to day for a single individual. Or, night to night, I should say.

New memories are worked through, information recently touched upon is retouched, old information is connected to new and the brilliant patterns worn into our minds from over thinking are retraced again and again. Whatever it is that's happening in dreams there's also a certain amount of chaos to the process, whereby neurons fire at random and a background 'white noise' is formed. This ensures that even if you are having the same old repetitive dream again you can still consciously or unconsciously (depending on your self awareness and control while asleep) change the dream as it is happening.

In fiction there are several ways dreams are involved. They provide us the initial spark of inspiration and with a bit of rejigging they shine as original and unique pieces. They offer ways of solving writing problems. They are also often part of the character's own experiences which are written about directly, particularly when there is a call for any type of extended unconsciousness, an omen, a vision, an out of body experience or just plain sleep.

Using dream sequences in writing or drawing on your dreams for inspiration often produces something much more free form in structure than can ever be produced through creating dream sequences or unpredictable stories without a dream influence. It is much like telling an adult to draw like a child and then comparing the results to the scribblings of an actual child. The difference is very much apparent, especially so when the writer tries to construct a dream with a meaning or an omen in it. The more thought and structure applied to the dream sequence the less believable it is and the tackier it reads.

The solution to this problem can be reached easily enough as most of a writer's worlds are created through day dreaming, a process rather close to actual dreaming. Have you ever noticed that when you delve into your fantasy world with great intensity and focus you end up dreaming about it, the characters the events? This happens almost any time someone gets too caught up in or inundated with a chunk of information (as the brain sees it). It could be a show you've watched marathon style, a great series of three or more books that's kept you up at night, a textbook you're actively trying to memories for an exam. Anything can become fodder for a dream. So if you want to dream on your work and problem solve something really focus on it, delve into that world, without any definite break throughout a day, possibly two, and see what happens. You'll likely end up dreaming up an answer or discovering new ways to twist the plot.

That's a writer manipulating the dream in order to get the answer. But mostly the dream comes first and is fodder for writing. When creating our characters through day dreaming we often shut off much of the logical mind and let ourselves wander about freely within a world we're beginning to construct. It doesn't matter what the first spark of inspiration was because that first spark is just like the first pencil scratchings on a blank piece of paper that will become an oil painting. Where you start doesn't matter so much as what you make of it and how you fill in all the details. Day dreaming helps us do that freely as structure and forced topics, issues, themes and memes are discarded until thoughts on sales and how your work will be received come into play.

Best of all though are dreams where we are mostly or completely unconscious as the world and its structure, predictability and expectations are cast away for the mind's more chaotic and unpredictable interpretation.

A dream can come along and provide the initial inspiration or it can be experienced during the initial stages of intense construction. This dream is often useful in building a free form piece and adding that spark of individuality and unique perspective often demanded of a writer, particularly one of fiction.

Even so, the hardest thing to do is to write or have a dream for the character. Even if you're incapable of remembering your own dreams I wouldn't suggest trying to structure one with too much meaning or reference to the character's day activities. Even when a person focuses intensely on a subject it is rare for the dream to be structured anything like the original subject simply because of that white noise going on in the brain, not to mention all the other thoughts and experiences being touched on. So writing a dream with too much reference and structure that reflects the day activities of a character can in fact destroy the credibility of the story.

Instead, it might be best to ask about and see what types of dreams people are having and note the different styles. From there focus on a style and draw on the chaos sometimes achieved through day dreaming to write a dream. Brotherhood issues can become pack issues can become shape shifters fighting and aligning. Paths can become lights can become stars can become the moon reflected on a field of white flowers. The character can become other than themselves, switch identities and change roles at will with their understanding and sympathies. There never has to be a too-realistic dream sequence because all you need to do is insert more chaos and take the associations and symbolism one or two steps further than normal. Also, always, always change the setting somehow. Maybe entirely.

The easiest way to write a character's dream sequence is by using a dream you as the writer had, with only one or two alterations. There are likely many dreams you've had that can be inserted into a work as the character's dream. If your character is similar to part of your own personality, which is often the case no matter which character simply by you having written it, you may find many of your dreams can be used as they're dreams. Or sections of several dreams can be mashed together to make a free form dream for the character. If such is the case don't hesitate in revealing some of your unconscious mind, no matter how gory or twisted, because there is a great deal of authenticity created through having not only a believably chaotic imaginary sequence but by the character remaining true to him or herself when dreaming.

No matter your choice, write down your dreams whenever you can or ask those about you what there's are like. Are they black and white, filled with colour, silent or booming with noise, vivid or faded, psychedelic or logical, focused on small predicable daily issues or full stories with enormous plots? What fits your character or world the best?

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