Friday, January 6, 2012

In dreams begin stories...

Okay, raise your hand if you've ever gotten a story idea from a dream?

So, you know the elation you feel when you first wake up with that golden nugget sparkling inside your brain. Maybe you grab for the notebook and jot the whole thing down, bleary-eyed.

This happens to me, like a lot. And then the next part happens:

I wake up properly, and as the threads of story leave my brain and I try to decipher my scribbles, I find gaping holes in the story logic that my sleeping brain found perfectly acceptable. Or things that seemed really cool but are in fact ridiculous. Here's an example from last night's dream:


I'm a nurse at an unauthorized research facility that has snatched young girls, harvested their eggs and is performing experiments with embryos. At some point, the facility is found out and the administrators run so fast they leave the girls behind, chained to their hospital beds. As a few of us nurses free the girls before running off ourselves, I stop at one girl's bed, a 12 year old, and as I unlock her, I covertly slip her the fruits of two of her eggs -- two embryos held in stasis. One is a control, which if implanted would mature into a normal baby, and one altered embryo. No one knows exactly what it will become.

Kind of a cool premise for a story about the girl, perhaps a few years in the future when she considers implanting the embryo(s?). But what I, the nurse, slipped the girl was, in fact, two BLUEBERRIES.


Blueberries, yes. The embryos were stored inside blueberries. Are you done laughing yet? It seemed perfectly reasonable in the dream.

I like the overall idea, but the feasibility of handing a girl some transportable embryos is a roadblock that will probably make me abandon the story. And here's the thing: My whole idea-making factory (my brain) is suspect, since I must have thought the blueberries were just as cool as the rest of the show. My whole dream -- or any waking idea for that matter -- is suspect.

So I have a two-part question:

How do you go about vetting your ideas for stories, deciding which are workable,


how do you move them from mere ideas to fleshed out stories?

Big questions, I know. But I'm going to join some old conference buddies this month in a little writing boot camp, and I need to turn some cool ideas into short stories, so I could use some fresh tips.

Feel free to provide examples of weird dreams that became kickin' stories. :)


  1. Actually, that is a super cool premise. Although it sort of feels like an awesome backstory for the real story between the two siblings later in life. As for the feasibility of giving someone two embryos in stasis, make it slightly futuristic and have them stored in a self powered cryogenic container.

    I've had some great ideas come during dreams and I always write them down. Then I usually mull over them until I either decide they aren't writable or until I get a breakthrough on how I can make the plot work. Since most of my dreams are nightmares (unfortunately), they often get transformed into short horror stories. I'm working on a couple of those now =)

  2. Thanks for making me laugh, Amber! And where are you going to camp? Sounds WONDERFUL! I'm so glad you're taking some time for your writing.

    And write that blueberry book. I'd read it.

    How do I know if an idea is a good one? I can't tell if my own ideas are good or not, but I like to try them out on other people. Do their eyes light up? Do they want to know more? Then it is a good idea.

    Good ideas are only one slice of what makes a great story. But a good idea can be a great selling point.

  3. Whoa! What a mind-blowing story you've got going. It reminds of The Island! *gasp*

    I decide what is workable if I can see eternity widen and excitement feed my blood.

    GO. FOR. IT!

  4. I know I mentioned once before how my friend, Walter Jon Williams, kept waking up and forgetting his dreams, even though he remembered they were super amazing and would make award winning stories. He kept a writing pad by his bed and finally, one night, woke up, wrote a mind blowing dream down at once, and went back to sleep. When he woke up in the morning, he grabbed the paper, eager to see what he'd written and it was: "UFOs are actually made of bread."

    I confess I don't get much inspiration from dreams, which usually are so abstract for me that they make no sense, but daydreams - if some concept captivates me long enough to live there mentally during the day, and I can hear my characters start to talk, that's when I get ideas I use. The older I get, the more convinced I am that the idea doesn't actually have to be all that novel. It's your love of the idea, or lack thereof, that determines how compelling the final piece is.

  5. Weird as it sounds, I pray for dreams. All of my manuscripts came from dreams, or at least the first idea came from them. The thing is, I don't get a whole story from the dream (wouldn't that be nice). Usually I just get a premise, or at times a vivid image that sticks in my mind like a new appendage until I storify it.

    I know the idea is a good one when it latches onto my brain and won't let go. The funny thing is, very little of the original dream is left when the book is written and revised, but the nugget that first made me take notice and say, "What if?" is still there.

    And I agree, write the story. It sounds like a keeper. :)

  6. I agree that it really is the author's excitement for the idea that makes a story compelling! That's comforting since every idea has been done before.

    @Rebecca, it's an online boot camp, but it's been good for me already. Apparently I'm one of those people that needs a deadline (or the threat of real people reading?) to do my best work. Pathetic. :)

  7. That is hilarious! If you say it's in the future, then you just pretend there is some kind of technology then making it possible to store embryos inside blueberries. Or, the blueberries aren't real. They're mini, cryogenic chambers and look exactly like blueberries.

  8. Hey, I'm already in line to read your story! I think it's an incredible premise, and I think it's perfectly reasonable to simply add in some kind of futuristic technology that can hold the embryos in transportable form.

    I have dreams so vivid and dramatic that my brother is convinced that I am somehow channeling the lives of other people from other times. The problem is, the most vivid ones have a LOT of holes in them and I'm left thinking, "Wha-?" when I wake up.

    Sometime last year I had a dream that was just a sweet and wonderful love story with the most delightful characters and they are now currently one of my WIPs. One of those unlikely romance-type things.

    I think dreams are a great source for stories, because they're often loaded with emotion- whether excitement, passion, urgency, or even fear.


What be on yer mind?