We all have them, dreams that haunt us, suggest things, and change the way we see the real world. My mentor in graduate school suggested that reading about people's dreams is a waste of time. Dreams are very personal and the interconnections often don't translate into good prose (maybe good poetry, but not strong prose). Unless a skilled writer is handling the concept of dreams, I still feel that they are difficult to handle in novels and short stories.
However, dreams have been pivotal in some of my writing. I believe that dreams and subconscious shouldn't be in the prose, but they should be a motive in the mind of the writer. For example, I had a dream about being held captive by stranger in some future time. I didn't know my captures or why I was a captive. When people tried to free me, I said - why do I want to be free and what did I do to be a captive? It took a year and some thinking. The dream was so bizarre and hard to translate. However, the core concept was intriguing to me. If you didn't know the crime you committed - how would you realize the ramifications of your punishment? It turned into a full 250 page novel based on a man who doesn't remember the murder he commits - only to become a slave to someone who is also imprisoned by having to keep a mindless slave. In the end, the concept had to be translated into something that worked in the frame of a novel, a short story, or prose. Dreams alone are too personal, too interconnected into your own life, and the subtleties.
In my dreams, places are mixed like hybrids of my life. My backyard might look like two or three backyards put together. And (strange to admit this) the sun is never out in my head. That is a creepy thought. My dreams are always overcast, dim, inside, or artificially illuminated. It makes sense that I am in my head. There isn't a direct light source in my cranium. That would explain why sunny days are so bright and complex to me. Anyway - these things are very difficult to explain in prose. They are funny to talk about here, but it is not something that translates into storytelling and narrative style.
Every year I have a major dream that changes the way I consider the world. Perhaps we all have them. I often write from ideas, concepts, and patterns. Ray Bradbury said, "My stories run up and bite me in the leg -- I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off." Perhaps that is what dreams are for me - the bite, the raw idea forming in my mind. It takes time to develop the idea into a narrative frame to explain it. Perhaps that is the process I should be considering.
Recently, I had one of those life changing dreams and that morning I wrote it down. It was very important to write it down. It wasn't a story, a novel chapter, or a poem. It was a dispatch - eye witness account of my soul. Once I got all the details lined up and documented - I fell apart. Over the last week, I've been searching for the root of the very emotional and vivid dream. Once the root is tapped into the creative water table, it all begins to grow into plot, characters, point-of-view, and theme. That is when I know that my prose is grounded in something close to truth.
* Share your opinions about dreams in fiction and ideas in your writing. I would love to hear about your experiences, books you've read, and other ideas.