Dreams and Ideas

Rabbit - psychicIn an essay he wrote about where his ideas come from, Neil Gaiman made a comment about dreams:  “(People) want to know if I get ideas from my dreams. Answer: no. Dream logic isn’t story logic.”

Part of me agrees with him.  Certainly if you were to directly transcribe a dream it would mostly be an illogical, meandering mess.  The story would lack true focus or a strong enough plot.

But then another part of me knows that many novels, such as Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’, have been inspired by dreams.  And I can understand why.  Dreams are like the melting pot of all that’s important to us.  They’re a soup simmered from our subconscious.  A boiling down of the things that both inspire us and concern us: our deepest desires and darkest fears.  We’re often told to write about the things that are important to us, and I believe that if you feel compelled to write a story that has come from a dream, then that is exactly what you’re doing.

Often on waking I have a very clear image in the front of my mind that I have to draw.  Some of my favourite characters have come to me this way over the years.  I’ve also had two novel ideas that have been sparked by dreams.  However, I am aware that my dreams are slightly different to the usual.  While I do have random ones, which are just a mess from my subconscious, I also have dreams that are more (dare I say it) story driven.  They have a definite beginning, middle and end, even clear themes that run through them.  These dreams also tend to have a kind of internal consistency, and are incredibly vivid in detail.  In them I’m rarely myself.  I’ve been an old woman, a young boy, both black and white, from different cultures, even occasionally an animal.

But while I’ve had hundreds of these dreams over the years, only two have ever captured me enough to become novel ideas.  Both of these dreams were like a single scene from a story, and on waking, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone.  The writing side of my brain is so hard wired nowadays I’m no longer sure what I actually dreamed and what my mind created.  Often without realising it, my mind starts to fill in the missing details.  I immediately start asking myself questions about the events and characters, letting the story stew in my mind: become richer, thicker.

When I was younger, my brother often accused me of lying when I retold an event, but really I suppose I’ve always had a storytellers mind: filling in missing details to create a more captivating story.  At least, that’s my excuse.


7 Responses to “Dreams and Ideas”

  1. 1 Sheryl Gwyther March 22, 2009 at 9:28 am

    There are so many unsolved mysteries associated with the human mind, Kath. Who knows what the brain is capable of doing? I say, go with the flow! At least you’ve trained yourself to remember those dreams with potential. It happened once for me – where I could actually use the theme for a story – in ‘McAlpine & Macbeth’.
    I’m finding it harder to remember dreams now, even though they’ve been filled with ‘adventures on the high seas’ and other places. Sigh!!!

  2. 2 Katherine Battersby March 22, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I’ve been dream journaling since I was at school, which does really help with dream memories. I do it because I like tracking the themes that crop up in my dreams and comparing how they relate to what I’m experiencing in life. The human mind is certainly a fascinating thing!

  3. 3 chrisbongers March 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    My dreams are a dumpster that no one in their right mind would want to trawl through… That said, I still wake to eureka moments (unrelated to my dreams) where solutions to problems reveal themselves. The subconscious never sleeps, but it can be sly about when, and if, it chooses to respond to a writer’s need.

  4. 4 Katherine Battersby March 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Chris, I too often find on waking that problems have been solved (as I know many writers do). I also find the same thing happens when the body and ‘automatic’ brain is engaged (such as doing every day things like food shopping, showering, going for a walk etc), as I suppose it allows the subconscious room to mull over things.

  5. 5 Scrib March 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Hey Kath,

    You must have been reading my mind… I have been having crazy dreams at the moment… must be the hormones – High School Musical Extravaganzas where the school mascot is a large (ie the size of a small car) white styrofoam block (and everyone cheers… Goooooo white block) and I spent the rest of the dream trying to convince my new school, that they could come up with a better mascot then that! (then there was the dream when my daughter hooked up with Hamish one christmas, Miki and I were remarkably calm, and I worried more about Hamish then my child)…

    But those are the pregnancy dreams – I have had others, though usually will have no dreams for ages and then have a spate of them. They are fun though, and I must say flying is awesome and I am much more athletic and flexible in my dreams then in real life.

  6. 6 Madeline Stephenson March 25, 2009 at 9:05 am

    I had a fantastic dream that I wanted to use for the premise of a novel, but I didn’t write it down in time. I still think about it and wrack my brain trying to think exactly what it was. *sigh* Maybe it will turn out to be a recurring dream.

    I am intrigued by the idea of a dream journal.

  7. 7 Katherine Battersby March 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Oh Sybil, pregnancy dreams! How funny. Maybe the Hamish one wasn’t a dream, but a prophesy? I fly in my dreams too – it’s still the best feeling in the world.

    Mady, there’s nothing more frustrating than a dream slipping away. Dream journaling has stopped this happening for me – which is one reason why many people do it. Writing your dreams down on waking trains your mind to hold onto them for longer, and to retain more details. If I dream in the middle of the night and want to remember it, I make myself retell it in my head, so in the morning it’s still very vivid.

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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