Reader Request Week 2017 #5: Remembering Dreams
Fabrizio Toso asks:
Do you remember what you dream? If yes, has anything from your dreams found its way in your books?
I do remember a lot of what I dream, yes. Not all of it — some of it slips past me in the morning — but certainly enough of my dreams that I have a memory bank filled with them. I suspect this is also because I’m generally a lucid dreamer, which means I almost always know when I’m dreaming. Being a lucid dreamer has a number of advantages (for example, I’ve never really had a nightmare, because I’ll just wake myself up if the dream becomes too unpleasant), and one of them, I think, is that because some part of my brain is always observing in the dream, it remembers to remember most of the interesting dreams.
That said, I can’t think of anything I’ve dreamt that’s ended up in a novel, or a dream being an inspiration for something I’ve written in one of my stories. My dreams, frankly, aren’t particularly well-plotted, and even in individual moments they’re often disjointed and nonsensical. Even the ones that have a throughline aren’t the stuff of great literature. For example, the other night I dreamed I was skydiving in Australia, and then suddenly I was on the ground, walking around, and since I didn’t remember landing I was worried I was dead, so I went into a donut shop to order a donut, on the idea that if the person at the register could see me, I was clearly alive (she could see me; I ordered a donut; I only had American and Canadian money on me so couldn’t buy it). As a dream, mildly interesting; as something that should make its way into a story of mine, not so much.
(Honestly, most dreams are pretty boring, including mine, when they’re described to other people. The ones most people want to share are of the “I was in some place! And then something surreal happened!” variety, which I’m okay hearing as long as one is relatively quick about it. I’ll listen to nightmare stories also, because I don’t have them and I’m sympathetic to people who have had a good night’s sleep ruined by them. But generally, meh. Dreams, like one’s children’s school achievements, exist in the “more interesting to you than to anyone else” category. Please share, if you must, briefly.)
In terms of plotting, or of vivid imagery, that’s relevant to my books, my most productive time in bed is not dream time, but that period of time either just before I go to sleep, or just after I wake up. That’s when the connections in my brain are kind of whipping around wildly, and I’ll get interesting ideas out of the blue or something close to visions that are applicable to things I’m writing. I’m not asleep and it’s not dreaming, but I’m not always precisely awake, either (it’s also the time where my brain creates amazing melodies for songs, and if I will myself more awake, I can never remember them precisely. I write fantastic songs, people, in those liminal minutes. You’ll never hear them, alas).
Another thing my brain will do for me storywise while I sleep is work on plot points — if, just before I go to sleep, I say to my brain, “okay, while I’m sleeping I need you to think about [plot point in question],” my brain will do so as I snooze. I don’t have to say it out loud (although sometimes I do), but I do have to specifically tell my brain to work on it while I sleep. And you know what? If I ask it to, there’s a better than even chance that when I wake up, I have some new options for that plot point. They won’t always be good options, but they’ll still me more (and different) than the ones my conscious brain would have provided. I’m not sure if anyone else does this sort of subconscious problem-solving, but it’s worked for me for a while.
I’ll note that just because I don’t use dreams for story ideas/plotting/etc doesn’t mean other people can’t or don’t, or that I don’t doubt people who say ideas come to them in dreams. If they do, good for them! I’m glad it works that way for them. It doesn’t work that way for me. I tend to think of my dreams more as my brain sorting things that happened during the day, or just playing around when it doesn’t have my conscious self at the wheel.
And I’m fine with this; I like my dreams, by and large. They can do whatever they like. If I’m unhappy with ’em, well. I’ll wake up.
(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week. Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)