a question for fiction writers

I've always had vivid, often memorable dreams. Sometimes, when I try to recall a memory of a place, I'll pull up something about a dream that took place there and have to remind myself that it was my brain, not my true experience, that conjured that aspect of the place.

I don't mean plots of dreams stick with me (sometimes they do, but not often. Usually when I write down a plot of a dream it makes sense for a while but when I read it as soon as a few weeks later I'll think WTF? Huh? ) it's more sensations or bits of them that stick as strongly as true memory. I can recall the feel of flying almost as clearly as I can remember what it's like to stand with my feet sinking into sand when the edge of waves wash over them. 

Anyway, I wonder if this is part of the brain of a fiction writer? I'd look this up, but I'm lazy. Not enough sleep. Too many dreams.


  1. I think it's everyone who dreams, actually, not just fiction writers. I have houses and amusement parks and whole towns and even planets that my dream-brain invented and revisits from time to time. When I wake up from one of those, it takes forever for me to remember those places don't exist in the real world.

  2. I sometimes dream that I'm reading a book, which is sort of like writing because I'm making it up. But did you ever hear Jacqueline Michard describe how she got the idea for Deep End of the Ocean, the first Oprah book? She lived near us in Wisconsin, so I heard her tell this story many times. She said it came to her as a fully formed, narrative dream. She wrote it all down and then spent three weeks at a writer camp and wrote the outline of the novel. If you've read the book, you'll realize why it had to have come from a dream, because you'll go "huh?".

  3. yah, but Beth, you're a fiction writer, just not a practicing one. (You do beautifully with non-fiction too)

  4. and Kathy, I'd never felt the urge to read that book and now I do.

  5. Yes, I have very vivid dreams. When I was sick I had dreams so real I spent half the day trying to get over what had happened in them. In order to remember the good, useful parts, I try to write down what had happened in my sleep as soon as I get out of bed.

    Great short story plots, one whole novel ms. came from dreams.

  6. Vivid doesn't even cut it. My ability to gender-switch in dreams is particularly helpful when writing.Yes, the sense memory of dreams is extraordinarily helpful in writing. The convoluted plots less-so. :)

    But last night, I had such a cool plotted dream I also dreamed I was writing it as I was in it and as I woke up I was eager to send it to a crit partner. I couldn't shake the feeling of needing to email her even after I realized there was no real story to send. Damn.

    Question for you: do you wake up exhausted from those vivid dreams?

    I wonder if writers do more dreaming as not themselves than non-writers.

  7. I was Hitler in a dream not so long ago.

    It makes sense that if you spend a lot of time massaging the story-inventing part of the brain during the day, it's going to be more active at night too. Makes sense doesn't mean I believe this is fact. Not without real Studies And Whatnot.

    And just to add to the mix, the three scientists I've asked only rarely have vivid dreams. Mike rarely even remembers his dreams.

    Fine okay, I still haven't looked up the topic so I don't know if it's burrsheep yet.

  8. too bad we can't film these dreams, especially yours, K.A.

  9. I usually don't remember the bulk of my dreams, but I think it's because of the way I store memories. I have a phenomenal conscious memory (my husband calls it 'eerie'), because I can remember so much specific detail no matter what it's about. For example, when someone is trying to remember a situation, I can usually quote exact dialogue that was said, and in my mind I start seeing the room, and can describe details. I start recalling the sounds that were going on around me, the texture of what I was wearing or touching, smells that were in the air...well, you get the picture. For dreams, on the other hand, I don't have all that sensory input. I don't know why, but my full-color dreams are usually just a majority of sight and sound that is mostly dialogue. I don't know if my brain is giving itself a rest by only dreaming in this kind of two-dimensional seeming way, but it seems like I need the whole sensory experience to make my memory work. I would love to dream a book. Plotting is probably my favorite part about being a writer, and being able to see the plot of the book before I write it would make me want to keep sleeping. :)

    Good post, Kate! Thanks!


  10. Anyone can have vivid dreams. The fiction writer is probably more likely to actually do something with the dream like integrate some aspects of it into a story. I think of vivid dreams as my brain's way of telling me that it's time to write. :)


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