Dream diaries: the stuff of which stories are made?

The Interrupted Sleep
Category: Writing

A frequent piece of advice for writers is to keep some sort of dream diary. We’ve all been there: the best idea for a story, a clever line of dialogue, or some sort of solution just comes to you while you sleep. You wake up, and sleepily say to yourself, “it’s fine. I’ll remember in the morning.” 

Will you heck. Write it down before you forget it.

The notes app on my phone is filled with dream-ideas I’ve had. “A busker who only sings songs with one-word titles,” “What you can find when you drag your nails through dirt,” and “make him walk with a stick!” are just some of the ones there right now. Will they all become full, complete stories? Probably not, but they might make a good starting point.

If you really can’t be bothered to keep a notepad by your bed, or you’re one of those people who never dream, there’s an alternative solution: use someone else’s dreams.

Obviously for this, you need someone in your house who’s asleep. A partner is ideal, but a relative or friend will do in a pinch (I don’t recommend using a stranger, but neither can I stop you if that’s what you want). It’s simple really: just burst into the room, wake them up, and start asking them questions immediately! Their brain will still be half-asleep, so their answer will use all the rules and context from their dream.

In the spirit of research, I’ve been testing this on my partner Jen (she doesn’t know this is why, so we’ll have an interesting chat when she reads this...). Her answers have ranged from the to-be-expected, “no! No, don’t kill me!” to the more sinister, “did you put away the bones? the ones in the shoe-boxes in the living room. Did you tidy them up?” Has it been inspirational? It’s certainly been disturbing, and I still don’t know what she dreams about (and actually, who wants to know? Bone boxes?!).

I once heard an opinion from another writer about characters having dreams in literature. They believed that you should never have a dream sequence in your story - “it’s always just symbolism,” they said, “or a lazy way to foreshadow stuff.” I’m not convinced that’s true in all cases, but have to admit that I sometimes drift off while reading or listening to a dream sequence. That either confirms they are very easy to get wrong, or that I have a poor attention span.

Having a collection of ideas to refer to when you’re feeling uninspired can’t be a bad thing though, so I do recommend the dream diary. It’s true that, in the cold-light of day, your dreams might not be quite as useful as they seemed at 3AM, but at least you’ll have the chance to decide that, rather than forgetting it entirely.

Rob Currie

Rob Currie was born in 1988, and raised in the Scottish Borders. He moved to Dundee, and studied Professional Writing for the Creative Industries at Dundee College in 2009. He recieved a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2013.