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This Writing Life: Writing From Dreams

9 August, 2014

It’s fair to say that a lot of my writing attention has gone into a single world recently, namely the city of Ardom Wave which features so heavily in my first Ark & Fable novella (and in the sequel). Whilst considering writing a post about the creation of that setting, I started thinking about where the seeds for that particular idea grew from. When I remembered, I had to laugh: Ardom Wave came to me, quite literally, in a dream.

Now, I don’t usually pay much attention to dreams. Sometimes it’s fairly obvious what your brain is trying to tell you, and at other times it’s not worth trying to decipher the gibberish. Add to that the fact I rarely remember my dreams anyway, and you’ll realise I’m not about to suggest you start keeping a dream diary and mining it for every story you commit to the page. However, just occasionally, my sleeping mind provides me with something quite different, something I can quite clearly identify as a story, and something I might have come up with whilst awake.

These very rare dreams are, I find, like watching a film, start to finish. If I could write them down, I think they’d have a fairly coherent plot and be put together in the same way I’d usually plot a novel (I’m very visual when it comes to imagining scenes anyway, and I can usually describe the setting as though it were a film set). Of course, remembering that plot once awake is the tricky part, but I still tend to recall enough to build a story around what remains.

A couple of specific instances come to mind, here. One very much falls into that dreaming-an-entire-story category, and though I could only remember the last ‘scene’ once I woke, it left an incredibly striking image that I’ve been trying to work into a novel ever since. (In this particular instance, just that final scene provides both the entire setting and much of the plot leading up to it, and although I’ve written a nearly full draft of the story, it somehow didn’t work out as satisfactorily as I would have liked.)

And then we come to Ardom Wave. This time, there was no story, just a very clear image of a valley filled with pillars, attached to that name. I spent a good week convinced it was a setting I’d lifted from elsewhere, name and all, but Google revealed nothing and I came to the conclusion that the setting was one I’d imagined myself. Whilst the Ardom in the dream was an entirely natural landscape, turning it into a city for the Ark & Fable series seemed to come naturally, and has provided the perfect location to build those stories around.

As I said before, developing stories from dreams can be a haphazard business, and I certainly wouldn’t trust them to provide more than an occasional flash of inspiration. However, even that can be just what you need to spark an entire plot, character or world, so when your unconscious mind provides you with a helping hand, sometimes it’s wise to listen!

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