I was going for a title based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but it wasn’t working.
You’re in a grocery store on another planet, trying in vain to find a box of chocolate chip cookies when all you can see around are bags of Arcturian cricket snaps and Khlryby mudfruit roll-ups. You approach the store manager about your problem, but it shrugs what passes for its shoulders and remarks that the latest supply convoy from Earth has been captured by pirates. Maybe next lunar period, it suggests.
Then you wake up and find it was, as you may have surmised, all a dream. Perhaps you think, “What the hell was that about?”. Perhaps you think, “I knew I shouldn’t have binged on those cookies last night…”
Or, perhaps, you think, “Huh…what would an alien grocery store look like?”
Does that scenario sound familiar? It does to me. I find dreams can be an interesting source of ideas, given that my writing is not necessarily constrained by day-to-day reality as I perceive it. When the subconscious is off wandering around in the wee hours, it can stumble into some fertile ground for future stories.
There are challenges, of course.
The first one is, of course, remembering the dream. Unless the dream evokes a strong emotional response – the kind that wakes you with a racing heartbeat and clenched hands – you’re liable to forget it pretty quickly. At the most basic level, you might be left with an emotion or feeling; not so much a concrete story idea but a mood muse of sorts; could be useful in directing your conscious creative thoughts later on. A better scenario is that you recall the broad strokes of the dream, or specific aspects of it: The taste of Khlryby mudfruit roll-ups, the notion that the grocery convoy’s been ambushed, etc. If you’re really lucky, you might be able recall the dream in relative detail, but how often does that happen?
So unless you’re going to get out of bed and start writing, you need to save that information for later. One option is to write it down; this will require having pen/paper/light available at your bedside. Another is to think of a quick description of the dream (“Alien store out of stock because pirates ambushed the supply convoy”), and just say or even think that sentence several times. The repetition builds and reinforces the memory without requiring you to stay awake for long, which is handy if you’re going to try for more sleep.
When you do finally drag yourself out of bed and get around to writing, the second challenge arises: Converting your dream into a functional story. Dreams don’t feel compelled to follow linear plot structures, develop characters, or even be coherent, so directly transcribing a dream is unlikely to produce an easily digestible story. Better to go back to previous step and recall what key element(s) of the dream really stuck with you – then consciously build a story around it/them.
A couple of years ago, during the final night of a trip to Whitehorse*, I had a brief but intense dream about two guys watching a train traveling through an old barn. Despite the early hour, there was no need to write down an outline or commit key ideas to memory. I woke up energized and inspired by the seemingly simple yet bizarre scenario. Who were these guys? Why was there a train in the barn? How did that even work?
I felt compelled to fire up the laptop, and words just poured out. I had to stop myself to eat breakfast, pack, and check out – and then I was writing again in the airport lounge, and on the plane once the seatbelt sign was turned off. It was only as my battery started running low that I came up for air, re-assessed the dream (and the writing) for actual feasibility as a story, and scribbled out a crude outline for the remainder of the piece. Happily, the four thousand words I cranked out that day still (mostly) worked, and by the end of week, I had a 13,000 word novelette about estranged brothers and the phantom train passing through one’s barn for a few seconds once per week.
So my subconscious scored a co-authorship credit on Unmarked Crossing, and is impatiently waiting for me to do something with a handful of other ideas noted down in a file on the laptop.
*Same trip I wrote “USB” on; apparently I should go to Whitehorse more often.