If you have read some of my previous posts you will know that I’m quite interested in the idea of where inspiration comes from. It’s so difficult to pin down, but I like thinking about where my own ideas come from, and I like reading about where other writers get their inspiration.
I decided to try and find out whether any novelists, famous or otherwise, have been inspired to write a story because of a dream. Not an aspirational kind of dream, but a “series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in their mind during sleep” kind of dream. In the visual art world, there are several well-known examples of dream (or vision) inspiration – Salvador Dali and William Blake to name but two. But what about literature?
I also wanted to know if this is the kind of thing people are comfortable admitting to – that the inspiration for their greatest work came merely after going to sleep. Research into sleep and dreaming, or to use the technical term, Oneirology, shows that during a typical lifespan, people spend a total of about six years dreaming. With this in mind, it seems natural and quite likely that creativity in some form will come from the images and thoughts we have while we are asleep.
I was happy then to discover that several high profile authors have described how the idea for their novel came after waking up and remembering a dream. Notable examples include Stephen King’s Misery – King apparently had a dream (or perhaps a nightmare) about an obsessive fan that kidnapped and imprisoned her favourite author. On waking up he immediately wrote the first 50 pages of the story, and the rest of the chilling tale came from there. A macabre late night conversation prompted the gothic horror writer Mary Shelly to dream about corpses being brought back to life, along with images of the monster that would later become the basis of the novel Frankenstein.
“I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back.”
The reason I’m so interested in this is because more than once I have had a dream that has inspired a story, or part of a story. Some of these I have actually written, some I have just jotted down a few thoughts or the events of the dream to use later. Sometimes the story comes fully formed from the dream, with a beginning, middle and end, but sometimes there is just a scene or an idea or a character that really sticks in my mind and from that I can build a story up around it. My best example of dream inspiration is my published novel, Beneath the Surface. Other elements of inspiration contributed to the story, but the moment of clarity came after waking up one morning with the vivid memory of a dream. The scene was short, as far as I can remember – two men were standing together in a dark forest, one pointing a gun at the other. The intended victim closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable, but just as the other man pulled the trigger, a woman magically appeared in front of him, her outline shimmering before coming into focus. She was tall, with dark red hair, and she absorbed the bullets while remaining unharmed, before spiriting away the man she had saved. The following text is an extract from that scene as it appears in the book:
Chase closed his eyes, knowing there was no time for him to react. He knew they would be quick, but he seemed to stand there in the darkness for an etetnity before he heard the first shot. The gun was equipped with a silencer, but it was still the loudest sound Chase had ever heard. He continued to stand there, waiting, not wanting to open his eyes and stare death in the face. It was as though he was in a trance, and there was only one thing that could snap him out of it…
Who would have thought an entire novel could come from such a short burst of involuntary inspiration? This is why I like to keep a pen and paper next to the bed, just in case…