Tag Archives: stories

Take the bones and build a story!

If you have ever tried to write a poem or short story directly from a dream, you will probably have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really work. Dreams are pure subjective substance, which has to be transmuted into something a reader can share.

But although you can rarely use a dream exactly as it is in writing, dreams can be a great source of inspiration. They can energise your writing because they are fired by the very themes and emotions that are currently bubbling beneath the surface in your waking life.

One of the approaches I use in workshops for writing from dream material is to extract the bones of the dream and build it up into a story.


 Dream themes – building from the bones

Choose a recent dream if you would like to try this exercise because it will have more immediate resonance for you than one you had a while ago. It doesn’t need to be long or detailed. All you’re looking for is a moment of action.

Describe the dream in a single sentence beginning, ‘Someone is…’ Use non-specific nouns, ‘something’, ‘someone’, ‘somewhere’ – keep it as general as possible, with the focus on the verb. ‘Someone is cross with her husband,’ would be too specific. ‘Someone is cross with someone’ is the pure action, plain and simple, capable of supporting a whole new cast of characters.

Examples from workshops include, ‘Someone is searching for someone’, ‘Someone has forgotten something’, ‘Someone is asking questions’, ‘Someone is not what they seem…’

Write a few alternative verb-focused sentences for your dream, and then decide which one you’re going with. Don’t over-think it. You’re just playing about with some ideas.

Now forget the dream, take the sentence and build a new context around it. If your sentence is, ‘Someone is being chased,’ who is it? Who is being chased? Start by making a character sketch.

When you are creating a character, it helps to know their name, even if you aren’t going to mention it. When you’re thinking about their appearance, imagine you’re watching a video of them, or looking through their photo-album.

Then ask them a few questions to get to know them a bit. What do they like? What do they hate? What is their earliest memory? What was their childhood ambition? Ask as many questions as you need. Ask the things that you want to know.

You won’t use everything you know about your characters in any story, but knowing a lot about them gives you context; it makes the writing flow more easily, and feel more three-dimensional. Any story is like an iceberg; the bit the author shows you is just the tip of what they know.

Make character sketches for anyone else involved in the story – who is chasing them? Who gets in the way? Who helps them?

When you’ve got some good character sketches, think about the settings. Ask, ‘Where?’ Look around at the scenery. Use all your senses to be right there. Where are they running to? Where are they running from? Ask, ‘When?’ The season, weather, time of day and the historical era, are all part of the setting.

Then ask, ‘Why?’ Why are they being chased? Ask, ‘What is the issue? What is at stake? What happens if they don’t get away?’

Who, what, where, when, why, how… these are the prompts for imaginative play, and they will always take you straight into a story.

Fully imagine the scene, and when you are ready, write it. Don’t try to write well, just write. It’s a first draft. At this stage, being ‘good’ is not important. What you need is to be present.


Using dreams to spark creative writing not only guarantees you will find stories which feel enjoyable and meaningful to you, it is also a good way of deepening your understanding of the dream.

Furthermore, because dreams are related to waking life, writing stories from dream material can be a kind of rehearsal, a way of finding creative solutions to waking-life situations, and so feeling empowered.

Guest post: The dream that sparked the book

The Saint of Florenville, by Alfred J Garrotto

On the morning of July 26, 2010, something quite unexpected happened to me. I had published five novels, the most recent in 2005. Since then I had turned my attention to nonfiction projects. I thought I’d told all the stories I had in me, except for one half-finished and dead-in-the-water novel.

That’s why I was surprised to wake up from a dream that July morning with a rough, but complete, narrative arc in my head, plus three strong characters who would carry the story from beginning to end. I even had a working title, A Train to Bruges (later discarded).

For the next six weeks, I continued to awaken most mornings with additional snippets of story and characterization, all of which I scribbled in a notebook I keep by my bedside, just in case (rarely) I think of something brilliant during the night.

As always, writing the first draft was exhilarating. My “dreamed-up” characters came to life. My villain was insanely evil. Best of all, I knew from Day 1 how the story would end.

Studying the completed first draft, I realized as most novelists do in that situation, that all I had in hand was a skeleton. My story needed flesh, which came only with grinding effort through subsequent drafts.

I embarked on the research I needed to make the settings ( Brussels , Bruges , and Florenville , Belgium ) and my characters (an American priest, a Belgian nun, a young female reporter, and a psychopathic villain) jump off the page.

By mid-July, 2011, I had arrived at Draft 9 and could finally add the # # # symbols, indicating that I had come to “The End.”Somewhere along the way, my working title had yielded to the published title, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story.

For more information visit http://saintofflorenville.wordpress.com

Guest post: The dream that sparked the book

Once upon a dream novel, by Dawn Colclasure 

Can dreams inspire a writer to write a novel? Mine did – and they still do.

When I was 16 years old, I started having dreams about a man named Jonathan. These dreams happened almost every night and lasted for many years. Two years after the dreams started, I dreamt that all of the dreams combined were turned into a novel titled, ‘November’s Child.’ I even saw the title of the novel in this one dream!

I was 19 years old when I finally completed that novel. During this time, I had to work out how to make the dream ‘story’ work as a believable story. After all, I had no idea what kind of connection Jonathan had to me, the dreamer, so I had to think of what kind of connection he would have to my story’s main character, Malissa.

This name did not come from my dreams; I needed a name for a character that represented ‘me’ in the story, and I decided to use an alternative version of my sister, Melissa’s, name.

As to the connection dilemma, I discussed this with one of my other sisters, who happened to have just seen a movie about Druid characters. She suggested I turn Jonathan into a Druid. After researching Driudism and reading about their belief in the transmigration of souls, I decided that, yes, that could work. Voila! I had my story figured out.

My novel was published when I was 20 years old. Shortly afterward, my publisher went bankrupt and the book went out of print. I rewrote the book and gave it a new title: ‘Shadow of Samhain.’ This new version of my ‘dream novel’ will soon be published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing.

A second award for the House of Dreams!

I’m delighted to announce that Kath Roberts – she of the delightful Reclusive Muse – has bestowed the coveted Unicorn Glitter Award upon Writing in the House of Dreams.

The beautiful Unicorn Glitter Award
You’ll see that, under the unicorn’s rules, I have to tell you some more about the House of Dreams.
What is the favourite book on its bookshelves?
‘Creative Dreaming,’ by Patricia Garfield, and ‘Dreams and the Underworld,’ by James Hillman.

Favourite film?
Bit of a surprise maybe, but you do get all sorts in the House of Dreams – ‘The Naked Gun’
Favourite poem or song?
Kathleen Raine’s ‘Heirloom’, which so perfectly describes the magical within the mundane.
Favourite myth?
Persephone, because it’s the story of dreaming.
Enchanted creature?
The owl, which knows the secrets of the night.

My little bloggie will wear the award with pride.

Do you follow a blog you think should get an award? Or do you have any more questions for the House of Dreams?

Guest spot: The dream that sparked the book

The dream behind ‘Buttercup Magic’ – by Abi Burlingham

Buttercup magic cover
‘A Mystery for Megan’ – the first book in the ‘Buttercup Magic’ series

I have had vivid dreams for as long as I remember, varying from dreams of flying to the truly horrid stick witch who crept out of the plughole. Some of these have sparked off ideas for stories, but generally speaking I hadn’t used them in my writing and they were quite often forgotten.

That is, until a few months ago, following a fascinating article I read in the Spring Mslexia, ‘Dreamwriting’ by Clare Jay, where Clare describes the process of being conscious in your dreams, controlling them, and using them to help your writing.

Fascinated with this idea, I decided to try being more aware in my next dream. The dream that followed was incredibly vivid. I was in a big old house, or rather, my consciousness was. My dream almost told me what was there. It told me there were mice who could tell the time – I could see these in the dream – and there was a black cat.

When I woke, I had the strongest sense of place. The setting and feelings that accompanied it were so incredibly vivid. Luckily, I keep a notebook and pen by the bed, so I quickly wrote down these ideas.

Shortly after, I started to write the book ‘Buttercup Magic’ – under the working title ‘Buttercup House’, featuring mice who could tell the time (all called Whiskers) and  black cat called Dorothy. But I knew that a dog should be in the book too, so I wrote in Buttercup, a big golden retriever.

‘Buttercup Magic’ is now to become a series, the first of which, ‘An adventure for Megan’, is due out in Spring 2012. Without the dream, and without that very important article, I have no doubt that this book wouldn’t have been written.



My little bloggie

Well, who would have thought it? I’m loving writing my little bloggie! That’s what my friend Sian calls it, she of http://www.spiritoftheblog.co.uk/.  We’ve never met, but she got in touch with me last year about my books on bullying through my website, and we reconnected last week through this blog.

To be honest, I only came to blogging because I wanted to put the word out about my dream book, and I imagined that it was going to feel like any other writing task. But it’s turned out to be completely different, and the reason why, is you.

Already, in a few weeks, I’ve had a number of email conversations with people in Britain, Canada and the US, and I’ve loved hearing your dreams and comments.

It reminds me of when I started to teach workshops, which I did out of financial necessity after my marriage broke up. The last thing I expected was that I might actually enjoy it.

But, almost immediately, I discovered that nothing is more wonderful than sitting among a group of people who are totally absorbed in their writing, and then hearing them read what they’ve written. I think one of the reasons people come to writing workshops is because it answers an ancient need in all of us to come together and tell our stories.

So hello Sian, and hello everyone else who is reading this! Is there anything you would like me to add to my topic list?