Everybody dreams. Maybe you don’t remember all your dreams, but they are there as a window into your own psyche, and to explore as a source of inspiration. Dreams are a chance for your imagination to go completely wild, places where the impossible really can happen.
I’ve always been very fortunate to dream in vivid technicolour. Many of my dreams are coherent stories in filmic form. I am often aware that I am dreaming, and find myself enjoying the stories playing out inside my head. Maybe you don’t have that capacity, but through the technique of lucid dreaming, you can develop more. Maybe you only have occasional images, snapshots of your dreamworld. Even these can be fodder for your art.
One Christmas Eve I had a dream. I know it was a coherent one, I was aware of it at the time. When I woke in the morning, I had only one image left in my memory, but it was a compelling one. Imagine a man, looking very like Richard Armitage, tied to a chair. A demon stands in front of him and sinks its hand into his chest, and pulls out his still-beating heart.
That was all there was.
No context. No meaning. Just this image.
That was where my five book series of Evenlode novels began. Five novels, which began with one blurrily remembered image from a dream.
Here is the dream I had last night:
Two teenaged boys are living in a run-down, poverty-stricken, former industrial city in the North of England. They roam a half-derelict, grey landscape pocked with disused steel works and the skeletons of mine engines.
One is tall, dark and skinny, the other short, stocky and blonde. They are both outsiders, clinging together for support because they have no one else. They are hunted by a gang of other boys who regularly attack them, and call them names. They accuse the two friends of being gay. That is the reason they give for their hatred.
One day, the blonde boy helps his friend through the front door of the dark boy’s parents house. He has been badly beaten. His father is at home. When the father finds out the reason why his son has been beaten, he assumes the accusers are correct. He starts to beat his son for being gay, for being weak. His belt will make the boy a proper man, he claims. The blonde boy stands between father and son.
‘Your son is a proper man. A real man. He protects me. He takes the heat for me, because I am gay, not him.”
The blonde boy has already been rejected by his own family for his sexuality.
Later, broken and despairing, the boys walk, hand in hand, up the hill to where a huge World War Two concrete bunker stands, clinging to the top of a sea cliff above the town. The sea is rough, the wind strong, the air full of swirling grey drizzle. The cavernous interior of the bunker has been taken over by the council, and is being used as a reahearsal space for the city’s orchestra. They are practising a piece as swirling as the tormented weather outside.
Together the boys walk through long dark corridors buried in the hillside, swelling music echoing around them, until they reach the roof of the bunker, where the Ack-Ack guns were once mounted. Together, they stand up on the narrow wall around the edge, and kiss. And then, together to the last, they jump and fall, still holding hands, down the cliff and into the churning seas below.
Yes, it is messy and there are holes and cliches in it. But that is what I dreamt, in its entirety, as I remember it. It is atmospheric and tragic, and I don’t even want to think about doing a psychological reading of it. But wouldn’t it make a great short story? Or even a short film?
Dreams are a free resource just floating about inside your own head, begging to be used. Don’t waste a minute. After all, isn’t that a great excuse to sleep more?
Keep a notebook by your bed and write down your dreams as soon as you wake. Don’t wait. You will forget them. Write down whatever you can remember, no matter how disjointed it may seem. Describe what you saw in as much detail as you can. I get enormous, almost baroque detail in my dreams. Get as much down as possible, even if it seems too weird, complicated or just completely insane! You never know what may be useful later.
(I find this technique especially helpful with troubling dreams or nightmares, which I have a lot. These sorts of dreams can follow me around during the day, filling my waking heart with dread or sadness. However, I find that once I write them out, their power over me wanes, and I don’t get the ‘after effects’.)
Now, dip into your dream notebook whenever you are looking for an idea or a writing exercise to play with. Choose a dream, a scene, an image, or a whole story if you get them, and use it as a starting point. Write stream of consciousness for fifteen or thirty minutes and see what comes out. Can you use this as the start of a short story? A screenplay? Is there an interesting character here for you, as there was with my Christmas Eve dream?
If you are a visual artist, what colour palette comes out of this dream for you? What striking images, silhouettes, shapes stick in your mind? For example, in my ‘two boys’ dream, the colour palette was greys and blues, the shapes of derelict buildings were jagged silhouettes against the lowering sky. Explore the colours you recall in your sketchbook. What would a painting of your dream look like?
A musician might take from my dream the echoing strings of the orchestra, muffled by the concrete, and backed by the roaring of the waves as they crash against the cliff below, and turn that into some kind of soundtrack.
Where can you take your dreams? How far can you drive your limitless imagination?