Have you ever awakened from a particularly powerful dream that left you with an overwhelming feeling that it was real? Or has a dream ever unfolded in your subconscious like a movie? Once you were awake, what did you do? Did you grab a pen and pad and start scribbling everything down like crazy? Or did you totally disregard it as just another strange, albeit, fascinating dream? Well, if you did the latter, and failed to write down the story revealed in your dream, you may have kissed your best-selling novel goodbye!
I recall about ten or eleven years ago, I had a dream that was quite vivid and rather intense. It seemed serious. It was a love affair gone wrong. When I woke up, I knew I had to do something with the story. The dream felt different than any I’d had before. None of the people in it were familiar to me, and I knew nothing of the events as they played out in my subconscious. But I’d never written anything before except poetry here and there, so when I attempted to write the story, I ran out of steam right where the dream had ended. Frustrated, I put the tablet aside and never looked at it again.
Little did I know back then that some of the most popular novels ever written were inspired by dreams. Take for example, Twilight, the enormously successful book written by Stephenie Meyer, in June 2003. When I saw Twilight at the movies I had no idea that Stephenie had dreamed this powerful love story of this beautiful sexy supposedly soulless creature in Edward Cullen and the sullen “every girl” in Bella Swan. But I loved it! It was magical! On Stephenie’s website she describes how she had this vivid dream of Edward and Bella. She says, “One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire.” Twilight sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, and spent over 91 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. It generated four subsequent novels and four wildly successful Hollywood movies, grossing over $3.3 billion in box office sales. Up to the point of writing Twilight, Stephenie said she had not written anything besides a few chapters (of other stories) that she never got very far on.
Another example is Misery by Stephen King, one of the most prolific and talented writers of our generation. According to Stephen King, in his book, “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft” he tells of a business/pleasure trip he and his wife took to London. On the plane he fell asleep and had a dream of a writer who had a car accident and landed in the clutches of a psychotic fan living on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. She had a pet pig named, Misery, after a main character in one of his books. King said his clearest memory when he woke up was something the woman, whom he later named Annie Wilkes had said. He wrote it on an American Airlines cocktail napkin so that he would not forget it. She said, “I wasn’t trying to be funny in a mean way when I named my pig Misery, no sir. Please don’t think that. No, I named her in the spirit of a fan love, which is the purest love there is. You should be flattered.” Later at the hotel he was unable to sleep due to a number of reasons, one of which was the cocktail napkin. So he asked the concierge for a quiet place to write and proceeded to crank out sixteen pages of the story in a steno notebook, and the rest is history. Misery became a best-seller that inspired a successful movie and earned Kathy Bates, who played former nurse and deranged fan Annie Wilkes, a Best Actress Academy Award and Golden Globe in 1990.
My final example takes us back to 1816, when Mary Shelley was just eighteen years old. She spent the summer with her lover (and future husband) Percy Shelley, at Lord Byron’s estate in Switzerland. The topic of galvanism, some form of electric shock, and other similar occult ideas were themes of conversation among her companions. So Mary, Percy, Lord Byron and John Polidori decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for days, Mary dreamed of a hideous creature showing signs of life by the working of some powerful engine orchestrated by a scientist who created this life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later evolved into the story of Frankenstein. Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster have influenced popular culture for at least 100 years. Her work has inspired numerous movies, stage productions, and television programs. Frankenstein’s monster remains one of the most recognized icons in horror fiction.
Needless to say, there are numerous other examples I could write about in this post where great novels were inspired by dreams, but I think you get my point. What a powerful way for a writer to have a story revealed to him/her. I imagine it must be akin to capturing lightning in a bottle. I don’t know about you, but I will be examining my dreams a lot more closely from now on, and I will certainly keep a writing pad and a pen close at hand. If lightning strikes in my dream world (again), I want to be ready to write the next best-selling novel! How about you? Write a comment and let me know what you think.