A couple of weeks ago, I posted a short article on coming up with story ideas from everyday life. Today I wanted to follow that up with using your dreams and other fictions to generate story ideas.
Using dreams as a source of inspiration is not that unusual and has been down throughout time. We all know the famous example of Kubla Khan, the poem, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Dreams have enough potential for story, novel and any artistic medium. The scope is huge, and you get to take what you want from them. Below I’ll introduce a couple of ways in how to start using dreams as a source of idea generation.
I’ll also chat about how to use current and past fiction, film and other creative outlets as a source of idea inspiration. This is a fun one to tackle, but the lines between fan fiction and derivative fiction can get blurry. I wanted to lay it all out straight, and get all the facts in order, for you to start using older literature as a source of potential story ideas.
Generating Story Ideas From Dreams
Using your dreams is a kind of writer’s hack for gathering ideas. Here, you a tapping straight into your subconscious. Dreams by nature deal with emotions and thoughts unresolved or worrisome to you. These represent key themes you could explore in your writing. It is option said, that your stories will deal with issues and themes close to your heart. And sifting through your dream experience is quick and easy (and daily, hopefully) method of doing that.
How to Use Dreams For Story Ideas
This is tapping into your own subconscious and finding story idea material. Using your dreams to create stories from isn’t really that hard, and only involves a few easy steps:
1) Get Used to Recording Your Dreams, even snippets or fragments from your dreams.
Get a dedicated Dream Journal — or use your regular journal, and write what you remember each morning when you wake – or even in the middle the night when you wake up.
The only problem with dreams, as well as being extremely incoherent and confusing, is that they are not committed to short or long-term memory, and will quickly be lost forever after you wake up. This is why it’s important to record what you can when you wake as soon as possible.
There are two methods (actually there are many), but two that I recommend for doing this:
1) Record all that you remember… Or,
2) Record the images, ideas that trigger your creative mind the most.
The later will be a quicker method – great if you’re short on time, and is basically a summary of the key elements you want to record from the dream, while the former, where you all you can remember of the dream, will take longer, but may give you more ideas in the long run. This will also be more time consuming, as later on, you’ll have to reread the entire passage in order to mine for the story nuggets within.
Try both – and see what works for you.
Using Other Stories As Inspiration
There are a couple of techniques I like to use occasionally, when I’m struggling for ideas, or am looking for inspiration or new character ideas. They both involve studying different stories in a bit more depth, and analysing your chosen stories and mining them for small nuggets that you can use in your own creative work.
Now you might be worried about repeating ideas, or even stealing someone else’s idea or even plagiarism.
What I am not talking about is copying other people’s work.
What I am talking about, is looking at the stories around you and mining them for ideas, characters, plots and structures that you could use in your own story.
You must have heard that there is no new story under the sun. and that every story is a copy of something else. Well, revel in this idea. Acknowledge that there are new no stories, and use the great ones, (and the poor ones) to your advantage. Let them help you build your own awesome story. Let’s not forget the quote by Mark Twain:
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
― Mark Twain,
Below are the ways I like to go about finding ideas from current and past stories, be it literature, poetry, film or television.
How to Get Story Ideas From Other Stories, Books, Television and Movies
Think about the books and movies that you love. Make a list of all the genres that these books and movies fall into. Is there a common genre? And what about common themes, or characters, or just general ideas? I love fairy tales and really any sort of ‘tale”. when I look at my list, it is so clearly revealed to me, as well as a couple of other genres. But it’s fairy tales that are truest to my heart.
What stories are true to your heart? Think about why? Could you create a few stories or novels based on ideas you’re creating right now?
Perhaps you take different elements from one genre and mix it with another? I’m wondering if I can somehow create an apocalyptic fairy tale, and how that would work 🙂
Another method is the retelling or reinterpreting older classic works, such as said fairy tales. This is done over and over again, especially in cinema. Think of Emma and the modern Clueless, or Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Or even Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the older Icelandic and Scandinavian tales.
An interesting take on using older material as a source for your creativity is that of using Public Domain material. This is material that is in the public domain, after it’s copyright has expired.
Now I don’t like doing a straight copy from any story, or character and writing from that, as if you create something like this from Open Source material, then you need to add a note in it somewhere, that it is “Derivative Material”.
I don’t recommend this but is an option, if you are interested in pursuing this method. There are courses out there that can teach you how to do this profitably. Or search “Open Source Writing Material” in the search engines and see what you can come up with. Hopefully, in the future I will write a short article on the topic, explaining it further, and it’s pros and cons.
What I do mean about taking ideas from these Public Domain works is, using the works loosely to help you create a new story, whether you reworking storylines, characters or plots.
Think about the Norse myth of Thor and how Marvel has interrupted this story and reworked it into their comics, and now their movies. It’s important to note, that while Thor the Norse myth is open source material, any reworked material that is still in copyright, isn’t available to work from. This means, that any recent translations of Thor aren’t up for grabs; so don’t go out and write a story about Thor, The Avengers and his budding relationship with past Valkyrior, Scrapper 142. The Valkyrior is a Marvel construct based on the Valkyries of Norse mythology.
Another method is to take a book, perhaps scrounge your local library in your favourite genre. Find something that you like the look of, and the blurb sounds interesting. This was a story that was published. How can you use that information to create a new story? Perhaps start with a different genre to your own. Find a good book, and work out how you could transfer it to a new setting, a new genre, or insert a new plot.
What you’re doing it taking something and mining it for little gems that you can create something new from it.
I sometimes struggle with creating new ideas out of nothing. But when I’m browsing the library racks or searching Goodreads, things start popping… I’m not saying steal someone else’s work. But use it as inspiration for your muse, your right-hand brain.
Just More For Your Toolkit…
I hope this has provided another couple ways to boost your story idea generation. As you know, there are so many ways and methods to find story ideas in your life and world. You just have to do what works for you, and which gives you the best results. It’s always handy to have a few different techniques or tactics up your sleeve when you feel yourself running dry.
I’d love to hear you’re latest ideas and the sources you found them in? Did you have a far-out dream or are you retelling a favourite fairy tale as a contemporary murder mystery? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
For unlimited story idea generation, my Go-To Resource is Holly Lisle’s Writing Courses
Check out her Free 3-Week Flash Writing Class Here: