I’m excited to be inviting Aussie fantasy author Sophie Masson to share some writing tips with us today. But first a little about Sophie:
Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in Australia and France, Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of more than 50 novels for readers of all ages, published in Australia and many other countries. Her adult novels include the popular historical fantasy trilogy, Forest of Dreams (Random House Australia). Sophie has always had a great interest in Russian myth and history, an interest reflected in several of her books for younger readers. Her latest Fiction novel is TRINITY: The Koldun Code (Book One)
Sophie is also a teacher of writing, and her book By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers is full of practical and entertaining tips on the craft, business and inspirations of writing. From using your dreams to craft great fiction, to writing dream outlines to attract the attention of publishers, from knowing how to make the most of literary festivals to understanding how magical characters tick, from coping with reviews to being inspired by fairy tales, By the Book is bursting with practical, entertaining and illuminating tips on the writing life. Written by an author whose career spans more than twenty years and more than fifty books published, this book offers advice for writers both new, and not so new.
Sophie has very kindly offered to share an extract from the book:
A short dream workshop by Sophie Masson
From time immemorial, human beings have dreamed–every night we go into what one of my sons’ friends once referred to as ‘those brilliant eight hours of free entertainment.’ And from time immemorial, writers have used images or scenes from dreams, or entire dreams, to enrich and expand their creative work in waking life. I’m certainly no exception. My night-imagination has always enriched my day-imagination. Several of my short stories have started directly as dreams, for example, ‘Restless’, a chilling ghost story I wrote not long ago, began as a really creepy and unforgettable nightmare. Another disturbing story, ‘The Spanish Wife’, a vampire story set in the 1930’s, started as a dream in which someone said, very clearly, ‘No-one took any notice of him till he brought home a Spanish wife,’ and that turned into the very first sentence of the short story. Images and scenes from dreams have also gone into my novels, and in one case, a very vivid and intriguing dream inspired an entire six-book children’s fantasy series of mine, the Thomas Trew series. It’s not always fantasy or supernatural stories that have sprung out of dream-compost for me, though; everything from family stories to thrillers to historical novels has benefited from it.
Over the years, I’ve learned quite a few techniques on how to best use vivid, scary, tantalising or intriguing dream sequences in my writing, and how to investigate them for best effects. Here’s a short workshop based on some of the techniques I’ve developed over the years:
*Think of a dream you’ve had. Any dream. It doesn’t have to be anything exciting or unusual. Go back over the dream-scenes, as if you were a police witness being asked to remember an event. Who was in it? What did they look like? What were they wearing?
Were they people you knew or strangers? Were there any animals in it? What sort? What was the setting like? Indoors, outdoors? What could you see? Smell? Touch? Hear? Taste even? What were you in it—a participant, a helpless observer, a godlike figure?
*If you did something supernatural, like flying, what did it feel like, physically? (I’ve often had flying dreams and in them I feel a strong pull in the chest, arms stretching. Once I even woke up with what felt like an actual slight ache in the arm muscles—very spooky indeed!)
*Were there any machines in your dream? If so, what sort?
*Did anyone speak, and if so what did they say? Many dreams in my experience are like silent movies, with thought-subtitles and maybe some music, but a few have dialogue, even if it’s often minimalistic and quite enigmatic.
* Knowledge: Do you know why you were in that particular place, at that time? If you had some supernatural ability, did you know why? If there are interesting objects or gadgets in the setting of your dream, do you know what they can do, and why, and who made or used them? Backstory is very often missing in dreams, but is very important in a story, even if you only spend a few lines on it.
*Now, once you’ve written down as many descriptive details as you can about what was there in the dream, think about what wasn’t there, and write that down. While you were dreaming, did you know for instance why you or other people were doing things(even if it was a kind of weird dream-logic?) Did you understand the sequence of events? Was there a sense the dream was moving towards some conclusion, or just randomly jumping about? Motive, continuity and plot—all very important in actual stories—are often missing from dreams.
*Think of your own self in the dream, however you appeared in it: did you recognise yourself? Did you feel it was fully you or something that was only partly you, or a stranger? Did characters behave randomly? Character development is usually absent in dreams too though it very much needs to be present in a story.
*What about the setting? Were there things missing: for instance, if you were in a house, were there doors? Windows? Furniture? If you were outside, was anything odd: for instance trees growing upside down, or a wall of water appearing out of nowhere?
*Now put those two things together—the things that were there, the ones that weren’t—and you have the beginnings of a real story framework, where the wild imagination of the night and the more disciplined one of the day cross-fertilise and turn into something amazing and wonderful.
And if you’ve every turned a dream into a story (as I know Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight) I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.