From Ideas to Stories

Some writers have so many ideas that they keep them in journals or files.

So, where do most authors get their fantastic ideas? Some, from their great imaginations. Others are simply excellent observers.

Stephen King gives credit to using dreams as inspirations for some of his books. His advice? Record your dreams in a journal upon awakening. This keeps those ideas fresh, to be used at a later date.

Strange, wondrous, and horrifying dreams can all form the basis of a captivating story.

You can also get ideas from daydreaming. Whether you are observing, daydreaming, or recording your nighttime dreams, keep a pad of paper with you at all times. I have one in a kitchen drawer, on my bedside table, in my purse, and in the glove compartment of my car.

So, if you are thinking about using dream sequences in your fiction, the question becomes how to write them well.

From what I have read, observed, and written, here are several suggestions:

  • Keep them short.
  • Insert the dream on a night in which things seem to be on the cusp of happening.
  • Ease into the dream. No big announcement, such as “And his dream began.”
  • Make the dream feel like a dream.
  • Make the subject matter of the dream reflective of what is going on in the character’s real life. (For example, let’s say the character is afraid of fire. A big camping trip is coming up. He dreams about sitting around the campfire and suddenly it flares and…)
  • The character having the dream should be someone whom you have already introduced in the story.
  • Let images trickle through, unfiltered and unedited. Keep them moving through fairly quickly because dreams are snippets–not complete thoughts, and certainly not detailed enough to actually “solve” the underlying issues in the character’s life.



That’s What it Sounds Like



I’m in editing mode this week. Specifically, I am unsure about the use of italics.

Yes, I understand that they are used to denote titles, and foreign words. They are also used for book titles, poems, plays, television shows, musical compositions, newspapers, radio podcasts, names of ships, and airplanes.

The list goes on and on (See the 7th edition of the MLA handbook for more of the above.)

However, here, I want to share about the three most common uses of italics by authors.

The first is to show emphasis for readers. For example, “She dated five men at the same time.” If you italicize the word “five,” it helps to emphasize the fact that you feel this is extraordinary and you don’t want your reader to miss it. Thus, the sentence would read, “She dated five men at the same time.”

The second is to set apart a character’s inner thoughts and/or  dreams. This avoids confusion for readers by signaling that those words were not spoken out loud. Longer italicized portions of text show the reader that the character is dreaming. This is important because otherwise they may think that those actions are taking place in the here and now.

Finally, I come to the rule that has been confusing me as I give my own manuscript a final pass. That is, should sounds be italicized? 

I did some research and I found the answer to be very simple:

The name of a sound does not get italicized, but the sound itself does. 

Here is an example:  The dog growled. (I named the sound, so no italics.) vs. “Grrr” (this is the actual sound, so it should be italicized).


That’s what it sounds like to me.


The Message in the Dream

Few people dream their dreams to the “end.”



Most of us awake some time before the conclusion. It could be in the middle or near the end, but seldom do dreamers feel that they have experienced 100% of the dream. This is a relief for those having nightmares, although for some it may be frustrating.

A few people say they are able to go back to sleep and “pick up where they left off.” (This sounds wonderful if the dream was an especially good one…) Still others report they cannot remember their dreams.

For years, I had a recurring dream (fairly common, I am told) about a young boy. It was a very short dream, really.  In the light of a full moon, he would close the door of a dilapidated cabin, and start down the dark path toward the river.  I could see his breath in the cold air and the frightened expression on his face. He shivered, wearing only a thin T-shirt and no shoes.

I sensed he was running away. I didn’t know his name or the circumstances causing him to flee, but I was drawn to him—my heart broke for him. I was more than curious—obsessed to a point—to find out how this dream intersected with my own life. It was as if there was an important message in the dream that I was supposed to pass on to others.

Growing up, I loved to read and write, so it was only natural that I would someday attempt to use my writing skills to unfold the meaning of this dream. When I retired from my years of teaching and counseling, I sat down at the computer and closed my eyes. I let the familiar dream play out in my mind’s eye and then just started typing…and typing…and typing…

Two years later, after much editing, rewriting and input from my critique group and Beta readers, Runaways, The Long Journey Home was published. The story of unconditional love and forgiveness—that message that I just knew I had to share with others—is front and central.

I no longer dream about Jake and his circumstances.  The dream has run its course and the message has been shared. I pray that it is a blessing to those meant to hear it.