Category Archives: Fantasy

Value in Your Dreams: Keeping a Writer’s Dream Journal

mirror dimension dream

“Write a dream journal?” You grin over your morning cup of coffee. “I’m working on a trilogy or a new short story. I don’t have extra time for a new book project that won’t be published.”

But take another look at the idea:

Historically, dreams have been important in many famous lives. From Biblical Joseph to surrealist painter Salvador Dali, images seen within dreams give hints of the future, inspire creativity, and spark inventive ideas.

Would you like to gather a wealth of images, characters, and places that have a personal signature but are deeply mysterious and intriguing to your readers? The answer: use a currency unique to you. Mine your dreams!

Three Ways to Mine Your Dreams for Literary Gold:


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Find the Universal Appeal

Our dream imagination is like an unfinished novel. When we dream, we have no real idea whether it will be a nightmare or a pleasant stroll before we start.

So which dreams will interest your readers?

Dreams with an element of mystery and universal appeal.

Recall Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein character dream. Wanting to fix up a boring ghost story, she found her answer in the nightmare–

“I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.'”—Mary Shelley

What is so fascinating about Frankenstein? A truly novel cadaver creation sprang from her nightmare. All of us can relate to horror dreams, and Shelley’s monster seems to have that powerful hypnosis that only the productions of our subconscious can wield to paralyze us and keep us glued to the novel’s pages till the end.

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Describe Unique Landscapes 

Were you flying? Falling? Walking through an orchard of fruit trees old as Earth? What about houses, cars, furniture?

Your dreams may not be Spielberg productions, but even a few sentences will serve to keep a sci-fi or fantasy landscape in mind for use in future writing.

List colors and textures: and in dreams, colors often take on unique meaning(more on that below).

Many people have difficulty remembering dreams, so if one wakes you up at 3 a.m., briefly note a few of the main ideas of the dream journey when you can. It helps to keep your journal or laptop on a nightstand close by.

Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his epic Kubla Khan based on a dream—he even labels the poem, “A vision in a dream, a Fragment.”

“The shadow of the dome of pleasure/Floated midway on the waves;

Where was heard the mingled measure/From the fountain and the caves.

It was a miracle of rare device/A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Record the Meaning

This is the fun part of dream journaling for me!

I once dreamed of a house with 3 levels. On the main level it was a plain mobile home, underneath was a natural rock garage filled with cars, and through a set of wooden doors was an elegant ballroom with a chandelier and a black tie dinner party.

My own interpretation was loosely based on what I thought it meant: three stages in life, or even an inter-dimensional place that was merely a mobile home on the outside. What other unique rooms might we find in this place?

But if you want to put a more conventional meaning to your dreams, visit a dream dictionary site and you’ll find even more ideas about symbols. One of my favorites is Dream Moods.

With a dream journal in your resource stack, you will be armed with unique images, interesting characters, and bizarre worlds to build your fiction, at no cost other than a little catnap!

And you might be surprised at just what does get published from your dream journal.

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Other Worlds: What One Reader Wants in Fantasy Novels

NOTE: In the post below, dated originally in September 2015, a Penworthy member writers about what he/she looks for when reading a fantasy tale. Although this was written last year, it has languished in the “drafts” folder so long that we don’t recall which of us wrote it. 🙂 Therefore, Elizabeth has edited it lightly and added paragraphing, and we hope you enjoy what you read.

A group I’m in has issued a prompt for readers to tell what they’re looking for in fantasy stories. The following three criteria are the main ones by which I judge all the stories I read, regardless of genre. (Readers be advised, this is a long post.)

3) Setting: there are two aspects to this. I care about not only how the setting is built, but also how it feels.

The time and place — the universe, if you will — in which the story is set is not required to obey the real-world laws of science, but it must remain consistent with itself. The rules by which the universe operates must be clearly laid out and then obeyed. Rule-bending and seeming contradictions must be rationally explained.

The world as a place should also give me a feeling that it’s many times bigger than whatever portions we see in the story, just as the real world is so much bigger than the portion any one person can see, visit, or otherwise experience in a single journey or lifetime. Even if the story is set in a place that’s completely “unrealistic”, I want it to feel real enough that I could plan a vacation there (or a detailed escape plan, as the case may be).

2) Storytelling: However the story is told — first, third, or even second-person, past or present tense, fantasy or sci-fi or mystery or any other genre — it must flow smoothly. As with above, there are two sides to this aspect: the mechanical construction and the semi-nebulous “story-feel”.

In regard to mechanics, choppiness and unusual constructions only work if properly and consciously manipulated. Prose is as much an art as poetry, and should be crafted as carefully. Stories should be written in a way that strikes the ear pleasantly when spoken aloud, since a reader hears the story recited in his own voice even if he does not read it aloud. The sound and cadence of a story don’t spring to the forefront of my attention on a casual read-through, but after I’ve finished reading, when I’m trying to analyze why I like or dislike a story, the flow of the words and the flow of the action almost always factor in. The sound of the words affects the image that forms in my mind. The right sound, the right flow, the right imagery: these things can cause the words on the page to fade away, so that what I see is not the words on the page, but the story itself playing out like a movie in my mind.

Concerning feel, the main thing is balance. Action and calm, lightness and seriousness: these should be woven together smoothly and in proper proportion to the type of story. Characters the readers are supposed to take an interest in should all be given enough page time to properly develop, and should all have equal (but distinct) roles in and influences on the outcomes of events. However neatly-constructed the setting, and however beautiful the prose (and however engaging the characters, see Reason 1 below), a story will not be worth a re-read unless it’s actually a good story.

I have no problem with tropes such as the coming-of-age journey, the dashing knight rescuing the fair maiden, or the Chosen One versus the Evil King; however, I’m also drawn to fresh and unusual concepts. But whatever the basic idea, the story must be told in an interesting way. Every scene has to matter, and every situation should be approached in a creative fashion. Even when using tropes, originality is a must, and subverting the expected is especially desirable.

1) Soul: The most important point on my informal mental checklist, the thing that draws me in to a story and keeps me reading, is the people. I want to see characters to whom I can relate. This is one of the most-repeated pieces of writing advice, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Strong characters are the heart and soul of a good story. I can’t love a protagonist unless I can get inside his head, understand what he wants and why, and sympathize with his struggles. Likewise, the villains I love to hate are those whom I understand. Show me what drives a person, and I’ll care about what happens to him.

All of the above is achieved only when an author gives his character a “soul”.  A character must be put together like a real person, with real needs and desires, and flaws that are believably balanced with his good traits. The best character development is accomplished when a person is revealed to the reader slowly: At first, we see just enough to make us interested in the person, but details and histories are revealed slowly, tentatively, much as a real person gradually opens up to a new friend.

When characters are realistic, I cannot help but care about their futures.

When I care, I want to know what happens in the whole story.

Then, even if I never read the book again, even if I forget the title and the author and the characters’ names, a good story will stick with me in the form of people — friends, of a sort — whom I remember for years after.

In summary, here’s a short version of my list, in order.
1) Characters matter the most.
2) Style matters a lot too.
3) World-building also matters.

On a side note, this is the first time I’ve ever put these ideas into words. Funny, how long it can take to put one’s thoughts into shareable form. 🙂