Posted on June 15, 2010 - by MG
At a story-building workshop I was running at Southend Girls High School recently, a student asked me if I believed that Stephenie Meyer really did write Twilight because of a dream of a sparkly vampire.
I didn’t get to answer the question in depth because we were under pressure to finish the story before the lesson period ended, so I simply said that yes, I believed it. What I didn’t say was that there’s nothing quite like a dream to power a story.
Dreams dredge up thoughts and feelings from the deepest, darkest parts of our psyche. They speak to us in the language of symbols. Most people don’t understand the significance of these symbols. It’s hard even for a psychoanalyst to interpret the symbols, without first understanding the particular viewpoint or mental landscape of the dreamer.
So a sparkly, beautiful male vampire means something to Stephenie, something that it might not mean to anyone else. That image thrown up by a dream, which became incorporated into the first Twilight novel, had a hold on her. I’m no expert on psychoanalysis so I don’t know what it meant within her own context.
But we can guess that it meant something pretty deep. It drove an author through a series of gripping novels that captured the imagination of millions, which suggests that it was powerful stuff.
The wider question is this: where do writers’ ideas come from? The answer seems to be that some, you work for whilst others, like the (day?) dreams of Edward Cullen or Harry Potter, pop into your head.
The pop-in idea is a frequent visitor to the writer of fiction, the trick may be an ability to recognise which ones come from somewhere deep enough to sustain a novel or book series.
The deeper the better, really. Like the sludge of a riverbed, the depths of a writer’s psyche are the richest in story-building nutrients.
At another school visit to Larkmead School in Abingdon, a boy asked me why I’d written a book series about code-cracking. It was an understandable question given that I’d just led a code-cracking workshop with about 90 year 12-14 year olds. I told him that I’d realised whilst reading The Da Vinci Code in 2004 that having the hero a puzzle to solve was one good way to drive the narrative. Especially for readers who aren’t so keen, or less able to accessing the emotional drive of the story.So that’s why, rather than write a simple coming-of-age story, which is what essentially is, I thought to throw in some puzzles.
In fact the central idea for Joshua came from a fear that strongly coloured my own teenage years: a fear of apocalypse – nuclear holocaust. It was the 1980s, the Cold War was still very much in play: we lived quite consciously in the shadow of the 4-minute warning of doom.
I didn’t need a dream to dredge this up. It was something that was obvious to me at the time and long into my 20s. So when it occurred to me to write an adventure story about a teenager trying to prevent a global catastrophe at the end of 2012, I knew well what fertile personal territory I was tackling.
Graham Greene once said that a writer’s experience of life by the age of 20 will provide all the necessary material for their writing. So maybe we’re all writing from our youthful feelings and memories. But a subject worthy of a children’s book should also be something that was important to us as children and not merely as adults remembering.
A dream can be like a beacon showing us the way back to the hopes and fears of our youth. Any writer lucky enough to have such a dream should definitely take notice.