• A Fine Bogey Tale

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 8 comments

    Another thing I learned in Scotland: When Robert Louis Stevenson is asleep, do not wake him.

    In my edition of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Peter Harness writes in the afterword that the story “came to Stevenson, almost fully-formed, in an opium-induced nightmare.”

    Of that night, his wife, Fanny, says, “I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis.” So she woke him… and he was furious. “Why did you wake me?” Stevenson shouted. “I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.

    That fine bogey tale became Jekyll & Hyde. He wrote the first draft in three days. Then he burned it! He wrote the next draft in six days, a rate of over 10,000 words per day. And of course he was sick as hell the whole time.

    I wonder how the story might have changed if he’d have slept through to the end of the nightmare? Might it have been even more frightening?




    I’ve been thinking often lately about dreams and how they relate to our creativity. I’m no expert, and my take is unoriginal: I think dreams are simply our subconscious engaging us in conversation.

    I rarely remember those conversations, and when I do, I have to immediately write down everything I can recall before it all starts fading away. And then I analyze.

    Every so often, a scene from a dream, or inspired by a dream, will show up in my writing.

    More often, my dreams simply notify me of the things — especially the fears — that have been on my mind that I’ve not been aware of.

    These are the things that show up in my writing, nonfiction especially, again and again.




    So Stevenson wrote Jekyll & Hyde after a dream; Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein after a dream; Poe wrote some of his stories based on dreams. Stephen King says he wrote Dreamcatcher after a dream.

    But the ideas that showed up in those scary works of fiction are things those writers had already been thinking about, perhaps with some measure of fear.

    Next time I have a nightmare, I’m going to, after processing it, write a short story based on it and see what comes out.

    I think you should do the same! And then let’s compare notes.

    Your turn: How do your dreams and your writing impact each other? Do you ever write fiction based on dreams/nightmares? Do you ever have dreams/nightmares about your fictional characters? Do the things you dream about find their way into your nonfiction? Let us know in the comments!


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    I had a dream once about finding a human head in a bucket. I tried like heck to turn that into a story, so many revisions, but couldn’t pull it off. Maybe I will go back to that story some day or maybe it’s a lost cause that got me started on writing other stuff.

    David Duhr

    That’s horrifying. Do you remember anything about the head? Was it someone’s you knew?

    Maybe the story is a lost cause, but another way of looking at it is that there are no lost causes: every story we write, or try to write, teaches us something and adds to our experience and expertise.

    I sound so optimistic today!

    John Liebling

    When I was younger I could in fact manipulate my own dreams. Young or old almost always my dreams are action packed. Any fear. Any regret. Any thoughts my subconscious journey embarks on; some times missed opportunities can be replayed. I do know I don’t dream, or perhaps I do, but I don’t remember anything when I go to bed bone tired or suffering from insomnia. As far as writing down my dreams – I’ve never done that. As i wake, most often, but not always these intense dreams fade. One thing I did hear is that it is impossible… Read more »

    C Petro

    I personally find some of the best fodder for fiction stories in my own dreams. Sometimes I can point to an event, conversation, or something else that triggered the dream (one of my fictional creations was derived from a dream triggered by a science video I had watched a day or two earlier on You Tube), but I’m not always aware of where my dreams stem from. I currently have three outlines fully written and one book in progress from the content of my dreams. I find dreams/nightmares to be fertile ground for story ideas and I will usually get… Read more »

    John Liebling

    For example…I just get up from a very disjointed dream, a few moment ago. In the dream I am a high school teacher and for some unknown reason a journalist – driving and flying from location to location. I am getting through the semester’s material so fast, I am starting over, with different assignments but now I am repeating the same chapters, and taking over for a teacher the students didn’t like. But the like me a lot. My next door neighbor happens to be Carol Burnett…only she is very young, 30 something…and her students ask her to sing, and… Read more »

    John Liebling

    Post time says 8:05….but I am living in West Los Angeles California – which means it is still 5:08.

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