Monday, October 31, 2011

Dreamstorming: Does Your Writing Move Your Readers?

On Friday, I discussed some of the myths and common mistakes people make when trying to write for children at Daily (w)rite. You can read my post on Do You Want to Write Books for Children there. Today Daily (w)rite blogger Damyanti. is here to talk with us about an interesting concept, Dreamstorming. Here's Damyanti:

For the longest time, I wondered how some of the masters of writing fiction resonated with me as a reader, moved me to tears, or laughter, or rumination. No matter how many books I read, I could not figure out a 'one-size-fits-all' method I could use to connect, and connect at an intimate level, with my readers.

And then I came across From Where You Dream by Pulitzer-winning author Robert Olen Butler.

He talks of a method called Dreamstorming, which is basically method-acting in the process of writing.

You enter a character's mind, heart, soul, and see, feel, touch, smell, taste, hear exactly what the character feels at any given moment. You go for one sensory hook, be it smell or touch or hearing or taste, and use that as your gateway into your character's subconscious--making the experience Real for your character, for you, and for your reader.

As a technique, this is an invaluable tool to write flash fiction, and the first drafts of a short story or novel.

I used it in my collection A to Z Stories of Life and Death, and felt validated when some of the reviews and comments pointed towards the moving quality of some of the stories.

Butler recommends the same method for short stories and novels.

He wants you to enter into a sort of dream-trance, and to try and reach for that genuine flash of sensory emotion, and write it down on index cards. Once you've generated as many index cards as you possibly can, he asks you to order them in a structure you think would create your story or novel. I've used this method, and it certainly beats pantsing it, which I tend to do, because in this case I can change/figure/ revise the structure during the index card stage, simply by moving the cards around and changing their position in the narrative.

I've read quite a bit of Butler's writing--you can see his methods in action, largely successful.

A word of caution, however: Butler's work lacks, in my humble opinion as a reader, a certain application of the mind.

It is a surfeit of the senses, but sometimes it leaves me wondering if there is a point to it all. I'm happy to be transported into the character's world, but then I want to know why I was taken there: for some sort of epiphany, a perspective on life, entertainment? And in Butler's writing, the answer is not always clear or forthcoming.

So I'm not sure I'll use Butler's method exclusively in all my writing--especially in the review and re-visioning drafts. This is because for me it is important that my writing not only move those who read my work, but also Resonate with them, make them Think as well as Feel.

But that said, dream-storming is a useful device to have in a writer's toolbox, especially in stories/ novels where the connection between a reader and your character is not only important, but absolutely crucial.

Have you used dream-storming in your writing before? If yes, did you find it useful?
Damyanti lives more in her head than in this world, adores her husband, and loves her pet fish and plants. She is an established writer for magazines and journals. Her short fiction has been published in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Muse India and in print anthologies by Marshall Cavendish, Monsoon Books, and MPH publications. Her book, A to Z Stories of Life and Death, is available for download on Kindle, Smashwords, Nook, and Diesel.

Twitter: damyantig 


  1. Never heard of dreamstorming until now!

  2. Not familiar with dreamstorming, but I do try to put myself in the mc's head -- to see, touch, smell and interact in their world.

    I think I'll have to look that book up though. Just got your AtoZ stories and am looking forward to reading it.

  3. Really enjoyed your post! I didn't know I was dreamstorming but I do use this technique. Like you, however, I feel the need to have it lead somewhere. I want people to feel something when they have read something I've written, not just to enjoy the words while waiting for something to happen that doesn't. I'd never leave them hanging like that!

  4. Damyanti, I always appreciate the wisdom in your writing, and I really like it that you shared here your criticisms of Butler. Doing so gave more validity to your praise. I've never tried this method for fiction, though index cards got me through take-home midterms and finals in college!!!

    I have to add, because it's appropriate to the post: my entry for Word Verification here is "redialit." Make it two words and it reflects the rearranging of those cards!

  5. Alex, it is a technique worth checking out :)

  6. MPax, you're already doing it then. What butler suggests is imagining yourself into that world till you get a strong sensory input, and then use that flash as an entry point into your writing of that world.

    The book has quite a few workshopped examples because Butler hasn't actually written this book---someone has recorded him during workshop/s, and then edited the result.

  7. Shelley, absolutely. I find the technique useful because it helps me take the readers along on the journey into my created world, and emotionally connect them to my characters. Once they care about the characters, the dramatic action would make sense to them.

  8. Katie, I have the advantage that I used index cards for the first time to write my fiction, so it has no academic associations.

    If you can buy different index cards and pens from the ones you used at the time, and then set about your could help. This is what Butler suggests as well.

    I may not be the best of writers, but I think I can call myself a reader...and I know what I don't like in Butler's work. Which is why I dare criticize the writing of someone whose heights I would possibly never reach :)

  9. Thank you Damyanti for introducing me to dreamstorming -- never heard about it till now! Interesting concept. It's certainly a good way to get readers to connect with a character.

    Thank you Chris for featuring this lovely lady!

  10. I like the dreamstorming idea and I agree as well as the senses, knowing how the character feels you also need to know why/their agenda what makes them tick. Great post.

  11. J.C, most welcome. This is indeed a great way to get inside the head of your characters.

    Madeleine...Finding out the motives of a character is indeed half the battle won!

  12. I have not heard of this term before now, but I do often use a similar technique. I will put myself into a scene and become a character to what extent I can and then write it as I feel it.

    A Faraway View

  13. Lee this is a more intense version of this technique...where the only hook is sensory, where there is no place for the mind, only the sensory imagination.

  14. I've never heard of the term dreamstorming before! The name itself caught my attention though :-)
    I think I do something similar already - when I can't figure out what a character would realistically do next, I stand in the middle of my room, close my eyes and think something along the lines of... Okay. I AM this character. Now what the heck am I going to DO in this situation?!

  15. Rachel, yes, all of us writers do some form of dream-storming from time to time. In its essence, it is about sensorily placing oneself in the story---what Butler says is that creativity should be about intuition and not thought...which is excellent for a first draft.