3 Whimsical Reasons to Daydream Your Story

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Daydreaming is one of your greatest writing tools. Mind you, some people call it visualization. Others call it imagination. I call it story-prep, and here and now, I am officially giving you permission to daydream.

3 Whimsical Reasons to Daydream Your Story

3 Whimsical Reasons to Daydream Your Story

Not convinced yet? Here are three reasons why daydreaming might just be one of the best things you do for your writing today.

1. Daydreaming Aids “Showing”

You already know you should be reading in order to write well. (You wouldn't trust a “gourmet” chef who never ate the kind of food he cooked, after all.) Daydreaming is another super-helpful key to good writing, and here's why: the key to show-vs-tell is calling on all the senses, and daydreaming allows you to do that.

Do you remember the smell of freshly fallen snow? What about the smell of a fire, possibly with marshmallows? Or how about the scent of hay in a barn, or horses? Or a field spread with manure, or a dank, urine-stained alleyway in a city?

How about sounds? Do you remember loud traffic at night with distant sirens? How about wind in trees, branches too high to reach? Have you ever been in a nice, quiet restaurant, and heard soft laughter and conversation paired with the gentle clink of flatware on plates?

How about the sound of a subway station at night, tense with your echoed steps and distant trains? Do you recall a loved one's sleeping breaths? A cat's purr? A dog's bark? A dog's smell? The way mud looks clumped on a dog's fur?

Dried blood on your skin. Goosebumps. Your body's reaction to a sudden and frightening noise (heart pounding, widened eyes, maybe shaking, maybe stomach churning, quickened breath). The spurting taste of fresh strawberries. The shock of hot coffee on a cold day, or cold iced tea on a hot day. The sour-sweet tang of lemonade. The bitterness and slime of vegetables cooked way too long. The silkiness of melting chocolate.

Instead of saying, “It was hot, and I sweated,” say, “Sweat stung my lips, and I couldn't stand my own smell, but sure as hell, that lemonade was the best that ever happened to me.” 

2. Daydreaming Aids Plot

We live in a deeply visual era. This is both good and bad, but one of the benefits is that we've all seen a good movie, television show, or play. That means that we've experienced someone's successful plot communicated in a very limited format.

Writing is less limited. We have no special effects budget, no casting problems, no broken props. When you visualize your story, it usually moves quickly. When you're deep in daydreams, you see exactly how this tale has to play out. Chances are when you're in that zone, you react to your story the way you want readers to react later.

How do you get from point A to point C? Daydream the scenes between them. How do you play out that conflict, and how do you resolve it? Daydream and let your imagination lead the way. Let your imagination do what it wants, and you'll find the holes of your story filling in inch by inch.

Yes, what you imagine may seem ridiculous. A hardboiled cop drama might just daydream its way into Superman showing up to save the day, and you can't write that—but what it really tells you is your characters need outside intervention to overcome the conflict-point you've been having trouble fixing.

Maybe you daydream your eighty-three-year-old protagonist flipping out, locking her fellow quilters in the closet, and driving away at top speed while singing “Single Ladies.” You probably can't fit that in your cozy Southern mystery, but what it does tell you is your character needs a break and some time to herself before the question of “who killed Judge Brown” can be solved.

3. Daydreaming Helps Characterization

One of the wildest things that I've ever realized about writing is how much daydreaming builds my characters.

Here's the kicker: half the time, those characters aren't doing current-book things in my daydreams. They've jumped into someone else's story (Harry Potter is a favorite of mine), or they're on the wrong planet, or they're suddenly in a prequel, or they're giving me a glimpse of who they are twenty years after the current book ends.

I've learned to let them play.

Daydreamed characters step out of the constraints of your story, and that's good. That means you can see who they really are.

How do your characters respond to different situations? Different problems? How much of their personality is nature vs. nurture? Does their humor stay the same? Do they maintain their philosophies of life, worth, and identity?

Those responses do more to tell you who they are than most of the “character chart” exercises out there.

Just remember to let your characters play in your daydreams. If they want to go off and do something outside your book, let them. They're trying to tell you something about themselves, and I promise it won't make your book any less vibrant.

Go Forth and Daydream!

So wherever you are in the writing process, go for it. No, it isn't childish. It's powerful, and it can even help you fall in love with your story all over again.

Consider this your official permission. Go forth and daydream today!

Have you found daydreaming helps your writing? Let us know in the comments!

PRACTICE

This is the fun part! I'd like you to take some time and visualize your next scene. Daydream; play it out, letting the characters do what they want.

When you're through, take fifteen minutes to write down what you saw, paying special attention to the “showing” aspect of the story. Try to call on different senses. Have fun with it!

Then post your practice in the comments and don't forget to comment on others' stories as well. 🙂

Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.

Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.

When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.

P.S. Red is still her favorite color.

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13 Comments

  1. Alicia

    OMG! Thank you so glad I’m not the only one who does this. I completely revamped a plot line because the end result of a daydream (which actually replaced sleeping *sighs*) was NOT what I wanted to happen and neither did anyone involved it was bad bad bad…But the characters involved are happier and hits the end of the story marks where it needs to be… or so we think right now! I will do this exercise later and post my results… but have to work now.

    Reply
  2. Annie

    It’s not that she was clumsy. It was more that her limbs seemed to go out of their way to find nearby objects that could set them off track. So when she spun around to collect her mail, the sound of her doorbell ringing in her ears, it came as no surprise when her knee found the corner of an ornamental end table. Nearly losing her balance, she grabbed the doorknob to steady her. She opened the door, trying to ignore the tingling sensation in her leg that meant a new splotchy path of black and blue would be materializing sooner rather than later. The rusting hinges of her bright red mailbox protested loudly as she lifted the top to pull out the pile of bills and magazines. She returned herself to the indoors, careful to stay away from the deadly corners of her furniture. Sinking into the cushions of her aging sofa, she examined the damage above her kneecap. Dark spots speckled the area that was surrounded by blue and purple discoloration. It was raised above the rest of the leg and the feeling of it reminded her of what it felt like if you sat on your hand for too long. She picked up the envelope on top of the rest of her morning mail, wondering whether she should open it or not, considering that it was most likely another bill or credit card notice. Her blue-painted fingernail made its way into the opening of the pale envelope, slicing through it with the satisfying sound of ripping up love letters from an ex. She extracted a light blue piece of paper, folded in thirds on crisp creases. Unfolding the mysterious note, she found herself face to face with swirling script handwriting that could not belong to anyone but her high school boyfriend. She was a few days away from twenty seven and she had not spoken to him in nine years, a span of time during which she had forced herself to forget what it felt like when he looked into her eyes and told her that he loved her. But he hadn’t. Closing her blue eyes and shaking her head, she tried to remember how they had parted ways. All that came to mind were colors that matched the ones that were making themselves at home on her knee and the discomfort that came with them. Her heart skipped a few beats and her breath couldn’t seem to remember how to fill her lungs properly because the first words of the note were all too familiar.

    “You had no right to leave me.”

    Reply
    • I'm determined

      Okay. Why? What’s he on about? How come he’s left it so long to reconnect with her? What is his motive? More. I need more.

      Reply
  3. Jessica Lesh

    I feel like daydreaming my story especially helps build my characters; I like to make mixed CDs for my story, then drive around listening to it and daydreaming my characters in different situations

    Reply
    • Susan W A

      A mixed CD for your story … great idea!

      Reply
  4. Sebastian Halifax

    I was in a tavern when he came. I’d just downed my third tankard of mead when the sudden smell of perfumed arse wafted into my nostrils. Quite out of place with the odors of ale, sweat and scum suiting this establishment.
    He sat his arse at my table. From his attire I knew this man had more than enough money to his name. Baira came, her twin charms barely contained within her dress. The noble ordered an expensive wine, and she left.
    Ah, Baira. I’d had her on one occasion, a year before I caught the news that she ‘d gotten a nasty disease that affected a man’s privates.
    At the time, she’d had a fire within her even the ocean couldn’t quench. I ‘d had just enough coin for her service. She was a lively lass, squealing louder than a thunderstorm. Afterwards she told me none of her other patrons had lasted as long. Paradise, if such exists, is not in the heavens or beyond; it’s between a woman’s thighs.
    The nobleman cleared his throat, interrupting my reverie. “You’re a man of the road, yes? I have a job that mght interest you.”
    “How much?” I said. He placed a bag of coins before me. It felt light in my hand. Lighter than it should be.
    “My rate is five hundred up front, double if it involves high class monsters. And no escort quests. I tire of watching some prissy noble’s back. No offense.”
    “I’m searching for an ancient trove. There’s a man in Storgrom who holds a map to it. Retrieve the map and bring it to me, and I’ll see to it you’ve a handsome reward.”
    “Five hundred up front.” I said.
    “So be it. I’ll look elsewhere.” he said, rising abruptly and heading toward the door.
    Baira came back with a goblet of wine. “That’ll be two hundred and thirty-five.” she chortled.
    I rose from my chair, almost knocking her over. I ran out into the street. I spotted the man heading to the stables, escorted by two guards.
    The first one turned at the sound of my footsteps. He had less than a second before my mace struck him in the face. He fell to the ground, not so much as a twitch.
    The other moved to draw his sword. A heavy blow to his arm rendered it useless. The noble drew his sword, thrusting at my side. I caught his blade with my mailed gauntlet and threw my elbow in his face.
    The force of the blow broke his nose. I struck him on the head with my mace. he crumpled to the ground, lifeless.
    I reentered the tavern, throwing the man’s purse to the bartender behind the counter. “No one leaves me paying for drinks.” I said for all to hear, then left the tavern.

    Reply
    • I'm determined

      Ouch. Succinct. I was right there with you. Well done.

      Reply
  5. retrogeegee

    I see my main character hiding in brush. He swats away the May flies that stick to the prespiration dripping down his seventeen year old face.
    “Damn,” he says as he swipes away another gang of flies, and his pounding heart begins a slower beat that his fingers begin to tap also more slowly. He reaches in his back pocket and pulls out the blue bandanna which he uses to mop the sweat off his face. His face is wet with sweat and tears as hears the voices of his contemporaries, hollering, “Hey Jake, come on we were only kidding. Where are you anyway. Didn’t mean it when Ron said he was gonna tip you upside down til he shook the breath out of you.
    All that is is silent. Jake let’s out deep sigh but remains head down in the brush playing his best imitation of a stone or branch or anything that doesn’t move. He whispers to the pile of brush. “We won’t move. Maybe they will go away ”

    My fifteen minutes is up. It surprised how well this worked. I’m slow at it but it frees up my mind which is often so self judgemental that my imagination is not free to roam.

    Reply
    • I'm determined

      If I could suggest, the beginning of the second paragraph –
      “Damn.” He swipes away another gang of flies.
      Are they really Jake’s friends? I feel for him, I really do. Have been there a time or two myself. Well done, a good daydream. I hear the flies, they’re buzzing in my ears, and I feel the sweat making my face itchy. Definitely a GANG of flies!

      Reply
  6. Sefton

    All fanfiction is the result of daydreaming, of ‘what if’ thinking. What if Raymond Reddington was a powerful creature from another planet, stripped of his strength and striving to protect Liz Keen, who he kidnapped from her evil father Berlin and hid here on Earth? Hmmn. (Blacklist/Arcane Heart/writerfan2013.)

    Reply
  7. Claire

    Great post, Ruthanne! Here’s what I came up with:

    Adrian sat on the overstuffed armchair that faced the bed lost in the quiet hub of his own thoughts as he studied her body. The semi-dimness of the room offered a certain comfort. The smell of the rain that had fallen earlier that evening filtered through the opened window giving the air a clean and cool sensation. A wide moonbeam shone on the side of the bed spotlighting her body. Her uncovered back faced him and the white sheet was drawn down just below the two small dimples in the small of her back.

    Adrian raised his right index finger and traced in the air the natural curvature of her young figure. It resembled the shape of an acoustic guitar. He thought about how he had made that instrument emanate the music of love a few hours earlier. He longed for her now but didn’t want to disturb the deep slumber that allowed the silencing of the monsters that plagued her. Her emotional inanition had been part of the attraction that drew him to her. Adrian felt the need to rescue her, to be her lifesaver …

    Reply
  8. Vicki Baldwin

    Randal stood looking out the windows at the tall buildings and busy traffic. Night fall was quickly descending. He was tired of the apartment with no one to talk to. He spun around, grabbed his key, and then walked quickly out the door. The traffic and store windows were just what he needed. As he turned the corner he noticed a small bar and decided that a cold beer would do the trick.
    As he sat down the bartender placed a cool foaming beer in front of him. He took one small sip then looked at the mirror and frowned. He felt like he was back in the hospital seeing his shattered face. He had covered the mirrors in his apartment so he couldn’t see his face. He took a deep swallow of his beer and again stared at the mirror, remembering the explosion of the landmine. He received a Medal of Honor for saving the lives of a number of soldiers that day which was worthwhile but brought him a smashed face and a limp leg.
    As he was sitting looking in the mirror behind the bar a loud laughter caught Randal’s attention, he turned around and noticed men whispering and pointing fingers at him. One man stepped forward, and slowly walked towards him. As he reached Randa, he tapped him on his shoulder.
    “Hi, you’re Randal Shepherd, the guy that received the Medal of Honor?” With his hand still resting on Randal’s shoulder, the other men gathered around him.
    Randal looked over his shoulder at the group staring at him. He didn’t smile, just quietly glanced at some faces that weren’t worth a chat or having a beer with. He then turned and sat looking in the mirror again and sipped his beer. He could see the group whispering back and forth jointly in the reflection of the mirror. He continued ignoring them.
    The leader of the group tapped on Randal’s shoulder again. Randal turned quickly with a sharp glare at the man. “I have nothing to say to you except leave me alone.”
    “Now I understand why you were washed-up. You just weren’t worth being in the Military anymore.” The leader smiled and turned his head looking at the gang, then removed his hand from Randal’s shoulder. He looked back at Randal and smirked at him, then turned his back and walked back with the gang to their beers on the counter.
    Randal sat back watching the gang when the bartender placed another beer in front of him. “This is for you. I don’t like them; they are a bunch of gangsters and I wish they would use another bar but they only live a block away. Oh well, as least I get paid.”
    ”Thanks for the beer.” Randal said spinning around to watch the gang. They were still drinking and laughing. He noticed that one of the gang members had a knife tied to his belt; another had a police club hanging from his belt. Looking more closely he noticed that the man that was the leader of this group had a small Revolver handle sticking out of his rear pocket.
    Randal finished his beer, waived to the bartender then quietly walked out the door and down the sidewalk toward the closest building corner. He stood quietly in front of the corner watching the bar and waiting for the gang to appear.
    As the gang started toward him he stood up straight and crossed his arms. His appearance made him look like he was ready to start a fight.
    The majority of the gang slowed down and fell behind the leader. The leader not knowing the gang was not close behind him continued forward with his arms at his side and each hand in a fist.
    Randal nodded his head and took a step forward with a smile on his face. The leader returned the smile and then looked quickly over his shoulder to confirm that the gang was right behind him and would protect him. He turned completely around and saw that the entire gang had disappeared. He turned very slowly to face Randal. He held his arms hanging down his side and his hands shaking. “I’m sorry for bothering you in the bar.” He then silently turned around and walked back toward the bar.
    Randal’s face showed the biggest smile he had ever had since the celebration with his remembered soldier pals.

    Reply
  9. Ryan Biddulph

    Love the advice here Ruthanne 🙂 My most colorful tales grow out of deep, thoughtful, mindful day dreaming. Although in most cases I just recount the batty stuff that happened during my world travels LOL. Thanks for the reminder.

    Ryan

    Reply

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