Not many people are old enough to remember Daydream Believer. It was a single released by the Monkees in 1968 with lead singer Davy Jones and headed the US charts for four weeks. It’s a catchy tune, with cryptic lyrics about a daydream believer and his homecoming queen. But I can still remember the chorus.
Why do I start this blog reminiscing over the a 60’s pop song? I wasn’t even a serious Monkees fan. Well, it’s because all creative writers need to become in some respects daydreamers. Our best ideas come to us when we daydream and often when we least expect it — in the shower, before we fall asleep, on a walk in the countryside, or listening to music. Basically, it’s when are brains are in neutral and they allowed to drift away.
Often a single idea can form the catalyst for a story. In Hollywood, this is often expressed as a log-line. For example: A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. Any guesses which movie this inspired? It’s not that difficult — Titanic.
Whether you’re a novelist or a screenwriter, the nuts and bolts of your writing will come from your imagination. Those ideas can come from anywhere. The skill of the writer is to harness them.
But a single idea doesn’t make a story. A story has to be developed and that requires a succession of ideas. We know the story of Titanic is about two lovers meeting on the ill fated Titanic. So that gives us some historical perspective in terms of facts and the pattern of events. We know the vessel sinks! But we’re really concerned about the love story and how it enfolds.
Often we can use a series of questions to help us develop that story line. For example, we have a young man and woman from different social classes. So which one is from a higher class than the other? How do they meet? Why are they onboard the vessel? What are they looking for? What brought them there to that moment in time? And what do they expect to happen when they arrive in America? Who are the other characters onboard? What do they want? And how do their motives conflict with our lovers? And so on…
So we are now beginning to develop a story line for the two characters (Jack and Rose) and an antagonist (Rose’s fiancé Caledon Hockley). But we still don’t have enough to fill a 194 minute movie or a 400 page novel. We still need a lot more ideas.
Let’s look at some of the ideas the writers actually used. In the movie, Jack and Rose meet when she is contemplating suicide (unusual). They fall in love (that’s the easy part). Jack is a poor artist and draws a nude sketch of her wearing the Heart of the Ocean necklace. And Jack is later accused of stealing the necklace.
How did the writers find these ideas? Obviously they needed to create conflict and tension between the lovers and Rose’s fiancé. And one question might be how to we create this conflict. But the ideas themselves don’t automatically flow from the Titanic story, they flow from the creative imagination of the writers.
How does the movie start? Again the writers start the movie in 1996 with Broch Lovell, a treasure hunter, and his team searching for the wreck of the Titanic and a rare diamond necklace (The Heart of the Ocean). What made them think of the diamond necklace? Hitchcock once talked about the importance of a McGuffin (an object of desire) in movies. Not all movies have a McGuffin, but they can be very useful. The McGuffin is something the story is built around, but is not what the story is really about. Titanic is love story — the diamond necklace is just device in the story to create conflict between the characters.
Interestingly, most of the movie is set in flashback. Again the choice of how to deliver the story is interesting.
So could you have written Jack and Rose’s story from the original log-line? Perhaps not the same way James Cameron developed it. But maybe something like it. It’s a love story and I’m sure there are different ways that story could have been portrayed. Switch the characters around — make Jack the aristocrat and Rose the fiancée of an Irish emigrant. There are hundreds of ways to write this tragic love story. All you need is to do daydream.
So what have you daydreamed about recently that might make a good story?
2 thoughts on “Daydeam Believer”
My free form daydreams seem to be too emotionally charged to go into for a story, such as on Mothers Day the daydream of murdering my mother. I suppose as she is dead I can be freer to feel feelings I controlled, not that I would have murdered her but the rage her behaviour inspired in me. She was the one threatening my life. I mean too emotionally intense for me to handle writing as a story rather than perhaps for the reader. There would also be the whole business of having to deal with people judging me as a person from my story using it as material to do psychoanalysis.
I use daydreaming continuously to work on the story I am writing and often when I first wake up in the morning I develop areas that I have previously been wondering about to no avail. Lone walks and running are good for that purpose too. I am not sure if I am relaxed or in a state of intense pouring forth. It is both. It feels more of a gush than floating stray thoughts that pop into my consciousness. This novel started as a plot sketch exercise in which I wrote eight plots while teaching my home-schooled teenagers and they did the exercise too. Mainly the novel is about what happens after the situation I set up in the sketch. I started writing years later when I needed to do a presentation for my writers’ club and it fitted the topic. I used some early scenes and then wrote on.
Interesting… My best ideas seem to come at those types of moments — when you first wake up, on long walks, when you simply let your mind wander. Imagination is a strange thing. It can’t be forced. It needs to find its own way. I’m a planning kind of writer. But my best ideas don’t come out of a planning process. When I’m stuck on a plot I leave it for a while and inspiration usually comes to the rescue when I least expect it.