Dreams: Storytelling in Your Sleep

This morning I was conspiring with a group of very scary-looking, largely-muscled brutes in order to develop a fool-proof plan for deceiving some unfortunate company, to wrangle them out of all their money. Involved was a long white casket, a white escape van, character roles to be assumed by each of us, disguises, and then there was the plan. This mysterious plan is a mystery to me still. I woke before it was carried out.

I woke to the annoying sounds of my cell-phone’s alarm. The alarm that just so happens to trigger my dog’s “time to potty” button, sending him bouncing all over the place until I get out of bed.

It’s very typical for me to remember my dreams…or at least one of the several you have each night. Often I seem to be running from someone, fighting, or wandering in strange places with no clear idea as to what I’m supposed to be doing. But very recently, I’ve begun having dreams that seem to be more complete. They aren’t just random images, strange places that transform into stranger places, or bursts of activity that quickly subside. These dreams have begun telling me stories.

They begin (so far as I can remember) with particular characters, usually someone who is not me (as I’m typically not in these dreams at all, but rather watching). From there, I seem to meet new characters, carefully introduced, who come to serve a purpose. The story builds into conflict, the characters work together or against one another, and eventually (if I remain asleep long enough) I begin to see some kind of resolution in the distance.

It’s made me wonder, do most people dream in such a structured manner? It’s as if I was dissecting a novel and addressing the individual parts as I did in some of my college courses. And because it’s a dream, you get the emotional context as well. You’re immersed in the atmosphere and substance of the dream world that you’re creating. And because these dreams have something akin to a plot, the feelings linger with me much longer than any other dream I’ve ever had. I can still recall the details of the first of these dreams that I had several weeks ago.

I’ve been working on my novel again recently, re-reading chapters and summarizing the content. I’m building up to writing my synopsis, preparing for queries. I’ve had this book completed now for over a year and it’s yet to make its way out the door. I keep telling myself it’s because I’ve got this last round of editing to do. But I’m beginning to wonder if these dreams aren’t trying to push me onto a new project.

Perhaps these stories I’m dreaming up is my subconscious saying, “Hey, let it go! Time to start something fresh, look at all these things we’ve got ready in here! Just pick one and write it!”

Maybe that’s why I’ve been unable to shake these dreams for days. The odd thing is…or maybe the funny thing is…this novel was actually something I dreamed up. I woke in the middle of the night and scrambled around on my desk for a pen and anything to write on. I scribbled down a mass of nonsensical words and phrases and fell straight back to sleep. It was years before I turned it into anything.

I’ve always wondered how the human mind worked. How does the creative side of an individual manage the subconscious while we sleep? Or is there any creative activity at all? This article from The Tartan Online suggests two theories held in the psychological world: 1) there are no stories whatsoever and we only create stories upon waking based on the random images our mind conjured up while we slept, 2) we use dreams as a form of therapy to comfort ourselves, to take control of everything, to understand our problems, etc.

My question is and always has been: if this is the case, either of these options, then why do we have nightmares? Nightmares hardly seem therapeutic and if it’s only random images that we turn into stories when we wake, where do we get the terrifying stories that startle us awake? Does our waking mind work that fast? In the instant after waking, does it rationalize a few scary images into an entire story of being chased, hunted, killed, etc?

If we could create stories this quickly, wouldn’t we all make wonderful novelists? And if not novelists, at least storytellers? If creating stories based on almost nothing is so inherent to us as human beings, why can’t we all be that creative on command?

As far as why we have nightmares, this article from Fox News discusses some possibilities, though I again find myself reluctant to read or accept anything from Fox News (they aren’t exactly seen as respectable form of journalism to many.) For instance, is the “default dream” really the bad dream? I don’t believe I’ve had a bad dream in quite a while now. So…does that throw this theory out the window or does it make me the exception? In fact, I’ve enjoyed most of the dreams I’ve had in the last few weeks.

I wonder what is the link between dreaming and in my case, writing? Is there a similar link between dreaming for people of other creative mediums? Do painters dream of their next masterpiece? Do sculptors dream of blocks of stone transforming into magnificent statues? Or is the mind so hard-wired for story-telling that it’s the only natural outlet that all human beings share, whether they are writers or not?

What do your dreams tell you? And just how detailed are they really?


Comments (1)

Nightmares | My SynonymSeptember 14th, 2009 at 10:55 AM

[...] posted about dreaming before, but it never fails to amaze me. I was very interested in Psychology in high school and [...]

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