Tag Archives: Dream analysis

Into the Depths: Characters and Their Dreams

“Sleeping Cat”
2happy → in Cats and dogs

Each night before I fall asleep I will myself to dream. If I’m lucky the next morning, I’ll remember them and record the details in a journal. Then, I’ll dissect what I wrote and analyze each symbol separately. Dreammoods.com is my savior. It’s more complex than that of course; dream interpretation remains a mystery, even today.  Nonetheless, I love dreaming. I love talking about my dreams. And I’m probably alone in this, but I love hearing about other people’s dreams.

That being said, in literature, when characters dream, it’s a sublime reading experience.

Not surprisingly my main character dreams throughout my novel-in-progress.  I don’t overdo it; he only has maybe two or three noteworthy dreams in the story. These nightly visions aren’t longwinded three page descriptions of unconscious rigmarole. A good dream sequence should probably last five to seven sentences at the most. And, let me say, the weirder the better.

After examining both my own writing and that of others, I can relate three simple rules-of-thumb when it comes to a character’s REM cycle:

1. Like I mentioned before, keep it short. The general public tends to get bored while listening to a friend, relative, or co-worker’s nighttime adventures (I’m the exception), so assume that they’ll get “sleepy” while reading about a protagonist’s overactive subconscious.

2. It should reflect what real dreams are like: ethereal, nonsensical, and at times, jarring. Taking this a step further, it works best when the underlying meaning of the dream is more obvious to the reader than the character him or herself.

3. It can’t be random. It must, in some ways, reflect the bigger picture of the story.

Expanding on number three, I’ve broken the concept down into the three categories:

1. Distorted Foreshadowing:A character dreams of walking through an unfamiliar rose garden. All flowers are flourishing, except for one brownish, wilting bush at the perimeter’s edge. Two weeks later a phone call comes: the character’s estranged mother has passed. At the wake, the funeral home is decked out in roses—the once vibrant mother’s favorite flower.

2. Jumbled Reflection of a Character’s True Feelings: A female protagonist has a recurring dream where she is stuck inside an old haunted hotel. There are ghosts in each room, and she fears they will come out and get her. There seems to be no exit to the terrifying building, each door she tries is jammed, the phones don’t work, and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter because when she tries to speak, no words come out.

In this character’s real life situation, she is invested in an abusive marriage, and despite the warnings she receives from her friends and family members, she feels too weak to break free. There are many, many truths she has not acknowledged about her life and situation. However, at least in the early parts of the story, she is utterly confused as to the meaning of the ominous dream.

3. Mish-mashed Symbolism:A wronged male character dreams he is on the beach when a giant wave crashed over him. Later, when he finds shelter in an abandoned house, he can barely step inside because the entire place is flooded. In dreams, water is reflective of emotions, particularly emotions which have gotten out of control; hence, the man’s anger over his past is actually “leaking out” and “overwhelming” him. The water symbolizes his torrid emotional state.

Each story will lend itself to a different kind of dreamer.  As the sole creators of our stories, we understand our characters better than they understand themselves. Their dreams are simply attempting to clue them in.

Some tips? Check out dreammoods.com here. It has a comprehensive dream dictionary, as well as simplified theories from renowned theorists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Understanding the basic nature of dreams will aid you in your writing.

How about you? Do your characters dream? Excited to hear your comments!

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Filed under Characters, Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Writing Tips

Perpetual Darkness

“I do not rewrite unless I am absolutely sure that I can express the material better if I do rewrite it. —William Faulkner

Well, Faulkner, that’s my problem these days. I can never tell when I’m finished. The other problem is, I always think I can express it better. For me, my already written text is like an iceberg–stands in the way, won’t move, won’t budge, actually, and blocks a calm, smooth sail. It’s a crutch, a challenge, a ‘hard place,’ if you will.

The other night I dreamed I was sitting in a park on a bench as day gradually turned to night. At one point I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, it’s dark, maybe I should get up and go.’ I began to feel spooked actually, so I got to my feet, and strolled over towards another bench, where apparently all my stuff was: my school bag, my purse, and, oddly, a small, brown dog. I fumbled around aimlessly, trying to collect my items as the duskiness of night set in. I don’t have a dog. I’ve never seen this one in my life. But I picked him up, along with my other (less furry) cumbersome items and began to walk.

Then I was walking down my grandparents’ street–towards their house, I suppose–and the world began to light up again, gradually, in degrees. I still held onto my things, dog included, but I felt resolute in making it all the way to my grandparents’ house without dropping anything.

All my dream research points to darkness as a sign of doom, evil, the death of the spirit. But I don’t think I believe that–not in this context anyway. I think I’m ‘in the dark,’ about what my writing should look like, should sound like, etc. I’m fumbling around, trying to figure it all out. I’m determined to hold on, to make it back, and little by little, the fog–or darkness, in this case–will dissipate.

I don’t think anything I’ve ever written is perfect. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell. If there is even such a thing as ‘perfect writing.’ I’ll keep aiming for perfection; maybe one day I can get close.

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Revision Check

“… Falsely straining yourself to put something into a book where it doesn’t really belong, it’s not doing anybody any favors. And the reader can tell.”
—Margaret Atwood

I may be an intrinsic writer, but I’m not an intrinsic revisionist. The act of writing doesn’t frighten me. If everything I ever wrote came out perfectly the first time, I’d have endless material, stacks of paper up to the sky. Revision, though, terrifies me. It’s what holds me back. I’m not sure what exactly bothers me so much about cleaning up text–maybe the irrational despair of having to do ‘the whole thing over again.’ I think it’s this notion of running out of time. Writing can be a blissfully painstaking process (yes, I’m aware of the oxymoron I’ve just provided, but any intrinsic writer knows what I’m talking about). The idea of starting from scratch, the idea of something “not working” in my writing sends me into lunatic mode. I start thinking of the months, years, even it’ll take to complete, and that, who knows, by that time, maybe no one will read anymore…

Senseless thinking? Yes. Absolutely. But this is what keeps me up at night. This is what depresses me as I listlessly cruise through my daily activities. I’ve started my thesis seminar. It’s me, the professor (my adviser) and two classmates. Last Thursday, for the first time ever, I got a response to the opening pages of my novel. I expected criticism. I knew it wasn’t perfect. I’ve been in many writing workshop situations before, so I knew the drill. What I didn’t expect was to feel so…discouraged…at the end of the night. They said my structuring was off, and that I needed to shed some light on the time period I was writing in. Excellent points. Very true, I know that now, I knew that then. But I spiraled into a sort frenzied depression for two days. I refused to look at the novel. On Friday afternoon, instead of writing, I took personality quizzes online. I felt, well, completely doomed.

Then on Friday night I had a dream. My fiance and I were on some kind of vacation with his siblings. We were in this cabin on top of a huge mountain, covered in snow. We played this game with each other, or we challenged each other…I don’t know, but these were the circumstances of the dream…to climb first down the mountain, and then back up. I walked all the way down the mountain in the freezing cold. I doubted I could make it back up and wind up in the same place. I feared veering off into a totally new direction and never finding my way back. But I ascended anyhow, and when I made it to the top, I saw my fiance’s brother smoking a cigar (weird, I know) and I knew I’d reached the right place.

Yesterday morning I sat down and rewrote/restructured the opening pages to my novel. And it looks…well, better. In fact, in some ways, I have a whole new feeling about it. My professor had stressed the importance of the opening pages. She said now that I’d gone through and written the entire story, I know the focus of the novel, the purpose of the novel. The opening pages have to express that. Are they perfect yet? Probably not. But I’ll find my way back up the mountain.

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Filed under Inspiration, Revision, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process

It’s very important that you do

“You need that pride in yourself, as well as a sense, when you are sitting on Page 297 of a book, that the book is going to be read, that somebody is going to care. You can’t ever be sure about that, but you need the sense that it’s important, that it’s not typing; it’s writing.”
—Roger Kahn

Over a year ago, around the time I began composing my novel, I dreamed of seeing a paperback with the book’s title etched across the front cover lying amidst a plain, white background. I felt so excited in the dream, so accomplished. It seemed real, somehow. Feasible. Not without a ton of work, of course. But I awoke feeling relieved. Maybe it does matter that I do this, is what I thought.

Last semester, in my final pre-thesis graduate course, my professor, in response to reading my proposal said she was highly impressed that I’d written an entire first draft of a novel. “It must take a lot of confidence,” she said, “to know that you can do that,” (I apologize if I’ve misquoted). I had never looked at it that way. Certainly there were some days when ‘confident’ was the last thing I felt in terms of writing the story. But on deeper reflection, I found that the three D’s–desire, discipline, dedication–despite sounding like something off a motivational poster, is in fact, the recipe for confidence in writing, in any endeavor, really.

There aren’t a lot of guarantees in being an intrinsic writer. I have to remind myself everyday that this is something I have to do, whether it amounts to anything or not. Underneath the frustration, the labor, and the self-torture lies a kind of quintessential joy that emanates through my fingers, onto the keyboard, and finally the page. It is important. Know that. Believe it.

And I encourage all of you intrinsic types to keep writing. Because it does matter that you do.

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Uncategorized