Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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When you dream in stories

Here’s a post at Kill Zone Blog: Writing in the Dream Zone

I have a good friend who dreamed the entire plot of her first novel, which became the debut installment in an enormously successful thriller series. Why can’t I have dreams like that?

Hah, well, I expect the plot tightened up a good deal in translation, as it were.

I do dream in plots, not all the time, but pretty often. When I do, I’m often the narrator planning the story and telling it, not a character actually acting in the dream. When bad things are happening, I, as the dreamer, already know about the happy ending coming up. (You see how thoroughly I disapprove of tragic endings? Even the back of my mind totally hates tragedy. I hardly ever have nightmares.) (When I do, it usually involves losing a dog. Naturally.)

Have I ever turned a dream into a real plot and written a book based on it? No. Have I ever turned a dream into a world and halfway worked out characters and the beginnings of a plot based on it? Yes. So you may still see a story of that kind get smoothed out, written down, and published. Who knows?

At Kill Zone Blog, Laura Benedict adds:

There are so many theories on what dreams are. Just a few:

Subconscious problem solving.

Wish fulfillment

Random neuron firing

Emotional cleanup using dream symbols

Messages from the future or past

Messages from the future. Sure. I don’t think that counts as a *theory* exactly.

But seriously, the kind of dream where you are telling a story and acting as a narrator doesn’t fit any of those categories at all.

I wonder how many other writers … or readers … have story-type dreams where they are narrating rather than acting as a character? How about you all? Chime in:

A) Yep, that’s totally me, I have that kind of dream!

B) Nope, that sounds kinda weird.

C) Other.

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11 Comments When you dream in stories

  1. Matthew

    C) I don’t narrate in my dreams, but I do have plenty that are basically random episodes. I’m not in them, nor is anyone I know, and they’re usually pretty exciting. And they come in all sorts of different genres.

  2. Rachel

    That certainly sounds a lot like some of the dreams I have, except I’m more conscious of planning what’s going to happen next at the same time as the people involved in the action are having whatever adventures. I agree, all kinds of genres.

    In a comment at Goodreads, Sherwood Smith says: I sometimes work out story problems in dreams. Sometimes they are worthwhile (if I waken and remember them) sometimes not. … But we are pattern makers, so it’s not surprising that story patterns that deeply affect us, negative and positive, turn up in dreams alongside the flotsam and jetsam of memory and daily life.

    Thinking about it, I don’t think I ever have worked out a real-world plotting problem in a dream. I often do that before drifting off, though.

  3. Adam D. Jones

    My work in progress is largely influenced by the way it morphed one morning in a dream. It was way better than what I had been doing, and now I don’t recognize the previous drafts.

  4. Hanneke

    I don’t remember my dreams often, but when I do I am always inside my own head playing my part in whatever is going on. Of course, that head might be a glowing green melon-head on a glowing green ghost detective in some part of an unfinished mystery, but that’s nothing remarkable: in my dream mind that’s just me being busy looking for clues and detecting things, not thinking about how I look except for noticing the handy green glow illuminating the dark house I was sleuthing in, and looking out of my eyes past a glimpse of my glowing green nose or looking down and seeing the wispy translucency of my ghost body.
    I do remember two very clear and complete but rather tv-cartoonlike stories I dreamed late in my teenage years (one was an epic quest I undertook as a 4 inches tall glowing matchstick figure, living under a big kettle in a shrubby area, running from pink-and-yellow toy giraffes through my old school building, etc.; the other was just me biking home from school, going swimming, then being eaten by a dinosaur and ending up with me as an angel looking down from my cloud at the dinosaur sleeping next to the swimming pool – for someone raised as an atheist in an atheist household, I found dreaming that I’d turn into an angel on a cloud looking down at the earth after my death so remarkable that I remembered the dream because of that), but those got remembered precisely because an almost complete story was so unusual for me to dream.
    As you can see, there is no plotting whatever going on in my head when I sleep; there’s some random nonsense, and then there mostly are dream-fragments based on reality, most of which I immediately forget, but some of which are real enough that I can sometimes mistake them for reality (like asking my mom if she’d finished sowing a button on my blouse, as I’d asked her two days ago – but it was the first she heard of it, as I’d dreamed of asking her, after intending to ask her but forgetting to do so).

  5. Rachel

    Hanneke, I kind of love the dinosaur one.

    You’ve reminded me that sometimes I do have very real snippets-of-life dreams and then have to puzzle out whether something really trivial really happened or not.

  6. Megan

    I used to dream in stories to a point where I almost could write them up directly, although I agree dreams tended to skip minor but important details that the writer then had to fill in. Best one was probably dreaming I was a male Tibetan monk (teenager) with a breathing disorder, having been abandoned by my parents as an infant to the monastery due to said disorder because they thought it was a curse, and the plot that ensued with Western developers sinking some money in to help restore the place with the ultimate aim of taking it over and making it a tourist attraction….. Well, there was a lot to it, but the breathing disorder bit actually happened. I woke up in the middle of a plot-perfect attack to find my friend’s 20-lb cat sleeping on my chest. Apparently she’d kept climbing up on me all night, and then me, not being able to breathe, somehow rolled over to get her off, and my brain had gone, Story!!

  7. Rachel

    Megan, that’s quite a story for the back of your brain to create just based on the cat lying on you! How funny! And how very detailed. I don’t think I’ve ever had a detailed complicated dream that wasn’t basically SFF.

  8. Craig

    I frequently have third-person dreams, in which I don’t appear personally — but they’re not stories, and I wouldn’t describe my role as narrator. My dreams are too disjointed for that: they seldom even have continuity, and full plots occur even more rarely.

  9. J.S. Pailly

    I’ve had this experience exactly once, and it was fairly recently. Unfortunately when I woke up and tried to write down my dream, I couldn’t remember any of the details. Very frustrating. Still, the fact that it happened to me once gives me hope that it might happen again.

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