Dreaming Plots


Excerpt from Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge (1985)

Why do we have dreams and what do they mean? These questions have for centuries been the subject of a debate that has recently become the center of a heated controversy. In one camp we have a number of prominent scientists who argue that we dream for physiological reasons alone and that dreams are essentially mental nonsense devoid of psychological meaning: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The idea that dreams are nothing more than “meaningless biology” sounds absurd and rather blasphemous to the opposing camp, a coalition of Freudians and other dream workers committed to the view that we dream for psychological reasons and that dreams always contain important information about the self or some aspects of one’s life which can be extracted by various methods of interpretation. This camp takes its credo from the Talmudic aphorism that “an uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter.” There is also a third camp occupying the middle ground, that believes both of the extreme positions on the function and meaning of dreams to be partly right and partly wrong. Its proponents argue that dreams may have both physiological and psychological determinants, and therefore can be either meaningful or meaningless, varying greatly in terms of psychological significance.

This middle position is where I find myself most comfortable. I agree with Sir Richard Burton that

“Truth is the shattered mirror strown in myriad bits; while each believes his little bit the whole to own.”


I find this last quote simply stunning.  BTW, you can read more of this section of chapter eight at this site.

This is a debate I’ve followed for awhile.  I probably fall somewhere along the lines of that middle camp myself.  I’ve always wanted to know why we dream.   While I don’t believe dreams are messages from a higher power, I’m not sure I believe they’re nothing more than meaningless biology either.

I tend to forget most of my dreams, but there have been a few that stayed with me long enough to be useful.  I’ve written a couple of short stories from some–one that took a first place award. 

I tend to dream more “harshly” during times of heavy stress.  It’s during those times, some of my inner fears play out in macabre settings that have me jerking awake in a panic some mornings.

There are very few tangible things that scare me–most of my fears have to do with not realizing a dream, not having a business make it, someone hurting my kids… things like that.  But during the times I’m worrying about such things, I tend to take the two tangible things that scare me and twist them into nightmares.  What are those tangibles?  Heights and Sharks.  Yeah, I know–kind of a strange combination.     

I used to study reincarnation.  Believed in it for a period of time–in fact, I was sure these two things had caused early, painful deaths in  former lives. 

Now, I think maybe I was a bit young when I saw JAWS and it left an impression <bg> 

I used to believe that my dreams were telling me answers to problems.  But then, most of them were so bizarre and made very little sense.  

Has anyone found a way to harness their dreams to make them work in their writing?   

I was a complete skeptic when it came to this practice until a writer I’ve known for more than ten years, Sharon Sala, told me she dreams each one of her books.  Beginning to end.  

Her dreams put her on best-seller lists.

Now, if there was a way to harness my dreams, I’d go for that way. 🙂

ADDED:  I actually wrote this the other night, knowing I’d be busy with my sister and her new baby–it’s always good to plan ahead, right? <g>  But, I thought I’d add last night’s dream.

I’m sick of water.  Sick of storms.  Normally love them, but these have been loud and make travel difficult and then, there’s all the damned tornadoes!  We had no power for nine hours yesterday. Last night, I went to bed knowing another storm was coming during the night, so I had trouble sleeping.  I did finally nod off but the funniest thing happened.  I was sleeping in a t-shirt and dreamed that a tornado came through my bedroom, snatched me and took me miles away.  What did I do?  I got up and put on a pair of pajama pants. 

For some reason, in my half-sleep state, getting caught in a tornado with my pants on was the better choice.  What would be the other?  Sleeping somewhere else maybe??? Heh heh

Oh and one of the joys of too much water on the ground are the lovely things that move to higher ground.  I just reached into my mailbox and had a tarantula crawl over my fingers!!!!!!!!!!!  And another storm is about to hit in the next two hours.  Sheesh.


About Rinda Elliott

Writer.I love unusual stories and credit growing up in a family of curious life-lovers who moved all over the country. Books and movies full of fantasy, science fiction and romance kept us amused, especially in some of the stranger places. For years, I tried to separate my darker side with my humorous and romantic one. I published short fiction, but things really started happening when I gave in and mixed it up. When not lost in fiction, I love making wine, collecting music, gaming and spending time with my husband and two children. I’m represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Agency.
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12 Responses to Dreaming Plots

  1. Terri says:

    LOL on getting out of bed to put on shorts. I actually have a change of clothes in our storm shelter (in a ziploc baggie to keep out spiders). Don’t give me that weird look *g*…we don’t have kids, so we’re definitely an *ahem* clothing optional house.

    When it comes to dreams, I’m with you on the 50/50 camp. I’ve had recurring dreams that have lasted decades…one is about wolves. I can never remember the content, so it’s not like I can write it down and have it analyzed, but I know that I’m not scared. I have to wonder if it’s not a book working itself out in my head, that someday I’ll sit down and write.

  2. relliott4 says:

    Oh, it’s clothing optional–even with kids. But they’re older now. When they were younger, I could never sleep with the door locked for fear they’d get scared. Now, I just cover up if needed and tell them they need to knock if I didn’t have it locked. heh heh I don’t want them to think there is anything wrong in sleeping the way they want.

    But I do like the times when that clothing optional thing can spread into the rest of the house. 😉

    I want a storm shelter so badly. A closet under the stairs just doesn’t do it for me. I drove through Moore after that May 3rd tornado.

    Oh, dreaming about wolves without remembering why– how intriguing! Have you researched dream books?

  3. If I wake up and then pose a question or get a focus and then sort of go back to sleep, I can spend an hour or more half way between waking and dreaming, solving problems and seeing into things.

    It is the main reason I like to show up late for work….

  4. I’m not getting much sleep, either. Freaking storms.

    And OMG. I would’ve had a coronary if a tarantula was in my mailbox and it touched me. I even have to cover my copy of Surreal so it doesn’t scare the crap out of me when I open my nightstand drawer.

  5. relliott4 says:

    I’m so tired, Heather. Last night was just awful. They kept calling out my area and the spinning cells swept past here. The wind! Then, things picked up speed again by my mother’s house and the sister who is a new baby. I was on the phone with her at 1:30 in the morning.

    We have flooded roads and everything is soggy.

    I’m tired and whining. Sorry. 🙂

    I was wrong, I think. All I saw was a dark spider over three inches long and flashed back to the tarantulas that invaded out house when I was ten. It might have been a huge wolf spider. Whatever it is, it’s really big! It started raining so we didn’t get it out yet. Heather, I could hear it’s heavy footsteps on my mail.

    Scott, when I try that, I have the worst of the bizarre dreams. Twisted, surreal things that have me waking perplexed.

  6. Erica R says:

    I don’t believe dreams are messages from higher powers–as oftentimes they are utterly nonsensical–but precognitive dreams do tend to run in my family, and I’ve always wondered how/why that could be. Interesting!

  7. relliott4 says:

    Erica, it’s because the same thing runs in my family that I put on the pants. It’s also why I haven’t slept much. heh heh

    It does raise questions, doesn’t it? Do we perhaps use more of our brain, or even different parts of our brain while sleeping? That could explain Edgar Cayce…

    Ooh, feeling a plot coming on.

  8. X. Dell says:

    (1) Actually, Freud acknowledged the physiological nature of dreams, and cites previous studies of such in The Interpretation of Dreams. To him, however, the physiological hypothesis explained only so much.

    For example, in one of the cited studies, researchers rang a small bell next to the patient as he or she lay sleeping. Sure enough, all of the respondents incorporated the bell into their dreams. One heard it as a doorbell. One dreamt of being at school. Another dreamt of answering a telephone. One dreamt of riding in a sleigh, etc.

    Freud saw this as confirmation that phsyical stimuli inform dreams. But the real question for him was why the patients incorporated the bell differently.

    (2) In 1997 and 1998, I had a recurrent dream detailed enough for me to write it out as a screenplay. With a little tinkering for character and narrative sakes, the plot of the story is exactly that of the dream.

  9. relliott4 says:

    Maybe they incorporated it differently because of experience. Life experiences, outlooks. Maybe the doorbell came from their desire to see someone. One could have had issues in school that weren’t resolved, etc…

    It would be interesting to know a little about the people in the study, a little of their background. For instance, the one who dreamed of being in a sleigh. Maybe a fun loving person? Maybe one who “wanted” to be a fun loving person?

    Uh oh, someone is going to accuse me of thinking too much again. 😉

    I had several recurrent dreams over the years and like Terri above, I’ve wondered if they should be stories.

  10. Laura says:

    For Freud, dreaming was always about wish fulfillment. (I just read a bangload of Freud for my thesis. I actually devote a huge chunk of chapter 1 to representations of dreams and the mind in film.)

    As for harnessing.. If I’m working on something intensely, I tend to dream about it. When I did Nanowrimo, I dreamed a few of my scenes. When the deadline for an essay (or thesis) is looming, and all I’m doing is writing and researching, I dream my essays. That’s actually not pleasant. When I wrote about Eisenstein’s dialectics last spring, my dream took the form of Soviet montage. When writing about identification theory, I dreamt fabula construction. More recently, my thesis caused me to dream simulacra theory.

  11. relliott4 says:

    Okay, I admit it. I had to look up simulacra theory. I love that I had to look something up. Love learning something new. And wow, it will take another reading or two to get the basic concept, but the first thing it made me think of was The Matrix and the very real “fake” world…

    But no, upon further reading… I see that I need further reading. I just love the way you make me think sometimes. 🙂

  12. X. Dell says:

    Perhaps writing those recurrent dreams down might give you some insight to them.

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