Night fiction


Sometimes when people find out I’m a writer of fiction they say to me, “I can’t write.” Or “I can’t tell a story to save my life.”

When I hear that I sometimes like to remind people that we’re all storytellers. We all invent incredibly rich, fantastical tales … every night.

We all become storytellers when we dream.

Thanks to Freud and Joseph Campbell we’ve gotten used to the idea that a dream is about oneself.  That the characters in our dreams are really aspects of ourselves and that if a dream has any meaning at all, it’s a psychological or spiritual meaning about something going on within us.

There may be a lot of truth to that, but it obscures the equally interesting fact that dreams are also stories. Most dreams may be stories that don’t make a lot of rational sense, but when we wake up and remember them, we remember them as narratives. Rather than looking for the meaning in a dream (as students are taught to extract the theme from a work of literature), it might be worthwhile to just pay attention to the story itself. Where did my dream take place? Who were the characters? Did it have a beginning, or an ending? Was it like any other stories I know? Did I enjoy the story? Did it move me?

Before we go hunting for meaning we might ask ourselves: what kinds of stories do my dreams tell?

In our dreams we take the appearance and personality of people in our waking life, and we mix and remix these elements to create dream-people who are like the people we know. And yet they are also fictions, creations of our dreaming imagination. These dream-people live brief lives -- they’re woven into existence only for the few moments of the dreaming, and when the dream ends or we wake up, they’re unwoven again. They have only these brief, ghostly lives, but as the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer writes, “the dreamt-of people are more numerous than us.”

We weave these casts of characters, these novels, plays, fictions, poems, movies, every night. And then when we wake up, most of us go back to thinking that we aren’t creative in that way. That’s it up to someone else to be the storyteller.

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