The Dream and the Story
Why Understanding "Story" is a Great Way to Work with Dreams
The dream is one of the very few forms of “story” that is allowed to break
the basic rules of story telling. When you think of the dream as a badly
told story and “improve” that story, your dream life changes. This knowledge
is key to working with dreams.
There are rules about how you tell stories. Nobody needs to actually spell
them out; by the time you are reading books or watching TV, you have an
instinctive sense of when a story is badly told or is missing some key
To understand the importance of story telling to dream analysis, we need to
take a crash course in narrative studies.
Here are the core rules and key elements of a story:
When you watch a movie, you intuitively expect these things to happen. You
know that characters get introduced at the beginning, things happen to them
in the middle and everything is explained and sorted out in the end. Every
episode of the Sopranos follows those rules. Every item on the national news
follows these rules too.
- a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end
- the story has a subject
- the story comes to a climax and then passes to a resolution
There is a subject the story. Someone or something is the center of
attention. It is usually the hero, as in "Terminator 2," but it might be the
villain, as in "Terminator 1."
You know that at some point in a thriller, it will look as though the bad
guys are going to win and the good guys are down and out. That's the climax.
That's pretty much everything. From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, to your
local newspaper's description of a town hall meeting, to your neighbor's
description of her day at the beach, these are the basic elements.
Dreams and Story
When you tell a dream, you are telling a story. “My dream about going to my
sister's wedding” is just as much a story as "My visit to the East Coast to
attend my sister's wedding."
Remember that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has drama,
climax, and tension. But the dream usually ignores these rules.
- No ending: "Someone had stolen my keys. I shouted “Stop Thief' but no one heard me."
- No tension: "My mother and I are on a shopping trip. Nothing is happening."
- No resolution: "The maniac was in the house, he came at me with an ax. I knew I couldn't get away and I woke up screaming."
There are people in Hollywood known as “script doctors.” They specialize in
adding pizzazz to lackluster stories.
Robert Towne ("Chinatown", "The Two Jakes", and "The Last Detail") is famous
for fixing scripts. Francis Ford Coppola called him in to work on the
Godfather when the studio was considering canning it. Towne took the garden
scene between Vito (Marlon Brando) and Michael (Al Pacino) where Brando
tells Pacino that, after Brando dies, the other mobs will try to assassinate
him. Towne weaved into this Brando telling Pacino how much he loved him: "I
never meant this life for you." It transformed a necessary scene into a
great scene, and at the Oscars, Coppola thanked Towne.
"Fixing" Your Dream Story
Your dream is the initial script. It is almost always raw and rarely
complete. You are the script doctor. You may not be thanked at the Oscars
but, your dream work will have a profound effect on later dreams.
Use your story telling abilities to improve the story, especially see if you
can continue the story and bring it to completion.
I dream that someone has stolen my keys. I shouted "Stop Thief" but no one
There's tension here but no resolution. What would you do next? How would
you deal with the loss of the keys? Would you report this to the police?
Should you change the locks on your doors?
I dream there is a maniac in the house. He is coming at me with an ax.
That's a nightmare that needs resolution. How would you be the hero of the
story? Perhaps you would call in a friend and together the two of you would
outwit the maniac. Remember, you are the hero/heroine of your dreams.
I dream that my mother and I are on a shopping trip. Nothing is happening.
We might uncover plenty of tension if we asked, "What do you really want to
say to your mother in this dream situation? Where would you rather be?"
By reworking the dream into a better story, you have a profound effect on
the next dream. Thieves will stop preying on you, maniacs will calm down,
your mother and you will deal with your problems. It's a big claim but try
it and see for yourself. It's also a lot of fun.
A dream is like a badly told story. Forget psychology, just make a better
story and your dreams will change accordingly. That's a big claim, it defies
100 years of psychoanalysis, so let me repeat it:
You will have more fun, be more resourceful and create better outcomes when
you "fix" the story in your dreams.
Learning to Think Like a Script Doctor
If you would like to know more about dreams and story, read Chapter 2 of my
book, Dream RePlay (autographed copies available from me for $20, or you can
buy via Amazon.com).
Dream Analysis By Telephone
David is available for dream consultations by phone. The current cost is $50
per hour. A typical dream analysis might last 30-45 minutes with a follow up
conversation after the next dream.
David's office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 am to 7 pm, Pacific Time.
To make an appointment, please email him with two or three times when you
are available and your phone number. He will e-mail you back with an
appointment time, payment information and request a confirmation. David's
e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a great way to begin your exploration of dream work. It is also
perfect for periodically connecting with dream work when you don't have the
time to attend a regular class.
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