Dreams and nightmares have long been a source of inspiration for writers. From shaping the setting and atmosphere of a story, to revealing important plot points, to creating suspense and tension, dreams can add depth and dimension to a narrative.
In this post, I’ll explore the psychology of dreams and nightmares, their role in world-building, and how to incorporate them into different genres. I’ll also provide tips for successfully integrating dreams into your writing and avoiding common pitfalls.
The Psychology of Dreams
The unconscious mind is a powerful tool for writers, and dreams are a window into its workings. The various types of dreams, from lucid dreams to recurring dreams, each have their own unique meanings and symbolism. By understanding the psychology of dreams, writers can use this symbolism to add layers of meaning to their writing.
For example, consider the classic dream symbol of a door. A door can represent new opportunities, obstacles, or the unknown. When a character in a story dreams of a door, it can be interpreted as their subconscious mind urging them to pursue new opportunities or overcome obstacles.
I don’t know about you, but I am constantly incorporating my dreams into my writing. Sometimes, I will wake from a dream that was so realistic, so vivid, that I can’t do anything but write it down. I’m not saying all my dreams are literary gold, but more than a few have made their way into my books.
Using Dreams in World-Building
Dreams can shape the setting and atmosphere of a story in powerful ways. A dream sequence can establish the mood and tone of a story, and provide a glimpse into the protagonist’s inner world. For example, in a dark fantasy story, a nightmare about a monster can set the stage for a story about a world plagued by dark forces.
Dreams can also impact character development, revealing important aspects of a character’s psyche. In a coming-of-age story, for instance, a character’s dreams can provide insight into their fears, desires, and goals. What better way to get into a character’s head than through a dream?
Using your dreams to inform the themes in your writing can also be an excellent way to use your dreams. For example, maybe the theme of some of your dreams is finding peace. Would that translate into an excellent goal for your characters?
The Power of Nightmares
Nightmares can be a powerful tool for creating suspense and tension in writing. Fear is a universal emotion that can grip a reader and keep them on the edge of their seat. By incorporating nightmares into your writing, you can harness the power of fear to create a truly gripping and suspenseful story.
For example, a recurring nightmare about a monster can set the stage for a horror story. The character’s fear of the monster can be used to build tension, creating a sense of impending danger that keeps the reader engaged.
Your fears also make their way into your nightmares. I’m not saying that you need to dig into anything that’s going to awake your trauma—actually quite the opposite. But digging into your nightmares can inform some of the themes in your books.
I have a recurring dream of driving up a bridge and my car literally falls over backward. Now, I understand the impossibility of this physics-wise, but this doesn’t stop me from having the dream over and over again. I could take this as having a fear of driving up hills (which I rightfully do after having this dream for a decade), but I also can see it as having a fear of failing after working my way uphill toward something. That’s a real fear that many people have and translating that nightmare into my character creates a visceral experience for the reader.
Incorporating Dreams and Nightmares in Different Genres
Dreams and nightmares can be used in a variety of genres, from fantasy and science fiction, to realistic fiction and horror. In fantasy and science fiction writing, dreams can be used to reveal important plot points, or provide insight into a character’s inner world. In realistic fiction, dreams can be used to explore the character’s unconscious mind and reveal their deepest fears and desires. And in horror writing, nightmares can be used to create suspense and fear.
What I mean to say, is that it doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing in: you can incorporate dreams and nightmares. Whether it’s the themes or the fantastical elements, let your sleeping work for you.
Tips for Successfully Integrating Dreams and Nightmares into Your Writing
Incorporating dreams and nightmares into your writing is a delicate balance. Here are a few tips for successfully integrating dreams into your writing:
- Examine the why: When using dreams and nightmares, look at why you’re having that dream/nightmare. What’s the underlying fear behind your nightmare? What’s the underlying goal beneath your dream? Use that to inform your writing.
- Don’t let it wake your trauma: Don’t dig too deeply where you’re not ready to revisit. While reader respond to pain, you don’t need to martyr yourself.
- Practice: Remembering dreams and nightmares takes practice. Keep a journal near your bed to keep notes.
As writers, we’re always looking for ways to find new inspiration, and your dreams/nightmares can be a great place to find that inspiration. Take the time to connect to your inner self and let that connect to what you’re writing.
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