You all know the feeling. You have dreams–so rich , so powerful with something beyond describing that you have to find some way to describe it anyway—an impossible-seeming quest that you must master regardless of its impossibility, by whatever genius or magic or untried strength that you cannot yet imagine having, yet know you must develop. Because the dreams need told; they overflow with more than you.

For some of you, reporting them to a dream group will not suffice. In the marrow of your bones you know that others have to share them, people who don’t necessarily join dream groups or even know that dreams matter at all. And—every instinct cries this out–a bare recitation of the sensory data just won’t cut it; only art can capture those “beyond describing” nuances.

When this happens, a few of you will decide on storytelling as the proper way to share, that your dream is story. And you realize that the message doesn’t even lie in all the minutiae of the dream itself—maybe the most personal layer of the message does for you, but a core lies deeper than that, for the story meant for others.

In this article I show how I spin stories from dreams, in the hopes that some of my methods will work for you.


"Dream of the Poet, or Kiss of the Muse" by Paul Cezanne


You start by doing two things simultaneously.  Collect those dreams which seem to fit together into a story or a series of stories, and learn to write.

A)  Writing

I'll take the second one first—briefly, for plenty of folks already teach this part. Many people, hit by an inspiration that lights up their life, will assume that it needs nothing more than itself to make good art. I call this Jesus Rock syndrome, in honor of the Jesus Freaks of my youth who would slap together some gawdawful ditty and ascribe its authorship to God, who never did make anything that sloppy. Unfortunately, greatness of subject does not automatically create greatness of delivery.

I don't mean to scare anybody off. Given enough practice, anybody can write beautifully. Some write well the instant they take up a pen. Some spend decades learning their craft. All of us get better the more we do it. Just write daily, at least six days a week, and learn about your craft with the same dedication as an expectant mother studying parenthood. The child will grow, come what may, so you'd better get ready to receive it. It will depend on you to keep it alive all the way to adulthood. And you will discover that you can. You won't do a perfect job—nobody does, and that doesn't matter. You'll do the best you can, and nobody can ask more of you than that.

B. Collecting Dreams

        While learning your craft, collect and sort your dreams. Practice on these dreams, while you're at it. (More on that later.) Notice recurring characters, places, situations, plot developments, and motifs. Mark in your dream journal any that feel as though they belong in your storytelling. Copy those dreams. File the copies in different folders for different story-clusters, according to whatever fits together.

"Gathering Flowers" by Henry John

"Gathering Flowers" by Henry John


Patterns will emerge.  Not only will you notice more and more of these connections in your dreams, but remembered images of waking-world places might morph into aspects of your dreamworld; the alterations from the familiar will grow consistent over time, turning old places into a whole new realm with substance of its own. And sometimes you will dream of people from your daylight world, who will change into dream-characters, or behave like them, or will simultaneously be them and not be them.

Don't be surprised if other people start to gift you with their dreams, which happen to fit like missing puzzle-pieces into your dreamworld. You know how psi works best in the dreaming state. The more you let your dreaming mind know what you want, the farther afield it will cast the net to bring you what you need.

Don't scorn fragments. Not only can they distill the heart of a dream for interpretation purposes, they also make wonderful diving-boards for the imagination. Their open-ended state invites your collaboration.

And don't define too narrowly what dreams might fit your needs. If a dream feels like it belongs, include it in your files, even if not all of the details match your knowledge at the time. Contemplating what might cause an exception to the rules can inspire reams of material.

Accept that, like different chapters in history, different dream clusters can provide information relevant to each other—forward, backwards or sideways. A chapter on the court of Kublai Khan in China can tell us something about Marco Polo in Italy. Don't hesitate to graft information from one dream into another, or even from one cluster to another.

Not only recurring characters and situations give you clues as to which dreams belong together, but also locations. Make sure your notes include terrain, architecture, climate-families of plants, styles of decor, anything that might indicate when dreams take place in the same region. You will find yourself researching things like what grows where, or what forces shape geology, why different cultures use different raw materials and what shapes their lifestyles; which in turn will give your dreams more raw material. The more you know, the more you not only gain insight into dreams past, but also fuel dreams in the future.

Reread and rewrite these dream accounts frequently. Here you can find the writing-practice that you need. Don't worry about the purity of the dream account—you engage in art here, not science. Despite which, this actually does count as the “study of dreams,” because fictionalizing them can become dream re-entry. You will find yourself spontaneously adding details left out of your first account, that you might or might not recall from the original, but it won't matter whether you actually dreamed them or not, because you will feel in your bones that these details belong.

In one way it differs from dream re-entry as taught in the Halls of Psychology. You don't try to turn everything sunny and sane again. Fiction thrives on conflict. Forget the notion that people read fantasy for escapism. If this had any truth to it, people would want stories about fluffy bunnies in gardens under rainbows, and no one would ever imagine a dragon, let alone tell of doing battle with it. In all cultures people share tales of dread things happening. They might laugh about catastrophes in comedies, or mourn them in tragedies, or best them in adventures and romances, but in stories, as in dreams, we confront the frightening things in symbol form, and practice how to deal with them.  Sometimes you will have to set aside your niceness.

Sometimes you will have to face your Shadow and imagine scenes from the villain's viewpoint—or even dream of being him. Sometimes your heroes, too, will do stupid or even wicked things that will make you tear out your hair. You will wake up gasping at the deeds you've done in sleep. You will weep for what you've done to characters by your pen in daylight. I tell you this because dreamwork often appeals to nice people who want to visualize only Light and Love. If you can't stand the heat stay out of Hell—but know that Easter has no meaning without passing through Hell first. I consider this by far the hardest fact of writing.


"La Belle Dame Sans Merci", by Henry Meynell Rheam

from the poem by John Keats


       Resist the temptation to edit out not only the harsh things, but also the details that don't at first make sense. Sometimes you do have to do that, but first try your hardest to find some explanation, however strange, for what has happened; because the details that don't fit provide the clues for the most interesting twists of plot. Think of a detective story—if the detective walked into the crime scene and found every aspect of it ordinary, he wouldn't know where to begin. But let him find one thing that doesn't fit—the glove on the floor in a color that the murder victim never wears, the curtains fluttering from an open window in winter—and he has something worth investigating. Dare to speculate madly!

        Which brings us to our next part:




"NAMA Akotiri" reconstruction of a Minoan mural.

            When you collect enough dreams in clusters to see coherent stories forming, arrange them into what seems like their most logical internal order.  Pay no attention to when you dreamed each dream—that's for personal dream analysis, not storytelling.  Your dream characters' timeline will probably differ from your own.

         You can find all manner of clues on timing.  The presence or absence of scars can tell you whether a dream comes before or after another where an injury took place.  Lengths of hair, signs of aging or their absence, weight gain or loss, shifts in styles of clothes, the presence or absence of possessions, a wedding ring or other token of a change in status, a character's knowledge or ignorance, even shifts in habitual expressions, changed by experience, all can help you narrow things down to a year in the dreamworld's internal timeline.  Note that you will also have to cross-reference with other clusters.

         Next, notice the season, and whether it seems like early, late, or middle—that will give you an approximate month.   (Make sure you know which side of the equator you're on!  That has thrown me off more than once.) Watch for a glimpse of moon or an amount of moonlight in night scenes; if you have the month and year, that will help you determine at least one date.  You can also get a date from a holidays or special occasion.  Once you have one date, you can count backwards and forwards from that to figure out the rest, by what would logically happen before or after.

        Again, injuries can also give you clues on shorter timeframes, such as limping or bruises.  Gradations of tans and freckles can place a dream in terms of how much time someone has spent indoors or out.  Degrees of cleanliness and the state of repair in one's clothing help, too.

        Charts, timelines, and indexes help a lot, but do these on the computer so that you can change them around if you find out new information that challenges your original dating.  Or else put them on note-cards that you keep in a card box, with tabs.

        You will start to develop a larger picture, but one with gaps, like an archaeologist putting together shards.  Be prepared, like any good archaeologist, to rearrange the pieces, if you get further dreams—or a further insight—that changes how you view the whole.  Keep on rewriting, now including changes of perspective supplied by other dreams.



"Birth of Athena"  Black-figured amphora.

       When the time feels ripe, pick out one of the largest clusters, with the most dreams and notes—or whichever one most cries out for the telling—and begin the formal writing.  Your file will become your de facto timeline—but again, expect to revise it at a moment's notice.  You will still get new dreams to fit in, even as you write.

       Start at the beginning and work your way through.  Don't let it discourage you if you have to change your mind repeatedly as to where this story begins—it's all part of the learning curve.  Nor should you  worry if you don't yet know how it ends.  Eventually your dreams abandon you to your own devices.  Have faith in yourself—your dreams do.

       For in writing from dreams the conscious and the unconscious mind collaborate.  Society tries to pit these aspects of our humanity against each other, but in Art they wed, giving birth to Story.  Let your logical mind love and cherish the wild imagination, and the wild imagination will love and cherish the assistance of logic.  Logic does not tame imagination, but seduces it, even as imagination seduces logic.

       Once you have the whole thing, from beginning to end, give yourself a deadline as to when to let your child grow up and enter into the world, whether this means sending her to a publisher, or posting her online, or sharing her with friends.  Revise her only up to that point.  And then bless her, even if you weep to do it, and let her go.


"Sir Thomas More's Farewell to his Daughter" by Edward Ward


For time in general (time zones, what days of the week fall on what dates, etc.): http://www.timeanddate.com/

For calculating Easter and related Catholic dates:


For the Jewish Calendar: http://www.chabad.org/calendar/default_cdo/jewish/Jewish-Calendar.htm

For the Islamic Calendar:


For calculating Chinese New Year and Chinese dates:


For putting dates on moon phases in any year from 2000BC to 4000AD: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/phase/phasecat.html

How long it takes to heal broken bones: http://www.doctorsecrets.com/your-bones/time-to-heal-broken-bone.htm

How long it takes to travel by horse or ox-cart: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080831110634AAyMMBU

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