In ‘Take the bones and build a story’ I suggested a way of stripping back a dream to its basic theme or emotion and using that as a starting-point for creating new fiction.
The reason why dreams can energise and inspire your writing is because many of them reflect an emotional situation or dilemma which is current in your waking life, whether you are consciously aware of it or not.
For the same reason, stripping dreams down to the bones can provide clues as to what they are about, if their meaning is not immediately obvious.
Reducing a dream to the ‘someone is doing/feeling something’ format – ‘someone is making a stand… someone doesn’t like what they’re seeing… someone is being reckless…’ – will often reveal a connection with something that’s going on in your waking life.
Recently, I dreamt I was walking on a path with a huge expanse of water on one side and a rushing river on the other. I was feeling happy and excited. I stopped to look down at the river and saw that it was full of fish – some tiny, others very big.
I stepped into the water and paddled out a little way. The current was strong, and the water was up to the top of my wellies. Some people on the far side were tut-tutting, saying it wasn’t safe, but I didn’t feel in any danger.
I reduced this dream to, ‘Someone is somewhere amazing… someone is feeling happy… someone should be feeling scared…’
At the time, in my day-life, I had just delivered my dream book, and I knew it might be the start of a big shift in my writing life. It felt exciting. But maybe a small voice somewhere was saying, shouldn’t you be feeling a bit more worried?!
Reducing dreams to their themes is what the kind of interpretation book which doesn’t fix on symbols, but rather on situations does – ‘Ten common dreams and what they mean’ sort of thing.
Most dreams about falling, for example, would reduce to ‘someone is feeling insecure/afraid’ and therefore they will usually reflect a waking-life situation in which the dreamer is feeling insecure.
Most dreams about being chased will reduce to ‘someone is running away from something… someone is feeling scared…’ Most dreams about shopping will come down to ‘someone is making a choice/considering their options…’
You can check whether these stock interpretations are right for your particular dream by thinking about how you felt in the dream situation. Not all dreams about falling indicate insecurity, even if most do. You may have had a feeling of release and liberation as you plunged over the cliff!
Not all dreams about being chased will be negative – you may be the world’s fastest runner, and loving that your pursuer hasn’t any chance of catching you. Or of course, you might rather hope that the person chasing you will catch you.
The wonderful thing about dream interpretation is that one size does not fit all. Experts and commentators can suggest useful ways in, but only the dreamer can hear how the dream fits in the full symphony of the heart.