Looking Into Dreams

They’ve been used as setting exposition, foreshadowing, characterization, an excuse to play with the laws of physics, a way to cop out of a story that people couldn’t tell because of its ramifications to the setting and timeline, a visualization for mind-affecting magic, a place to ambush enemies, a way of delivering messages without worrying too much about the lag time, and a source of parallel worlds. And for all this, they exist in the real world, and we usually don’t care about them enough to keep close track when they happen to us. What are they?

They’re dreams: a valuable tool, though likely to veer into cliché if not carefully used.

In fantasy, the uses of dreams tend to run wild. People get prophetic dreams, dreams sent by magic to give them messages, dreams chock full of symbols. Characters with mind magic sometimes monitor people’s dreams to see what they’re like, shape the dreams to give a message, or even enter the dreams themselves for their own purposes. If roles are passed through reincarnation or metaphysical transfer of importance, it’s quite possible that a current character who needs to fill a previous character’s shoes will have a dream of that prior character and follow its instructions.

And then there are dreamworlds. Sometimes, they’re individualized, the interior landscape of one mind. Others, like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and its many RPG imitations, are worlds comprised of the combined dreams of all of a species/civilization/other. If they’re individualized, their appearances often reflect the mental processes, loves, hates and concerns of the dreamer; when generalized, expect them to include manifestations of both the greatest common ideals and greatest common fears of those who dream the world. Sometimes, these are changeable, representing the dreamer’s subconscious control over her own mind, or boast improbable physics; some dreamscapes even do both at once.

But just because something isn’t in a fantasy setting doesn’t mean dreams can’t have their uses. As most psychologists will tell you, analyzing dream imagery can tell you a great deal about a person’s mindset and mental issues. Need to get across something that happened to a person in the past, and don’t want to deal with a flashback? Have them dream about it. Want to explore a couple ways a certain decision could go? Dreams. And if you don’t mind most experienced readers/gamers throwing rotten tomatoes at you (or if you and the group agree that something just doesn’t work as a plot twist and you need to get out cleanly), there’s always the old “it was all a dream” cop-out.

In short, for a bunch of random neurons firing, it’s a pretty powerful tool. But then again, isn’t our job as creators of stories, collaborative or single-narrative, to cause our own firing of somewhat less random neurons? I find rather little difference between a very immersive story and a strong dream.

This week, I’m going to be looking into some of the more amusing uses of dreams in stories and games. Come dream with me; who knows what you might learn?

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. “All a Dream”: When Is It Safe To Use? | Exchange of Realities
  2. The Generic Villain Speaks In Dreams | Exchange of Realities

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