To half-quote Ray Bradbury, everything you dream is fiction. Yet, while our own dreams are reservoirs of meaning and mystery, the dreams of others are bottomless pits of boredom. We begin our exploration of fiction with this one truth: your dreams have evolutionary significance; the dreams of others do not.
The depth of a story may be measured by the lead line dropped into the author’s soul. Your truths and obsessions–your dreams–are poured out as words upon paper, but if that is all your story remains, will it hold any more interest than that time Jenny dreamed her kitten learned ballet?
Robert McKee could help Jenny organize her kitten-ballet story, and through the principles of dramatization, she could overcome the fact that she’s not telling you your dream but her own. Of those principles, this first series is negligent; its goal is something distinct. I want to uncover the secret of telling you the story of your dream, not mine.
We’ll begin with neurochemicals. As the joke partially goes, how do you make a hormone? You increase his oxytocin.
Oxytocin plays a major role in the process of dreaming, and in waking hours, it increases sexual arousal and promotes attachment and bonding. This results in a feeling of significance for our dreams, and it would be easy to assume this proves the meaningless of dreams, if meaning is a hormone-induced illusion.
All our emotions are chemically and hormonally induced, and that plays a evolutionary role in our survival. How we react to stimuli determines our survival. Reactions that were not evolutionary fit were lost through the process of natural selection, and the reactions of import survived. The fact that we evolved to feel that our dreams are significant is evidence of the evolutionary fitness of that experience.
A fascination in other people’s dreams did not survive the evolutionary process. When you read my books, I want you to be reading your dreams, but how is this to be accomplished? The most obvious place to look is with the surrealist, whose work was meant to connect to something hidden in your unconscious, something triggered and uncovered by art that expresses itself not in articulate thought but in emotion and intuition. It is possible to appreciate a surreal work simply for its weirdness. It’s also possible to connect with it for reasons you can’t explain; if you are aware of one thing, it is this; however the work has spoken to you, it is utterly significant.
There are other ways to achieve depth or a sense of significance, of course. If the goal were simply to release oxytocin, a good dose of romance might do the trick. Lately, I’ve written much about people not falling in love, and I would enjoy writing a romance–no, a capital-R Romance. I probably will, but for other reasons. If it were just about depth then we could speak of logical depth, whether from science or philosophy, and these are of great interest, but it’s simply another area where this series must choose to be ignorant. Here, we speak of other things, and the first of those is the significance of personal epiphany.
Writing-the-reader’s-dreams is an idea that suggests the reader discovers meaning for herself. She is struck with an orgasmic rush of insight that carries the burden of importance. Approached like this, the idea can seem strange, but it is elemental to the nature of fiction. In non-fiction, the communication and elucidation of an idea is the point. To be misunderstood is failure. In fiction, to be misunderstood can be glorious and profound. When the story interacts with the reader, something new and unexpected is created, full of meaning that the author could never have foreseen but which holds great significance for the reader.
Let’s explore ways we can facilitate that experience for the reader, and with the next post, we will focus on allowing room for discovery.
Featured Image Info:
The Dream (1910) Henri Rousseau