01 April 2012

The object of your dreams

Every single one of my writing ideas has surfaced in a dream.  The making of Canine, for instance, started with a dream about my departed dog – well, about a sentient dog-creature which I identified in the dream as both my sweet girl but also a male wolf-dog.  You know how dreams go.

I had occasion recently to question the nature of dreams – specifically, dream protagonists.  And I was shocked to find that not everyone dreams the same way about dream protagonists.

I want you to think about all the dreams you’ve had – recently or over your life, I don’t care.  Actually, it would be interesting to consider whether your dreams have evolved over time, too.  But I want you to think about the main characters in those dreams, and to assess the following three qualities (please keep in mind that it is feasible to have all possible combinations of these qualities as you consider them):

1. Identity.  Who is the protagonist in your dreams?  Is that person yourself, or someone else?  In other words, what does your protagonist look like?  (If you answer, “Well, it’s like a version of me that does things I would never or can’t do,” then for this purpose, your answer is “yourself”.) 

2. Agency.  Are you the protagonist, or are you more like a camera following someone else?  Do you identify that protagonist as yourself, no matter what they look like?

3. Perspective.  Are you seeing things from the protagonist’s perspective (first-person) or are you watching the protagonist from the outside (third-person)? 

I ask you these questions because I was really surprised to hear the answers from my friends.  Many people, when I’ve queried them, have said that (1) their real self is the only protagonist they dream about, (2) they always identify as the protagonist, and (3) because dreams will be dreams, they see it in first person or in some combination of first and third person.

I thought this was CRAZY. 

Like seriously crazy.  Since I can remember, I’ve been dreaming either as myself or as other people or animals or characters (I told you about my dream where I was Raphael from the Ninja Turtles, and in the first dream I remember I was a deer, and I’ve been my stories’ protagonists and strangers I don’t recognize).  Generally when I dream as a woman, I’m myself – but even that changed a couple weeks ago when I finally had a dream as another woman.  Most of the time I identify as the protagonist, but I’ve had dreams where I’m just following someone else around, like I’m the camera.  And lastly, I’m pretty consistent with everyone else in that I have dreamed in the first, first-and-third, or third person (it’s ever-changing within single dreams, usually).  I still have a hard time believing my friends have never had a dream like that.

The point it really hammered home for me is that my experience is not everyone else’s experience.  Of course I knew this, but not in so concrete a way – and it took me 26 years to figure out that not everyone has dreams in which they are a different sex or species.  I wonder now how many other assumptions I’m making about so-called “human experience” that are just my personal idiosyncrasies.  It’s really kind of concerning.

Please fill up my comment field with your answers to my above three questions, because I would really, really like some more data about this.  You may answer in proportions – e.g. you dream as yourself 80% of the time but someone else 20% of the time, etc.  Thank you!


  1. I dream just like you:
    1) Myself, other people (usually women but maybe a man or two?), and animals
    2) Both not protagonist and am protagonist.
    3) 1st, 1st and 3rd, and 3rd

    My favorite was when I was a kid: I was a unicorn, in first person. lol!

    1. Oh and proportions? I cannot say for the "now" period of time. Is that what you are looking for?

  2. Maybe it's genetic....

    OOH! If you know answers for your siblings, parents, children, please post them too!!!

    1. Well let me tell you about my sister....

  3. 1) I am "myself" most of the time. I have been a man, a dog, and a tree before, yet I still knew that I was me.

    2 & 3) Most of the time I am the protagonist, seeing the dream from my perspective. If I am seeing the dream as though I were watching a movie, then I am almost always not in the dream, I am just watching it.

  4. I am almost exclusively me in my dreams, although sometimes I am disembodied. I am usually the protagonist, and generally my dreams are so first person it is scary. To the point where I cannot tell the difference upon waking for quite some time.

    Every so often they are third person, and the way I got over recurring childhood nightmares was to make them third person, and even more so by imagining it happening in a television, or with film sprockets on the sides as I watched from outside the action.

    Generally, I am either doing something in the dream, or not being able to complete something. The majority of my dreams are either flying dreams where I zoom about, or running through molasses dreams where I can't get anything done. The latter can either be scary or frustrating. Sometimes they have erotic frustration in them. The former are usually happy.

  5. 1) often times i am something of a non entity in my dreams. i am a person, but nobody talks to me or acknowledges that i am there. Sometimes i am actually me and sometimes someone else. once i was Scully from X-files. that is the only time i ever remember dreaming of being a women, also in that dream i could almost fly, and that has not happened before or since.

    2) i think this was answered in 1, but i usually do identify with the protagonist in some way shape or form. although i do have many dreams were i am not they, i am simply an observer.

    3)perspective would be about a 50/50 split between first and third person.


  6. If I'm in my dreams I'm usually myself or a male version of myself, though my age changes a lot.. but I have some dreams where I'm just watching things unfold like a camera placed in the room (or on occasion, a camera soaring overhead, like this one dream where I was watching these school children throw room sized bouncy balls back and forth with each other on these big green grassy hills that stretched for forever...I didn't really have a conscious in the dream, I was just soaring overhead taking it all in)

    My point of view is sometimes me, but mostly third person like a movie? I have changing camera angles, close ups, and dramatic shots and whatnot. Also, almost all my dreams have orchestrated background music, which I think is pretty damn sweet...

    I also have pre-existing locations and characters that I'll return to in my dreams, like a couple different worlds that I occasionally swing by and visit, but I don't remember them when I wake up.. It's just that when the dream starts I'm like "Hey, I remember this place..." and for about 10 minutes after I wake up I have that awesome feeling you get after you visit old friends for the first time in ages..

    And lastly, for the most part I can change my dreams while dreaming them. This started when I was a kid and had a really tense nightmare starting up, and halfway through it I suddenly became aware it was a dream, so I was like "You know what, I'm not going to go down this creepy dark alleyway... I'm gonna go in the other direction where it's not so scary" And ever since then I'd say about 75% of my dreams are lucid where I'm aware it's a dream and I'm able to consciously change it...

  7. 1) I am always the "protagonist" in my dreams, or at least I cannot remember one where this was not the case. I use the word protagonist loosely, however. It would be more appropriate to say that the dream is focused around me, not necessarily that I am the protagonist; I have dreamed myself as a villainous "antagonist" on a few rare occasions, but the focus of the dream was still on me as that person. I have been a member of both genders (although one significantly less frequently than the other) and several different animals in my dreams. Some are more natural than others.

    2) I am always the "protagonist", but not always in the first person (see below). As stated above, although not always a true protagonist, the person that I identify myself with in the dream is always the focus of the dream. Sometimes, the person I identify myself can change partway through the dream. This ought to be very confusing, but of course, dream-logic makes sense of it all; the focus of the dream shifts accordingly, taking me away from the one person's story and into another.

    3) I'd say it's about 70% 3rd person, 30% first person, with many dreams switching between the two seemingly at random. Despite that, there is never any doubt that I am the person being watched through the 3rd-person-lens; anything that happens to that person happens to me.

  8. 1. Identity - I'm rarely "myself" when I dream. 20% of the time, I'm physically and mentally myself. 10% of it, I'm a half altered version of myself, and the other 70% I'm someone/something else. For instance, if I just watched a movie, I'll probably be one of the characters.

    2. Agency - Generally, I'm in a group of protagonists. We're all equally important. I'm not the "main character" of the story, but I'm amongst the action, so to speak. 40% of the time, it's all about me. I'm not always just one person either. I tend to switch identities a lot. Not like a camera, but I'll mentally be another person, talking to what was previously me. Probably happens 3 times per dream.

    3. Perspective - I'm generally in a 1st person viewpoint. But again, I do switch identities a bit. I don't know if that still counts as 1st person, I'll still be in the same story, I'll just be playing a different role, alongside the once-was-me. Once I was two different people at once, having a conversation. That was a bit confusing when I woke up. I have rarely been watching things from further away, like a camera, but not very often.

    As an additional note (it might help?) when I 'daydream'/'imagine stories' what-have-you, I never imagine myself amongst it. If I have a dream as myself, it's an actual shock when I wake up. Hope this was enlightening :)

  9. 1) I am always the protaganist, well always is probably not true, but most of the dreams I remember I am me, or some form of me, or I am me in somone or something elses body... I had a dream I was a tree once.

    2) Genrally I am the protagonist, a lot of the time I will be being chased, or I am looking for someone/something...

    3) I would say I in most cases dream in the 1st person, although sometimes I dream in both 1st and 3rd person... I can't explain it, but I can see everything around me, but I'm also seeing through my eyes, like at the same time, so it's odd... maybe it's more of an awareness of thing things around me but yeah, it's a definite mix!

  10. Hmm...

    1) I'm pretty sure the vast majority of my dreams, I'm the protagonist. I might be in situations which I'm not normally in, but it's always definitely me.

    2)I always identify myself as the protagonist, except in like... one dream, that I can remember. In that one, there wasn't any real specific protagonist, it was just a bunch of stuff that happened.

    3) I dream in the first person, and sometimes my dreams'll randomly switch to the third person, where I'm watching myself, or something else happening.

    But I've been thinking... dreams are a product of the subconscious. So, perhaps the way we dream is affected by what is in our subconscious. I mean, what sort of books we read, the way we experience life, our upbringing, things like that. Perhaps these sorts of things affect this?