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!