Dreams as Clues

Yesterday in the blog Sue Star brought up the common warning about using dreams in our writing: “Writing advice often warns us of the dangers of inserting dreams into our narratives. Dreams interrupt the forward momentum of the story’s action, and even worse, the protagonist is asleep. Inactive. Passive.” She then discussed an exception, the opening lines of Daphne du Maurier’s famous mystery. That line works.

I write paranormal mysteries, which deal in the fantastic, the otherworldly, the strange and uncanny. Dreams inhabit that world. Dreams are whispers from our deeper mind. They’re also a way of sorting through the day or life and getting everything all spruced up for the next day. Some people believe dreams can dip into what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious.

In my last novel, my protagonist had a series of dreams that served as clues to the mystery she was faced with. But she doesn’t realize that at first. She thinks her dreams are related to reclaiming her childhood dream of being a musician. It turns out to be way more than that. She is being guided by her dreams and by events in her waking life.

Think about Inception. Whether you loved it or hated it, that is an action packed movie. Yet they’re all asleep on a plane in “real life.” That’s the thing about paranormal and fantasy. It questions what’s more real—everyday 3-D life or the netherworld, the fantastic, the unconscious.

Brain research has discovered that we learn new things by going through two processes. First, concentrated effort on the problem. Second, taking a break. Often the solution or an insight will pop up to the surface of our mind when we relax. The mind solves tough problems while daydreaming. Archimedes was in the bathtub and suddenly figured out buoyancy. Some say he ran naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” I’m not sure about that part. An urban legend says Einstein solved relativity in the shower. Must be water.

I asked for other titles of books that have dreams in the plot from my students and colleagues and got some great titles. Here are some of their suggestions (names excluded): Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Dream Thief by Shana Abe, New Moon – Twilight Saga by Stephenie Myer, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, and The Dream of the Stone by Christina Askounis. As usual, this adds to my reading list in a tantalizing way.


Author: Theresa Crater

Award-winning author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. In The Star Family, a Gothic mansion holds a secret spiritual group and a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed to save the day. The shadow government search for ancient Atlantean weapons in the fabled Hall of Records in Under the Stone Paw and fight to control ancient crystals sunk beneath the sea in Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Other novels include School of Hard Knocks and God in a Box, both exploring women in historical context. Her short stories explore ancient myth brought into the present day. The most recent include “The Judgment of Osiris” and “Bringing the Waters.” Theresa has also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches meditation, as well as creative writing and British lit.

7 thoughts on “Dreams as Clues”

  1. Dreams can be tricky but I completely agree, they can be a very effective storytelling device. Some of the best stories have very little happening but are incredibly gripping.


  2. I love your concept of dreams being “whispers from our deeper mind.” Isn’t it interesting how different genres and subgenres use dreams differently?


  3. Loved this!!! So cool. Also: LOL at “I’m not sure about that part.” LOL!

    Taught a course on dreams in lit once…please let me know if you’d like that list of texts…would be happy to share. It was such a fun class.


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