Carl Jung on the structure of dreams

Subconscious stories revealed in our sleep in four acts.

Carl Jung was a big fan of movies. He said:

“The cinema, like the detective story, makes it possible to experience without danger all the excitement, passion, and desirousness, which must be repressed in the humanitarian working of life.”

Check out his articulation of the structure of dreams from his book “On the Nature of Dreams”:

“The dream begins with a statement of place, next comes a statement about the protagonist. I call this phase of the dream the exposition. It indicates the scene of action, the people involved, and also often the initial situation of the dream way.

The second phase comes the development of the plot.

The third phase brings the culmination of peripeteia, a sudden change of events, a reversal of circumstances, used by Aristotle. Here something decisive happens if something changes completely.

The fourth and last phase is alysis, the solution or result produced by the dream work.

This division into four phases can be applied without much difficulty to a majority of dreams met with in practice, an indication that dreams generally have a dramatic structure.”

Question: Do we dream with a narrative structure because of our exposure to stories or do we write stories with a narrative structure because of how we dream?

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Another thing to consider about the relationship of dreams to story, an excerpt from something I posted in 2009 about noted editor Walter Murch:

In fact, one of the best screenwriting books I’ve read is about editing. It’s called “In the Blink of an Eye”, written by one of the great movie editors and sound men in contemporary filmmaking Walter Murch. While it’s interesting and informative to read about Murch’s experiences editing such movies as Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Part II, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, what I found most engaging was how Murch grappled with the very concept of an editorial cut, asking why viewers are willing to make the hundreds of ‘jumps’ from one shot to the next when watching a movie. The question baffled him for a long while until he finally zeroed in on a mechanism in the human experience that essentially ‘trains’ people to be comfortable with editorial cuts: Dreams. When we dream, what we often experience is not one dream, but a series of dreams or layers of dreams that we cut together in our mind, give them coherence (or at least try to). Making those jumps from one dream sequence to another prepares us for movies and their myriad of editorial cuts [emphasis added]. As screenwriters, we can apply that understanding to our writing as we ‘cut together’ the movie we see in our head and translate that onto the printed page.

That’s a fascinating idea: The very possibility of people being able to follow an editorial cut in a movie deriving from what naturally occurs when we dream.

How about you? Do you think there is a connection between a writer’s dreams and our ability to craft stories?

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