“Are you dreaming in their language?”
A line from the recent science fiction film Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner who play a linguist and a mathematician tasked with communicating with alien visitors. The two discuss how dreaming in a language denotes that a special line of language acquisition has been crossed–the subconscious is now expressing itself in this new mode of meaning.
Dreaming in a second language is often cited as evidence of learning, a milestone or rite of passage for those aspiring to be multi-lingual. However, the direction of the causality is difficult to prove. Dr. Stephanie Sarkis writes in Psychology Today that it is even possible for us to dream in languages we are only marginally familiar with. In any case, there is a link between understanding a language, and the way our minds communicate in our dreams.
Or control them.
Last night I had a dream about a conflict I had to solve, something about production decisions, a rather mundane set of events as far as my (usually colorful) dreams go. The interesting part, though, is that I was scripting the dream as I went, changing the things that happened to craft a worthwhile story.
I was writing while dreaming.
I’ve done something similar before, but in those cases, I was actually writing in the dream, scrawling down ideas in a notebook, or sitting and brainstorming. (Many of those ideas I wrote into full stories when I woke up.) But this time was different in that I was experiencing the events of the dream like normal, just with an author’s control over the storyline. Should I use dialogue or action here? Is this fight consistent with the protagonist’s internal conflict? What will best grab my audience’s attention?
I was dreaming in the language of writers.
This experience is significant to me for several reasons:
1.) If we take the Arrival scene as example, then my dreaming in author-mode means I have officially “arrived” as a writer. (pun intended, obviously)
2.) My brain can do anything it wants while I’m asleep, and it is choosing to craft plot. Go, brain! You are like ten times more productive than I am when I’m staring at a blank screen TRYING to craft plot.
3.) Since dreams have always been a source of story inspiration for me, I’m excited by the new possibilities this meta-dreaming poses.
In the aforementioned scene in Arrival, Jeremy Renner’s character implies to Amy Adams that her alien-speak dreams may be a sign of overwork and suffocating immersion; she may be in too deep. I’m not sure that is possible in the writing world–most authors I know are zealously devoted to their calling, usually to positive ends–but it certainly opens some interesting questions. Can a writer be too close to their craft? Spend too much time immersed in story? Do the mindset and culture of a writer behave in a codified, predictable pattern that truly mimics language, or is my parallel a superficial one?
More observation is needed. (Goodnight!)