Over at She Writes, Anjuelle Floyd started a discussion titled Why Do I Write & What Is My Process? This set me to thinking about what really does inspire me. Then I read the blog post at Novel Matters on Archetypes in Fiction and I was reminded of the characters, both familiar and unfamiliar, that come to me in my dreams. I do not work though all my dreams, but those I do write down and meditate on many times result in works of fiction, bits of dialogue, and settings for stories. Journeys to the inner world of dreams and the unconscious have changed my life. I believe the Great Creator sends us messages in the nighttime; stories filled with Heroes, Enemies, Shadow figures, Adventures and Ordeals are delivered to us as gifts. It is when we listen, explore, and converse with these characters and elements that the stories unfold.
Heroes and other archetypes are symbols of the soul in transformation, and of the journey each of us takes through life. And we all have a story.
I believe that dreams come to heal and to make us whole. What I have found is that I no longer see the people, places and events of my life existing only in black and white. I am aware of a vast gray area that harbors a depth of color that I never imagined. People appear with dimensions that I heretofore did not know existed within them. This work has given me a deeper awareness of the presence of an “inner knowing” within my own soul and how we are all linked to the universe. I am compelled to pass this on.
Two years ago I completed the Dream Leader Training at The Haden Institute in North Carolina. We explored our dreams through the use of numerous methods of looking at the symbols and images in our dreams. A few of these methods I continue to use include Group Projective Dreamwork, Active Imagination, Image Amplification, and 6 Magic Questions (using Gestalt methods). We shared our waking life experiences of synchronicity as well, learning to recognize our shadow, and manifestations of our masculine and feminine energies.
How do I work with my own dreams as a basis for creative writing? I use my knowledge of Jungian concepts to “carry the dream forward”. One of these concepts, Active Imagination, is a method of consciously dialoguing with our unconscious – in dreamwork, this is working with a dream that involves simply having a conversation with the symbols or characters in a dream where the dreamer speaks for both sides of the conversation. I know, this sounds a little spooky, but believe me when I say I have had major insights with this type exercise. Interesting dialogue has emerged and I have included some of it in my fiction, developing it into short stories, poetry, artwork, and novels.
I believe that creative writing begins the journey of the terrain of one’s soul when we carry our dreams forward into the wonderful world of descriptive language and colorful character development, whether recorded onto the page or painted on a canvas.
Writing is one of the closest ways to get a detailed look at our dreams. Anyone can write creatively, and as Flannery O’Conner said, anyone who had a childhood can write fiction. Stories, poetry and songs come from the subconscious at a most divine level; they show the author’s inner thoughts and let the reader into the divine arena of a person’s dreams, a true expression of the soul. Writing is a continual dialogue between the irrational, creative, dream-logic part of the mind and the rational, critical, linear part – the opposites, the masculine and feminine energies. How do we balance the two? The solutions and answers lie deep within each one of us, often to be revealed through the symbols and archetypes in our dreams.
Fiction is full of archetypes. Added to that are threads of quirky behavior, wit, romance and trouble. And being from the south, I know about trouble. And interesting characters. There’s one on every bus, train, checkout line and street corner. Archetypes are leading families, having children, defending criminals, breaking into houses at night, toiling under the hood of a car, and preaching in pulpits. Writers need tragedy, comedy, crisis and peculiar characters and the South has an abundance of all of these, but we don’t have the franchise on them.
While I’m certain every area of the world has a plethora of archetypes, I am not steeped in other cultures as I am in my own.
But each of us has our share of Heroes, Tricksters, Gatekeepers and Mentors. And of course there are some Evil Ones. We cannot abandon our history, our stories, like we abandon old clothing, shedding it and thinking we can move forward and not be bound by the emotions, tensions, memories, passions and instincts that never leave us. In the dreamwork that I do, I teach that as a rule every person and every thing in your dream is a part of you. Deep within our unconscious, the above characters reside. I believe this is a major reason why southerners love to write. We have all these characters in our families. We know them.
About the writing process, E. M. Forster writes:
“In the creative state a man is taken out of himself. He lets down as it were a bucket into his subconscious, and draws up something which is normally beyond his reach. He mixes this thing with his normal experiences and out of the mixture he makes a work of art.”
- The Novels of E.M. Forster, by Avtar Singh
This is what we do when we dream – or when we write from what Robert Olen Butler calls the dreamspace. We dip down into our unconscious and pull up memories we had long forgotten, and symbols and images from the collective unconscious of the world. As a fiction writer, I use some of these elements in creating scenes, character development and plot.
One of my novel manuscripts is based on a dream I had about a Black man who tended elephants. There was a little girl of about 8 years old standing nearby. Using Active Imagination, I carried that dream forward into a dialogue, then a story, when I realized they had much more to say. This story developed into a 100,000-word novel with those two characters as the Hero and the Mentor. Another dream included a rickety old bridge, and two brothers, and evolved into a short story about a murder. As I begin writing my dreams, the stories unfold and I am compelled to speak for those who appear (or disappear), to tell their stories, to shout for them, "Tell them I was here".
Of the 45 or so short stories I have written, I would guess at least half began as a dream. Stories of comedy, tragedy, and stories of the hero's journey, which are the stories of our own lives. We each have our own hero's journey, and we each have a story to tell, with all the trials and trouble that life brings to our doors.
The best book on archetypes and story structure for me has been The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters, by Christopher Vogler. I have used it for years. The basic outline is below.
“The Hero’s Journey” Outline:
1. THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.
3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.
6. TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
7. APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.
8. THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.
9. THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
10. THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
11. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.
The hero’s journey, once more: The hero is introduced in his ORDINARY WORLD where he receives the CALL TO ADVENTURE. He is RELUCTANT at first to CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD where he eventually encounters TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES. He reaches the INNERMOST CAVE where he endures the SUPREME ORDEAL. He SEIZES THE SWORD or the treasure and is pursued on the ROAD BACK to his world. He is RESURRECTED and transformed by his experience. He RETURNS to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or ELIXIR to benefit his world.
What is your own "Hero's Journey"? What was it like on the road back? And which of your own dreams have inspired you to write?