At that “Dream Logic” talk at the Dramatists Guild conference in August, the presenters passed out a booklet with an essay about dream logic, and two exercises. Kato McNickle gave me permission to post them here.
The exercises were developed by Kato McNickle (http://puzzlewit.blogspot.com/) and Martin Kettling.
Dream Exercise #1 – Committing to the Objective
The dream is a bizarre associative reflection of the waking world. In running away from the bear [if you’re dreaming about a bear chasing you], the reality of tripping once is re-formed to become a continuous problem of tripping. Our brains look for similar experiences and pile them on to the memory, in hopes that we may better prepare for the future.
In this exercise, give yourself a simple – often physical* – objective, and then imagine all of the ways that it can be distorted as in dream space. Does the bear attack, and you fall, and then your entire third-grade class is there laughing at you? Be mean to yourself, and your characters. Extend their fight and don’t let it resolved.
*When she says to give yourself a simple “often physical” objective, I think she means that people usually have physical objectives in their dreams.
Dream Exercise #2 – Impossible Space
We’ve discovered that space is malleable in the dreamscape. We move from one location to the next with little thought. But we don’t just want to harness the weirdness of dreams, instead we want to make the impossibility of the dream space probable. As Aristotle said, “In drama, the probable impossibility is preferable to the improbable possibility.” Briefly, it is the dramatist’s job to make the impossible probable.
Example taken from Richard Feynman in speaking about the stories he would share with his son at bedtime. Two explorers are walking through a grassland, but this grassland is made of this thin stalk of dead protein. There are no flowers or seeds on these plants, and they emerge from holes in this watertight ground. Eventually they find twin caves in this black, soft, and pitted material. They enter and find the floor slick with an unknown substance. They go deeper and find that the caves connect and go deeper. But the strangest thing is the wind. It comes into the cave cold and dry and then blows out warm and wet.
Where are our explorers? A dog’s nose.
Explore a bit more –
Make two columns on a blank sheet. In column one describe possible spaces: a restaurant, a library, a cliff.
In the second column describe impossible spaces: the third bristle on your toothbrush, a floating thought, the North Star.
Create a scene where your characters move from one room to the other – possible to impossible, or the other way around.
Variation exercise: list both rational and impossible objects, characters, and creatures, and what they will do together.