What do dreams mean, how to tell a story, be a good story-teller, i want to tell a good story, dreams as stories
Something big is happening in this dream.

[This story was originally published here.]

You just woke up, yet feel like you’ve lived a whole day, year, or lifetime in the few hours that have just passed.

  • Perhaps you were at your wedding and it was just like the real thing except everybody was covered in blood.
  • Or maybe your recently deceased grandmother was trying to tell you something, but all you can remember is the red vase with flowers sitting beside her.
  • Maybe you were back in a combat situation, but now you are without a rifle and frozen stiff before the enemy, who still has his rifle.
  • Or maybe you were galavanting through the park with a pink squirrel following you around.

Whatever the case, it has been one hell of a night and whatever happened feels exceptionally important. So what do we do? We look for somebody to tell.

Our dreams are the stories our subconscious tells us as we sleep. It’s like a bedtime story from ourselves to ourselves.

We don’t truly know why we dream, at least not conclusively or scientifically, but it does feel like dreams are some sort of message. Many civilizations — past and present — believe that dreams are messages from God. However, most psychologists believe they are meaningless. Nonetheless, we generally believe that they must mean something.

What do dreams mean, how to tell a story, be a good story-teller, i want to tell a good story, dreams as stories
It doesn’t make much sense now that I’m saying it out loud.

I do believe that it is possible that some dreams connect us to something beyond our own personal egos. Perhaps they could be premonitions or just a universal feeling shared by many.

Most of the time though, I believe it is simply our subconscious trying to tell us something that we failed to deal with in our waking hours or are too incapable of dealing with in our day-to-day lives.

For example, if I have recurring dreams of my partner cheating on me. Is that a message that she is cheating on me or that she will? It could be. Though more likely it has to do with my own fears of abandonment I have yet to overcome or it is my subconscious preparing me for something I wouldn’t be able to handle in real life. A sort of training for the emotional mind should the worst come to the worst.

And that is exactly what I believe most of us feel we must share our dreams. It is to share the experience. The emotions. The fears and the hopes.

We want somebody to hear how scary or strange or fantastic our dream made us feel. It was so real for us, it must be worth sharing. Even when we know the dream was a dream, the emotion can linger for hours if not an entire day. It can even make you believe that your partner really did cheat on you.

What do dreams mean, how to tell a story, be a good story-teller, i want to tell a good story, dreams as stories
The pain of abandonment is just so real, even if nothing really happened.

Yet, when we try to share our dreams with someone, we get mostly feigned interest or dead eyes staring back at us. We can be at the most interesting part of the story and we are interrupted to pass the sugar for the coffee or being told that we can’t forget to take out the trash today.

It seems kind of depressing to be so easily overstepped. But hey, it’s just a dream right, it’s not like it’s real. But truthfully, the problem here isn’t really about it being ‘just a dream.’ It’s a common issue that can come up when talking about our childhood, a night out with friends, a great book we just read, or even a story about how we once climbed a mountain.

A lot of our lives are like a very exciting dream that we just can’t get people to listen to.

We think that if we intensely felt something, our passion for retelling the story will be enough to hold the interest of our audience. That by telling our listeners that what we saw was beautiful, they will see and feel what we felt when we saw said beauty.

Unfortunately, telling a story requires some skill to go with the enthusiasm of the story. Watching a child talk about what happened at recess is a perfect example of this.

It’s charming, but a little egocentric, to think we deserve our listener’s attention and excitement about our story. However, the truth is, people are in a different place than us internally and will most likely not fully understand what we are sharing. Not unless we are able to unpack, reorganize, and repack the pieces of our thoughts (and a bit of how we think) into a way that can be delivered and understood the way our listener will understand.

What do dreams mean, how to tell a story, be a good story-teller, i want to tell a good story, dreams as stories
‘And then… there was water… and I was wet… and we laughed… and…’

What we must learn to do to be heard, is learn to tell a story.

  1. The very first thing we must take into consideration is the ‘information bias’ we have over our listeners. We know what we mean to say and they do not. In fact, we should consider for ourselves that we should know a story many times over its intentions for it to be correctly understood. Often we tell somebody something in one sentence and expect them to have all the other pieces of information that is in our heads in order for that one sentence to make perfect sense. Not to mention, this information we are sharing has been rolling over in our own minds for some time, and we have a good feel for it. To just share a piece of information and expect someone to immediately get the same feeling and knowledge from it that we have is wishful thinking.
  2. Having said that, we shouldn’t walk them through every bump in the road we had to get to the conclusion we came to. Our thoughts are sporadic and chaotic before we get to our final conclusion. We have to be able to give the full information but in a nice and neat little package. Being concise is a story-tellers friend. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote in a letter to Harrison Blake, ‘Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.’ Unpack the information, reorganize it, and then pack it back up in a way that will deliver the message and do it without losing their interest.
  3. To do this, we need to streamline the story a bit. Yes, for us, it is absolutely vital what the weather was like and what sort of sweater our grandmother was wearing. But if we are trying to share how the message our grandmother gave us, and more importantly, how the message made us feel, does the purple sweater really need to be mentioned? Paint a picture by just drawing the lines and let the listener color inside.
  4. So focus on the feelings. Facts are great, but it is the emotion that captures the audience. Talk about what happened through feeling and not simply by what happened.
What do dreams mean, how to tell a story, be a good story-teller, i want to tell a good story, dreams as stories
Sure. There’s a house on a floating rock, but how did you feel when you walked through the tunnel chasing the light and this is what you saw at the end?

Most of what happens in our minds is a jumble of incoherent images that just doesn’t make sense in front of other people. And just throwing these out there will most likely put us at risk of being misunderstood and ultimately, disappointed.

In order to share these thoughts for social consumption, we have to live up to the challenge of being a good story-teller. It doesn’t matter if the story is a dream or a memory, the substance, however complex, is worth sharing. We just have to learn how.

Sweet dreams and happy story-telling.



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S. W. Stribling

S. W. Stribling


Creative and thought-provoking material with a touch of humor. Author of the ‘Sin & Zen’ series. www.wstribling.com @SWStribling