Long story short. A few years ago I suffered from depersonalization and I still struggle with identity and motivation issues. This has deprived me almost entirely of the ability to feel emotion in dreams and allowed me to dream from the perspective of an observer far more often than the usual person.

I can feel only a limited spectrum of mild emotions that have somewhat specific triggers. For example, I can only get angry at my parents. I cannot feel fear. (I can feel a far larger array of emotions when awake, although I might react in an inappropriate manner at times.)

As I haven't socialised much, nor written fiction since this has happened, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and try my hand at forum role-playing. Thinking my dreams were bizarre and cool and being interested in the topic, I joined a semi-literate RP, where some disturbance happens in another dimension, making people unable to wake up and causing dreams to merge.

Here's my problem. The character I created comes from a different background and does not share much of my personality and values. I want her dreams to reflect her inner world, but every time I start writing, she ends up taking a passive role. It's as if I'm observing her observing what other people do in her dream. While I came up with a sketchy reason as to why she is more passive, I still need her to feel emotions and act normally.

How do I do it?

The style in which we role-play is the usual third person, past tense, "show, don't tell". It's meant to be somewhat character-based and I think the plot will be rather linear once all our dreams merge. We're still at the "introductory posts" stage.

p.s. If you need to know more about my character, please tell me.

  • Could you post a small snippet of what you have written so that we can understand the "passiveness" of the dream better? Jan 31, 2014 at 12:16

1 Answer 1


Basically a writer can write from two sources: her own experiences or research.

Usually, even when we write about people who are different from us and go through experiences we have not had, we assume that there is a basic similarity between most human beings and that we can infer their emotions and thoughts by translating our own experiences into theirs.

So for example, even though I am a man, I can imagine how a woman must feel like when she gives birth, because I have experienced pain, have been in extreme, possible life-threatening situations, and am a father of a child (so I understand the fears and joys that accompany birth). So I can quite well imagine what giving birth would be like. Not completely, certainly, but sufficiently to narrate such an event in a novel.

In the case of giving birth, my imagination is complemented by reading about and talking to women who have given birth. But if you want to write about something that is so unlike your own experiences that you cannot extrapolate from those, you will have to rely completely on research. For example, if I want to write about a psychopath with an inner world that is almost no longer human, what I must do is read accounts by people who have studied their mental processes, and, if they exist, accounts of their thinking and emotions that psychopaths themselves have written.

Now, if I understand you correctly, you no longer dream like the average person dreams, and you find it hard to narrate a dream from such a person's perspective, because you simply no longer know how their dreams work and feel for them. So what you need to do is research.

Read dreams, as they were recorded by real dreamers. Read dreams as they are narracted in fiction. But be careful with the latter, because many fictional dreams have little in common with real dreams. Yet you may learn how dreams are conventionally narrated in fiction.

And if you feel you have studied enough and understand the formal principles of average dreams, fake it. Recreate that superficial form.

  • Yes. That's what I meant. It seems I worded my question in a way that might have implied I don't feel emotions when I'm awake. I corrected that.
    – Andra
    Jan 30, 2014 at 13:30
  • I did not mean that. Your explanation sounds as if your dreams are so dissimilar to the dream you want to narrate, that you don't understand, how a dreamer would experience such a dream. So I recommended you research into how people experience their dreams by reading accounts of dreams. There are many publications containing real dreams of real people, not just novels with made up dreams of fictional characters. So there are sources that you can use to learn how people experience their dreams. If that is your difficulty.
    – user5645
    Jan 30, 2014 at 13:49
  • 1
    Imagine if you're a sighted person writing about the dreams of a character who's been blind since birth. You'd have to research that, correct? Treat this the same way. Jan 30, 2014 at 14:30
  • @Lauren: That's a good analogy for what I'm going through. It's about perception. I go through my dreams as if I'm a robot (sometimes omnipotent and capable of making important decisions, sometimes lacking the ability to process information, yet still moving like a marionette) or an uncaring observer. Not counting lucid dreaming, there are many times when I wake up thinking that the me inside the dream was no different from any other dream-stuff, that I was just some decorative dream-piece. There are dreams in which I, the observer, never make an appearance, but observe somehow everything.
    – Andra
    Jan 30, 2014 at 15:35

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