Dreams use wordplay, pun, alternate definitions of words and other tricks of language and narration as storytelling devices. Study dreams for as long as I have and you’ll see just about every storytelling device used in them at some point. Wordplay is among the most frequently used.

For example:

  • A character named Christian in a dream refers to the beliefs of Christianity.
  • A safe can symbolize feeling safe.
  • A bear can mean bare.
  • A bug, the insect, can mean “to bug or bother.”
  • A hospital can mean “hospitality.”
  • The sun can mean “son.”
  • A pupil is the light receptor of the eye, or it’s a student, and one can represent the other.
  • Jeans can mean genes.
  • Pointing to a knee in a dream can mean pointing to a need.
  • A Russian in a dream can be a wordplay for “rush in” or “rushing.”

Alternate definitions of words are used as symbolism and usually shown in the actions of a dream. Such as when “adopt” means “take in or take responsibility for” and acted out as adopting a pet or child. “Ditch” means abandon and is acted out in a dream as leaving something in a ditch. If “bug” means bother, the dream will show it as a bug bothering you.

A man dreams that he sees a hole in the son and responds strongly in his feelings. His father had recently died, leaving a hole in the son’s life. It’s a visual metaphor and a brief but important scene in the dream, and knowing what the hole in the sun means helps the man to decode other scenes in the dream.

What is family business? It’s any business conducted for the family, and dreams can compare business and family to tell a story about your family life or what it feels like where you work or go to school — your “other family.” A terrific example dream is given in the Resolution chapter under the subheading “Working for the Family Business.”


Wordplay in a dream

I dream that I’m in a high-speed train and see women bending over to pick up cantaloupe in the exit well. I sense a man behind me when one of the women reaches up to hand me a piece of cantaloupe. I tell her no thanks, “I cantaloupe.”

Do you hear the wordplay? She “can’t elope.” In other words, her life is going by quickly and in a definite direction, symbolized as riding in the train. She senses a man coming into her life — she’s open to having a new romantic relationship — and she’s telling herself she can’t just run off with someone, like eloping.

Dream puns

Puns are another storytelling device used occasionally in dreams. Here are examples copied from the Metaphor chapter:

  • A man dreams he’s pregnant and gives birth to the world’s biggest burp. The people around him call it a “food baby.” My guess is, the person was asleep and dreaming and felt the burp coming so the dream responds by turning it into symbolism.
  • Example #2: Dream about buying tickets from a scalper and actually wanting a hat. The dream is a pun.
  • Dreams create metaphors drawn from the hundreds or even thousands of them you are familiar with, plus they can create on the fly. Think like a storyteller and learn how to use them for yourself.
  • Wait, it gets better: a dream about the “kneemasons.”

Other than understanding symbolism, understanding how dreams tell stories is your best path to grasping their meaning. The more you learn about storytelling, the more you learn about your dreams. And vice-versa; exploring your dreams can make you a better storyteller!

Visit LiteraryTerms.net to explore storytelling devices.

The examples below show how dreams use wordplay and alternative word definitions to create meaning and symbolism.