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How to Write a Dreamtime Story


The indigenous people of Australia wrote dreamtime stories to explain how the familiar world came into existence. "Dreamtime," or "dreaming," refers to the time of creation when the Great Spirit Ancestors traveled across the Australian continent, forming the land, animals and even the celestial beings in their wake. Many of these dreaming stories also contain cultural mores and lessons the story writers believe are important to pass down to succeeding generations. Writing a dreamtime story involves narrating a character experiencing or effecting a dramatic occurrence or learning a moral lesson.

Select a Significant Setting

An authentic Australian aboriginal dreamtime story finds its setting in Australia, near a physiological or geographical terrain -- such as the Australian outback -- or landmark that features in traditional dreamtime stories, like the ocean in the story of Warramurrungundjui, the fertility mother of the Gagudju people. Include specific imagery to accompany your story, rather than vague descriptions. For example, Warramurrungundjui carries "a digging stick and a dilly bag holding yams, waterlilies and other important plants." These concrete images help fashion a vivid history for the details of the physical locale.

Hail a Nonhuman Hero

A physical feature of the land could even function as the main character in a dreamtime story. The boab tree -- a gnarly, bulbous tree indigenous to Australia -- received its malformed shape as a consequence for its pride, according to a Gagudju dream story. Dingos, kangaroos, koala bears, flying squirrels and other animals and plants indigenous to Australia also feature as protagonists in traditional dreamtime narratives. These characters often face repercussions for their character flaws or moral shortcomings.

Plan the Plot's Purpose

Sometimes the characters in dreamtime stories also pass down practical skills, such as the Brown Falcon who teaches people how to fish. Whether writers choose to focus on passing down practical or moral instruction, a dreamtime story always requires a purpose, which drives the plot. The main character in the story needs to either undergo a change -- such as the boab tree's transformation into an ugly tree -- or effect a change, as in the case of Warrammungundjui, who forms the land. In both cases, these changes should be at least physical in nature; they may also signify an internal, moral change, such as in the case of the boab tree, whose grotesque appearance represents the ugliness of the tree's growing pride.

State the Story Sparsely

Dreamtime stories get right to the point, typically filling only a paragraph, and involve little plot buildup or suspense. They usually contain a single significant event that changes circumstances dramatically, such as in the story of the Rainbow Serpent, Almudj, who creates mountains and hills by pushing itself out of the ground. Dreamtime stories require little denouement at the end. Realistic character development, metaphorical language or poetic devices are not typical. The most authentic dreamtime stories focus on the purpose or message of the narrative or dream.

About the Author

Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.

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