Two or three times a year, someone tells me, “You know that everyone in your dream is you.” Says who, besides Carl Jung? Do night sweats running around a retirement home in my bathrobe looking for my demented mother always reflect fear of dementia? Granted, random dream figures can stimulate insights as effectively as tarot cards or tea leaves. We are the meaning makers, and new perspectives invite us to fresh meaning.
In writing, on the other hand, to some degree every character is the author. How can you make responses authentic except by putting yourself in the characters’ heads, or them in yours?
The same goes for reading. A child who becomes Pooh in imagination, then Piglet, then Eeyore or Tigger learns empathy. Mirror neurons don’t so much put us in someone else’s head as create an image of their intention in ours. In that sense, one might argue, you are everyone you see or imagine, including the characters in your dreams.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.