dream, sweet, dangerous dreams

So here is an interesting  question. What does the use of dreams play in ones story? What should it play? Should it play any?

I was once working on a chain story. (For those who don’t know what a chain story is, it’s where a bunch of people take turns writing sections of a story.) Someone started a dream sequence that merged into several people’s dream sequence and I was stuck with the challenge of unraveling it all. (This was before I had any confidence in writing.) Then, the person in charge of the chain story declared that there was to be no more dreams, as least for the time.

I think partly because of that experience I have shied away from dreams. I’ve also probably avoided having dreams in my own writing, I think because they appear too magical.

That all being said, here are a few of my opinions about dreams in an easier to read format.

1) Understand that dreams aren’t like real life. In real life, I can talk about myself getting up, brushing my hair, grabbing my things for the shower, going downstairs, ect. Real life is linear. Dreams are not. Dreams jump around and even when we are telling someone about our dreams, we often use words like, “Somehow we ended up at WalMart,” and, “Somehow we got there.” Or, “For some reason I was driving a car.”

2) We don’t usually question our actions in dreams. Now, I have had dreams where I’m kinda awake, kinda asleep and decided, No, I’m not going to dream about that. Or I want to do that. But in really deep sleep, we usually just take it for granted that we’re driving a car, when we’ve never driven before in our life. It’s only after the dream that we say things like, “I was driving, but I’m not sure why.”

3) Dreams can be used to foreshadow. This is probably the most common type of dream, especially in fantasy stories, where we have some wise person appearing and telling the main character to not go to such and such, that of course, he goes to anyway.

4) Dreams can also be used to tell some of the character’s true personality. This is, in some ways, a reference back to chapter 3. Take, for example, our character, Jane. jane keeps having nightmares about killing people (proving that she can actual kill someone)  and then at the end of the story, she has to kill someone for whatever reason (hopefully a good one), although she has been telling herself the whole time that she will not.

5) Dreams should be done infrequently. Unless, of course, that is the basis of your whole story. But general advice is to avoid having the character have dreams constantly for whatever reason.

6) Readers don’t like dreams. Dreams, and flashbacks, interrupt the flow of the story forwards and brings it to a screeching halt. This is part of the reason behind number 5.

7) Dreams do have characters doing things they can’t normally do. For example, I’ve had dreams about me driving (I can’t drive.), about me fighting someone in my bedroom (Never did.) And about me fighting aliens. (Never going to happen.) And sometimes, we do things that we wouldn’t normally want to do in real life either.

So, any one else have thoughts about dreams in fiction? What are some of the best dream sequences you’ve read?

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About Abigail

I'm an elementary education major at a college in the Midwest. I might graduate as early as December '13 but more likely May '14. I write when I can. I also knit on occasion, draw, do homework and contradict teachers to make people think. :)

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