Writing About Dreams

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Thread: Writing About Dreams

  1. #1

    Writing About Dreams

    Not sure how many people on here get into writing these but I'm currently (struggling) through one.


    The struggle I find to come from the need to bridge the gap between reality and not, to capture the 'dream state'. What I mean by the dream state is mirroring the language patterns of dreams and making them seem, well, dreamy. Obviously while avoiding obvious cliches. I also want to try to incorporate the character's (real life) trauma in somehow but have not yet figured out how.


    Here's an excerpt of the scene so far.


    From the dark the light came. A sphere of it, like an old miner’s lantern, glowing fierce in the dark, a growing light without a shape. It was a hole cut in the matte of black. The end of a tunnel slowly enlarging as she moved toward it. As it came she heard only her breathing, steady, and the slow drum of her heart. Otherwise all was silent.

    And then it was here.

    Its brilliance washed over her. Overpowering her sight, though there was no sensation of pain or discomfort. She was simply inside of it, inside of that light, engulfed like a tossed fish inside a cresting wave. She opened her mouth as though to scream and felt herself merely numbed. The light entered her and she saw it. Inside her skin.

    And then she saw him.

    In a white room daylight blazed at a large and curtainless window, the floor an immaculate walnut wood. There was no furniture. There were no pizza boxes or Coke cans or dirty clothes. And of course there was no mold. It wasn’t her home, yet she immediately felt like it was. Her house, her home and she was wearing her favorite dress. A lilac off-shoulder evening gown. On the bottom was the feel of stiletto shoes. Slingbacks. She was wearing jewelry too. Pearls. She could smell herself, her body. She could smell coconut butter and Coco Chanel and the waxy undertone of keratin. She could feel herself clean. When she walked it was as though she weighed nothing.

    You look great, Norman said.

    He was leaning against the windowsill. The New York skyline was visible outside the pane. The sky a hazy blue. Immaculate and, from here at least, silent.

    ^ I am unsure as to whether this feels like a dream. If the kinds of things the character is picking up on, noticing, feeling are believable. I have tried to avoid cliches, yet make it obvious this is supposed to be going on in the character's head.

    For anybody who has attempted to write a character's dream, is there any feedback on this? Any aspects you found effective to incorporate to make it seem more realistic? Perhaps a famous excerpt of one?
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  2. #2
    I enjoy hearing about dreams, they are an interesting window into the mind.

    If you hadn't highlighted the above as a dream sequence i think i would have thought it was a near death experience (light at the end of a dark tunnel) - which isn't too off target as they share many similarities.

    I don't know of any exemplars of written dream, i'd be interested to see some myself.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Not sure how many people on here get into writing these but I'm currently (struggling) through one.


    The struggle I find to come from the need to bridge the gap between reality and not, to capture the 'dream state'. What I mean by the dream state is mirroring the language patterns of dreams and making them seem, well, dreamy. Obviously while avoiding obvious cliches. I also want to try to incorporate the character's (real life) trauma in somehow but have not yet figured out how.


    Here's an excerpt of the scene so far.





    ^ I am unsure as to whether this feels like a dream. If the kinds of things the character is picking up on, noticing, feeling are believable. I have tried to avoid cliches, yet make it obvious this is supposed to be going on in the character's head.

    For anybody who has attempted to write a character's dream, is there any feedback on this? Any aspects you found effective to incorporate to make it seem more realistic? Perhaps a famous excerpt of one?

    Dreams don't contain all five senses. Smells are not included, nor is touch, except, perhaps, as one is waking. Also the sights are noticed as they are needed. This seems too realistic to me. Dreams are often choppy, too. One can be one place, then suddenly someplace else.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of all trades View Post
    Dreams don't contain all five senses. Smells are not included, nor is touch, except, perhaps, as one is waking. Also the sights are noticed as they are needed. This seems too realistic to me. Dreams are often choppy, too. One can be one place, then suddenly someplace else.
    I disagree with the senses. It seems to be an individual thing, but a few people do smell and touch in their dreams. Apparently some people only dream in black and white. But this variation in how we all dream might prove a problem to writing a realistic dream sequence. Might require some research into common dream experiences (i know the scientific literature is sparse on this subject).

  5. #5
    Great question. For one dream I wrote:

    I'm in a casket. Alex is calling for help. I'm not dead, but I can't move. My father is being chased and needs my help. Someone has a knife. I hear screams. I can't help anyone.
    I went for being illogical. I had a friend who had dreams like that. I wanted the idea that her unsolved problems and fears were appearing in her dream, in a kind of visual concrete way. (She has PTSD) I gave the reader no warning that wasn't real, but obviously it was totally out of context.

    Really, I wanted her having nightmares. And I was showing, not telling.

    I might use run-ons if the ideas flowed better. I wouldn't use complicated grammar unless my narrator was awake and describing the dream. You have complicated sentences.

    Added: So there are a lot of possibilities'
    Last edited by EmmaSohan; February 16th, 2019 at 02:24 AM.
    How to write a good start: Hidden Content . Useful, original information. Long and thorough.
    Includes Hidden Content (do you start with description?), Hidden Content (a favorite with publishers apparently), starting with Hidden Content (a lost art), and more.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    Great question. For one dream I wrote:



    I went for being illogical. I had a friend who had dreams like that. I wanted the idea that her unsolved problems and fears were appearing in her dream, in a kind of visual concrete way. (She has PTSD) I gave the reader no warning that wasn't real, but obviously it was totally out of context.

    Really, I wanted her having nightmares. And I was showing, not telling.

    I might use run-ons if the ideas flowed better. I wouldn't use complicated grammar unless my narrator was awake and describing the dream. You have complicated sentences.
    Thanks Emma.

    It's in third person (whereas your example is in first person) so I'm not sure why the complexity of sentences would be a problem. Can you elaborate? Appreciate it.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of all trades View Post
    Dreams don't contain all five senses. Smells are not included, nor is touch, except, perhaps, as one is waking. Also the sights are noticed as they are needed. This seems too realistic to me. Dreams are often choppy, too. One can be one place, then suddenly someplace else.
    Thanks Jack. This is why I started this thread - as I don't dream vividly myself.

    In this case - and I should probably have mentioned this - the source of the smell is actually implied (upon waking) to come from a dead body. The dream filter and the delusional mindset of a mentally damaged MC makes distorts it into "coconut butter and Coco Chanel and the waxy undertone of keratin" which is actually revealed to be the rotting stink of a corpse (the corpse of Norman) which she is in the middle of having intercourse with in her sleep.

    Sorry if that's TMI, but I felt the need to explain it. Not sure how believable that is of course...
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Thanks Emma.

    It's in third person (whereas your example is in first person) so I'm not sure why the complexity of sentences would be a problem. Can you elaborate? Appreciate it.
    Sorry, I didn't notice the third person. That makes it even more interesting.

    For example, you wrote "And then she saw him." But she didn't see him, the narrator could have said "And then she dreamed him." Or, "And then he appeared." Saying she saw him might imply he was there before she saw him.

    So, the usual thing would be to go into first person with italics and describe the dream that way. You could have a narrator simply describe the dream. You seem to be trying something in between those two? Then the occasional complicated grammar doesn't bother me.

    That's still interesting. From that perspective, the start of the dream sequence bored me, and could be shortened. The elaborate description of the room made sense, worked well, and probably wouldn't have been possible from within a dream.
    How to write a good start: Hidden Content . Useful, original information. Long and thorough.
    Includes Hidden Content (do you start with description?), Hidden Content (a favorite with publishers apparently), starting with Hidden Content (a lost art), and more.

  9. #9
    Thanks Emma...

    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    For example, you wrote "And then she saw him." But she didn't see him, the narrator could have said "And then she dreamed him." Or, "And then he appeared." Saying she saw him might imply he was there before she saw him.
    I'm sorry, I am a little confused by this. It's third-person but it's from her perspective - I think they call that 'third person limited'? - so it's describing things from her perspective rather than from a perspective of omniscience. She isn't aware she is dreaming and what I am trying to do is capture a sense of realism - of being 'locked in' the dream. Referring to the act of dreaming in that context seems like it would detract from the sense of hallucination. I am open to the possibility this does not come across?

    So, the usual thing would be to go into first person with italics and describe the dream that way. You could have a narrator simply describe the dream. You seem to be trying something in between those two? Then the occasional complicated grammar doesn't bother me.
    I'm not really a fan of switching from third to first/second person or vice versa in stories. Just a personal preference. I am going for third-person as mentioned with a limited view rather than omniscient - so it's an obscured perspective and therefore unreliable.

    That's still interesting. From that perspective, the start of the dream sequence bored me, and could be shortened. The elaborate description of the room made sense, worked well, and probably wouldn't have been possible from within a dream.
    Thanks. I do worry about my writing boring people! What do you think could be skipped? Why wouldn't it be possible from within a dream? Appreciate the help!
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Thanks Jack. This is why I started this thread - as I don't dream vividly myself.

    In this case - and I should probably have mentioned this - the source of the smell is actually implied (upon waking) to come from a dead body. The dream filter and the delusional mindset of a mentally damaged MC makes distorts it into "coconut butter and Coco Chanel and the waxy undertone of keratin" which is actually revealed to be the rotting stink of a corpse (the corpse of Norman) which she is in the middle of having intercourse with in her sleep.

    Sorry if that's TMI, but I felt the need to explain it. Not sure how believable that is of course...
    Wouldn't the smells and touch be more directly related to the reality? Is she also a sleep walker, because folks don't usually move when dreaming.

    Sorry, but I see too many believability issues with this to continue. As a reader, you would lose me. Take that for what it's worth to you. I know we frequently disagree, so you might not care if I would read it. For now, I think it's best if I bow out of this discussion. Good luck, though.

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