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Dream Sequences in Fiction - Yay or Nay? (1 Viewer)

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This is a subject I was pondering while lying awake last night...In reading fiction I've come across dream sequences a few times, and they seem to pop up primarily in the Fantasy genre. While I realise there is a place in fiction for dreams, I've always found them to be too heavy handed, or that the writer was trying to imply something that I just couldn't understand - but perhaps that's just me.

So I ask, are dream sequences just a waste of a chapter, or can they truly be made useful? And if that's the case, do you have a favourite example?
 

-xXx-

Financial Supporter
This is a subject I was pondering while lying awake last night...In reading fiction I've come across dream sequences a few times, and they seem to pop up primarily in the Fantasy genre. While I realise there is a place in fiction for dreams, I've always found them to be too heavy handed, or that the writer was trying to imply something that I just couldn't understand - but perhaps that's just me.

So I ask, are dream sequences just a waste of a chapter, or can they truly be made useful? And if that's the case, do you have a favourite example?


i would not classify this as a favorite example,
but possibly
an example of a well known author utilizing dream as a device
worth a few moments of study by authors refining their story craft.

aka j d robb
MC eve dallas
dream sequences
draw on juxtaposing
conscious feelings of inadequacy/brokenness/self-doubt
wiith
strengths begot by (re)processing
lived experiences,
severe
and
extreme.

that work?
not my cup of tea as a writer or reader,
but very interesting author-as-person-study.

best,
:)
 

-xXx-

Financial Supporter
what is a sequence?

per oxford dictionaries:
noun

1. a particular order in which related events, movements, or things follow each other: "the content of the program should follow a logical sequence" synonyms succession, order, course, series, chain, ... more
2. a set of related events, movements, or things that follow each other in a particular order: "a grueling sequence of exercises"

verb

1. arrange in a particular order: "trainee librarians decide how a set of misfiled cards could be sequenced"
2. play or record (music) with a sequencer.


periodically, within the narrative of a novel,
the MC might have an emotional reaction
to an event, interaction, or
that feeling of missing something right in front of you,
which prompts expression during dream scenarios.

some of the sequences are set in past events,
but some aspect is not as it was.
some of the sequences are set in current environments,
but aspects echo some facet associated with the past.

the technique works very well
in terms of developing very complex characters.
introducing and facilitating exploration of "flaws"
provides the reader with additional layers of "human-ness"
with which to connect,
while the author gains
an avenue to "reveal" motivation, reasoning, insight, etc.


clarified?
:)
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I don't like when there is nothing to suggest a dream and I think I am reading reality -- it violates my contract with the author. And for the most part I don't see the point of trying to tell the normal kind of interesting story within a dream.

But one of my characters was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and having nightmares. I wanted the reader to feel that, so it made sense to "show" in addition to telling. And my sequence of three could show a small change over time.

This is the first described dream, followed by relevant narration. It's blocked off and hopefully has the irrationality of a dream.

I have to just GET THERE. QUICKLY! Someone is going to die! I can't move. It's my fault, and now I'm lost. Someone gets shot -- it's Rachel.​


I wake up in the middle of the night petrified, my brain screaming Danger. Nightmares, I guess, but I don't remember them.
 

Cephus

Senior Member
It depends entirely on how it's done like any literary device. I've done it before as a flashback of sorts. I wouldn't use it as a fake-out for the reader though, that's absurdly overdone and most readers hate it.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
There are different ways of doing it and different reasons.

The only time I ever use dreams, and probably the most common reason most writers do, is to explore a character's backstory and/or psyche. I think this can add richness but I also think writers can go overboard with it to the point it starts to verge on the lazy and unrealistic. One novel I read recently had the MC's backstory shown through no less than SEVEN dreams/nightmares, each strikingly coherent and with perfect continuity (one dream ends on an argument, next night's dream chronologically picks up the aftermath)

It got old fast, and began to feel like an insult to intelligence because we all know IRL that people don't dream this way and even suspension of belief was stretched. Sure, certain themes and motifs may offer some constants, especially in trauma and PTSD situations, but this was not that at all. What this was, was effectively flashbacks. The insertion of this into a 'dream' scenario, ostensibly to make it feel more organic and create a story-within-a-story of sorts, is amateurish. Just thread the backstory through dedicated scenes/chapters without the gimmick, my dude, there's nothing to say you can't.

Overall, I think it's super tropey, borderline cliche, and although I do use 'dreams' and things analogous to them, I suggest playing down the ham.
 

soda_enby

Member
I tend to use dreams rarely, mostly to show character backstory, although I feel a lot of writers use it for that, but I like to allude rather than just explain. Just explaining backstory in a dream feels like a lazy way to do it, dancing around what actually happened or focusing solely on the character's thoughts and feelings (so the environment or event itself seems different) rather than just fact is more interesting to me. Mystery is way more fun to write for me.

I totally agree with Cephus tho, no fake-outs. Make it clear to the audience, otherwise it just feels annoying.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
I agree with Cephus, no fake-outs. The reader should be at least partly aware that it's a dream.

Concur.

As a reader, not getting any hints or pointers that the story has gone into a dream sequence is extremely annoying, especially when you get to the end
and everything is revealed (rather quickly and without explanation) that it was all a dream. This leaves readers with far more questions than answers,
as well as a bad taste in our mouths.

As a writer, I try to not use dream sequences, and have done so in different ways when I have used them. For example, a dream sequence was necessary
in one of my novellas, but done by having the MC get knocked into a brief coma to have his revelation. When awoken, he realizes (as did the reader) that
if it wasn't for the act in which he was put into a coma, he might have never come up with the plan that would eventually see him win the day, albeit at a
small cost (personal harm).

-JJB
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
The effectiveness of a dream scene, as it is with any device, depends upon application.

No one I know has ever had dreams that go on for hours - so dreams in my stories are kept short.
Dreams also tend to be cryptic, they may hint at something, but it's often obscure. They're symbolic.
For me, dreams often have metaphysical content.
In writing, my characters often don't have much memory of their waking life and believe the dream is real. However, the reader always knows it's a dream.

I just completed a 5 book series. The first 4 books were stand alone, with the 5th tying them all together. Dreams were used in the first 4 books to hint at what was coming in the 5th. None of the dreams lasted longer than a few short paragraphs.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I have only rarely written a dream, and like some of the other comments, when I did I kept it brief and to the point. However, later in my WIP, I'm about to do it in a MAJOR way. My MC will have to convince Morpheus to cast a dream about the true nature of a conflict to convince everyone on both sides to stand down. This was just a major spoiler. It's half of solving the crisis. ;-)

He'll have to find Morpheus, dry him out, and arrange for him to witness a confession. Those actions will stretch out to about the last quarter of the book.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
I agree. The fake-out dream sequence is BS.

In my last manuscript I wrote a dream sequence. It was obviously not real and clearly used for specific reasons. If the dream is written as a way to be clever... no.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
In one of my WIP's, I'm thinking about a character telling her significant other she had a dream about dead people coming back to life for revenge. This ends up "coming true" in a non-supernatural way. (It has to do with grave robbing and being buried alive.)

We'll have to see if it works or sucks.
 

WailingDusk

Senior Member
This is my opinion based on what I do and don't want in the stories I read:

Dream sequences are fine (I use them sometimes when it's relevant); however, how you use them will determine if your reader keeps reading or you end up in the DNF pile.

I don't think dream sequences should ever be the length of a chapter (unless your chapters are extremely short). I'm invested in what is actually happening to the main character, not his or her fantasies or nightmares. However, that's not to say they can't be interesting without being annoying. If it pushes the story forward or gives the character some kind of insight that's relevant, then it can work depending on how it's written. Once again, you never want to dwell in a dream too long.

Also, don't put any dream at the beginning of a story. That is the worst thing you can do, and if you're planning on ever submitting this to a literary agent, you'll be quickly rejected.
 
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