Tuesday, May 16, 2017

To Dream or Not to Dream

The World - Shadowscapes Tarot 
I just finished reading Laini Taylor's new book, Strange the Dreamer. It's a story about a boy named Lazlo Strange who dreams of things no low-born orphan could hope to aspire to. The plot revolves around the blue skinned godspawn, a past slaughter, a lost city and the lucid dreaming of Lazlo and Sarai. It got me thinking about dreamscapes in fiction, something I've explored in my own novels as well. The funny thing is, while researching dreams in Fantasy Fiction, most of the sites that come up say, Don't do it!

Seriously? Why not?

It's considered something to avoid, but don't tell that to Laini Taylor, Elizabeth Knox - The Dreamhunter Duet, Suzanne Young and Tom DeLonge - Poet Anderson ...of Nightmares, and hundreds of thousands of writers who have used dreams successfully in their fiction.

So which is it. Avoid, or use? 

Yvonne Woon's Dead Beautiful Series uses dreams as vision, 
intragal to the plot.

Reasons to Avoid Dream Scenes in Fiction

According to K M Weiland, "A story opening that features a dream is a story opening that almost always fails to present a strong hook, character, setting, conflict, or frame."

Jackal Editing agrees saying, “Don’t put dreams in novels” isn’t a rule; it’s advice that emerged from readers’ negative reactions to dreams in novels, and it’s practical advice."

Surveys show that dreams sequences in fiction are often skimmed or skipped entirely. Readers report them as boring, distracting and irrelevant to RL, the real life of the story. It's a valid point. Because dreams aren't RL, they have no stakes. No matter what happens, what's revealed, learned or accomplished, in the end, 'is just a dream.' 

Jungian analysis aside, a dream sequence may have no relevance to the story save to tell the reader something about the dreamer's subconscious mind, repressed emotions or secret fears and desires. That may move the story along, or come off as a transparent plot device.

Other cons include:

Dreams in stories almost never ring true. Symbol is the language of the subconscious so in dreams, there is no order, no beginning, middle and end. Hence, dreams that play out as a textual mini-series can't happen, unless you premise your story-world with that ability, and explain why.

Dreams used to flesh out a character may be lazy writing. As Jackal says, "If you can’t develop your character while they’re awake, you’re already in serious trouble."

Dreams in RL are tricksters. They mislead, have dead ends, and rarely portray any concrete ah ha moments when considered rationally. NOTE: This could be both a pro and a con for writing dreams into the story, depending on how its used. 

Harry Potter is led astray by subconscious thoughts implanted by a dastardly villain. 

Reasons for Dreams in Fiction

If the dreams are visions, essential to the plot, as we see happening to the character Renée Winters in the Dead Beautiful series, by Yvonne Woon, and in all seven novels of the Harry Potter series, then they belong in the narrative. In these examples, dreams are portrayed as powerful, mysterious, dangerous, and a source of power. Good additions.

Our own Supernatural Author Helen Lowe adds, "Dream magic is an important part of the Wall of Night series world and also figured in Thornspell. You will notice, the dreams are not alternate to the main story but an integral part of it."

She has written about her approach to dreams in fiction here:

I find Dreams belong in the prose if they are forms of magical communication. Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer and Heartless (Tales of Goldstone Wood #1) by Anne Elisabeth Stengl are examples. Also George R. R. Martin uses dreams for prophecy and communication (particularly the wolf dreams of the Stark children) and in the above mentioned Elisabeth Knox duet, dreams are the premise for the entire story. 

Dreams may also bring humor, a kind of comic relief for the characters. This can work by highlighting their reaction to it, and the reactions of other characters when told the dream.

For writers, if you are Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Carrol, Bronte, Orwell and others of that calibre who have used dream narratives to great success, then don't hesitate. Dream sequences CAN work. But it might help to reread some of your favorite authors and see how they managed it.

For readers, I'm wondering how you feel about dreams in novels? Do you ever skim? Get distracted? Bored? Or do the dreams seem like integral, captivating additions to the plot? Somewhere in between?

I'd love to hear your take!

Kim Falconer's latest release is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel. Find this novel in a store near you.

You can also learn more about Kim at AvaSykes.com, the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter.  Or on GoodVibeAstrology.com where she teaches law of attraction and astrology.

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month and runs Save the Day Writer's Community on Facebook. Check out her daily Astro-LOA Flash horoscopes on Facebook


Neia said...

For me dreams belong to a parallel reality, a glimpse of other world's. I use to write down all my important dreams and date them. I could even write a book!?
So, writing about dreams means sharing your experience wit me. And I would thank you 😊

Astrid Cooper said...

I never use dream sequences in novella length genre fiction, but have incorporated one sequence in the mainstream faction novel I am writing. I chose to do this to convey the character's emotional fragility from PTSD, and also to give an insight into his work that in the real life of the novel I'd have no way of revealing, and would be redundant, especially since the story is told from the female protagonist's POV.

Amanda Arista said...

In DIARIES OF AN URBAN PANTHER, I had the main character dream in fairytales that her mother was telling her. At first, I thought it was a little cheesy, but I've found that her dreams were the best way for Violet, a story teller herself, to understand what the universe was trying to tell her. So I kept that as a little secret super power in the whole series.

Helen Lowe said...

Dream magic is an important part of the Wall of Night series world and also figured in Thornspell -- so I guess I'm noticing a trend here. :) But the dreams are not alternate to the main story but an integral part of it. I wrote a little about the approach here:


And addressed "Portent and Fate: The Mythic Aspect of Dream in Contemporary Fantasy" here:


I'm pretty sure dreams also figured in Teresa Frohock's "Miserere" so now I'm tagging her to comment next. :)

And as Amanda says, DREAM ON!!!!

T. Frohock said...

Thanks for tagging me, Helen.

Yes, in Miserere the novel was structured around dreams. Since Rachael and Lucian were from the Citadel, the Christian bastion in Woerld, I used the Biblical narrative that those who dream also prophesy. This is important for Rachael’s character, because as one who dreams, she can also prophesy. At the beginning of Miserere, she is possessed by a demon that is leading her deeper into her dreams, and she has to fight to distinguish reality from dreams/prophecies.

Her first dream flows from past to present to future and I used that to tie together a few early threads in the story and cement the reader in Woerld. But each dream sequence is merely another step toward the climax, which is the actual exorcism later in the novel. Without the dream sequences, Lucian following Rachael into her mind wouldn’t make sense.

And while I understand warning new authors not to place an overreliance on dream narratives in their novels, I don’t think they should avoid using dreams altogether. Dreams occupy a special place between the shadow and the soul, and used correctly, they can add surreal and haunting aspects to your story.

One trick I learned was to keep the dream short. In the Los Nefilim novella Without Light or Guide, Diago has a dream that later becomes significant:

The nightmare struck at three o’clock. Diago dreamed himself drowning in the dark. The blackness swept over him and clouded his eyes. It filled his nose and his lungs, then took him down beneath ground and left himself faceless in the dark.

He awoke with a scream on his lips and Miquel’s palm over his mouth.

That’s it. The entire dream is over in three lines. Be sharp with your words and use them sparingly, but don’t shy away from using dreams if the story calls for that magical shift between the conscious and the unconscious.

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Neia,

I like the openness and curiosity with which you approach dreams. I agree.

They can be a window into another world, and sharing that window might be just what the story needs.

Thanks for jumping in!

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Astrid,

Good points! The length of the work can be a factor. Short stories don't have the leisure of pace to go into these dream sequences, but in a longer work, dreams might show character traits and emotions that are otherwise, as you say, challenging to reveal!

Great to see you dropping in!

Kim Falconer said...

Amanda, I remember that super power of Violets, and yes, it works in the story world.

We have a strong case for using dream sequences in stories, to advance the plot, for sure.

Thanks for weighing in.

Kim Falconer said...

Thank you, Helen, for the links. Perfectly on point.

If I had actually planned the post before it was due, I would have had time to chant and get those into the main article. Will update now. So helpful!

Thank you,

Team Dream

Kim Falconer said...

T Frohok! I love what you said --> " Dreams occupy a special place between the shadow and the soul, and used correctly, they can add surreal and haunting aspects to your story."


And yes, keep them short. That will assure the reader doesn't wander away but stays glued to the page.

Looking very strong here as a pro-dream group!