Use of The Dream in Fiction

It’s difficult to skillfully incorporate a character’s dreams into a work. Or maybe I should say that it’s easy to do it badly.

As I reader, I cringe when a dream sequence is blatant foreshadowing. It doesn’t make it better if the character doesn’t remember their dream. I find myself wondering if the character is supposed to be psychic, or if it’s simply an insult to my intelligence. It’s almost always annoying, I know that.

Maybe worse are the lengthy dream sequences where a character has to complete some challenge or face something he is afraid of in the waking world. Real dreams are almost chaotic, certainly surreal. They can have meaning, but it is rarely delivered in a straightforward manner. Maybe writers think it too cumbersome to write both a dream and how the character interpreted it when he or she woke. It would probably be cumbersome to read, as well. But without it, I find this method jarring, and my willing suspension of disbelief is broken. I can usually get it back, but a good writer works to ensure readers will never experience that.

All that said, I include dreams in The Sunshine Line and its sequels. While sometimes the dreams have a little bit of meaning, I never use it as even a revelation, much less forshadowing. Another thing that I like about how I’ve done that is that the descriptions are rarely even two sentences long.

It’s a stylistic thing, really, on the part of my narrator, and I think it also serves to make a chapter ending at bedtime a little more interesting.

Here’s a little example:

Kristy and I climbed into our floating camp-beds and she snuggled up on my shoulder. I thought I would have trouble falling asleep, but the tea had done its work and I soon drifted off. In my dreams, the Boobrie was dressed as a police officer and it was writing me a ticket for carrying a concealed pixie. I tried to explain that I hadn’t been concealing her, she was flying right out in the open, but the monster, like most cops, didn’t want to hear my excuses. 

I don’t doubt that some of my readers will find the dreams a little annoying. But many of my readers find them charming.

So do I, but I still handle dreams in fiction with dragon-skin gloves. Help Wanted doesn’t have any dreams in it, despite the nightmares anyone in Amy’s position would probably endure on a regular basis.


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