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Dream Sequences

30 June 2016

From author David Farland:

Most editors will warn you against writing too many dream sequences.  The problems in writing about dreams are multitudinous.  Very often, a new author will write an opening to a story and feel that it is dull, so he or she will spice it up by putting in an action scene—and then have the character wake up at the end.  The editor always feels cheated, and then has to wade through the tedious information that the author was trying to avoid.  Editors are very aware of that, and so we get angry when we find that we’ve been suckered into a dream sequence.  Usually, we get our vengeance: by gleefully rejecting the manuscript.

Now, the technique can work, but it’s hard to pull off.  Your description has to be vivid; your characters need to come alive and become strong protagonists; and you need to be very imaginative.  So you can open a tale with a dream sequence, but be forewarned.

The only cliché worse than opening with a dream is where the writer tells an entire story or novel and then ends with a character waking from his dream.  Don’t do that one folks.  If your editor reads it and then shoots you, it’s considered justifiable homicide.

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7 Comments to “Dream Sequences”

  1. I have started a SCENE (not the first one) with a dream sequence.

    I think the most important part is that it be SHORT, so that by the time the reader realizes there’s something off, you’ve already taken care of crash landing in the real world.

    One paragraph, getting increasingly ‘out there,’ works nicely.

    Like a paragraph of a character thinking about something, it is a way of showing things important to the character. Quickly and without a lot of explaining.

    • Could be used as a flashback mechanism, too.
      Your protagonist suffers from PTSD?
      Show how he/she got there.
      Seen it used quite a bit in video.

      Quick and efficient.

  2. My first urban fantasy novel(not published yet) I wrote starts off with a dream but I don’t hide it. The reader knows that it is a dream. I had it critiqued and the one complaint I got was the description. They didn’t mind the dream but it was the description that for them went on too long. It was half a page. Some didn’t like description at all and some readers are like that. So, it all comes down to taste I guess.

  3. My current WIP starts with the protag waking up from a nightmare. It’s repeated several times with additional details each time, as he remembers them more clearly. But you only see the nightmares from his point of view, after they’re over; they aren’t scenes, and are only a few lines each time.

  4. Starting with a dream and including a dream are two very different propositions. So far, of my sixteen published works, two of them include dreams (Devouring Light and Caught in Amber). Neither starts with a dream.

  5. Reality Observer

    The only cliché worse than opening with a dream is where the writer tells an entire story or novel and then ends with a character waking from his dream. Don’t do that one folks. If your editor reads it and then shoots you, it’s considered justifiable homicide.

    People ask me why I detest the “Wizard of Oz” movie, but love the book. This summarizes my reason perfectly…

  6. I think dreams can be a good way to reveal character: what they want, what they fear, past trauma.

    But it should be there to serve the story, not as an attempt for the author to be clever.

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