Everyone dreams, although not everyone remembers doing so. Dreams, therefore, are a common experience, so it’s inevitable that they turn up in fiction. Fictional dreams are, in fact, a literary device. They have also drawn the ire of rule-makers. Writers know they should never end a story by revealing that it was all a dream, or begin one with the character waking up from one.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use dreams in fiction. They can be useful in many ways.
- Prophetic dreams can provide foreshadowing
- Dreams can add symbolic elements
- Nightmares can provide a jolt of horror and an element of backstory
- Dreams can show something about a character they aren’t aware of
- A dream can be a vehicle for something unlikely in reality (along with hints that maybe it wasn’t really a dream)
- Hallucinations and visions are somewhat like dreams (or nightmares)
Deep into Draft 2.5 of my work in progress, I decided to change a particular scene into a dream. That let me dodge some awkward logic problems going forward and introduce bizarre details that (I think) enhance the reading experience without straining the suspension of disbelief. This got me thinking about the use of dreams in fiction. Every one of my novels includes dreams, from brief mentions to full and detailed accounts.
Not to set down rules (Me? Rules? Never!), but it occurs to me there are a few things to keep in mind about using dreams as elements in fiction.
- Less is more. Unless a story is about dreams or dreaming, it’s probably best not to go overboard with them.
- Dreams aren’t logical. Fictional dreams that are too detailed and realistic are obviously contrived.
- Feel free to make fictional dreams bizarre and illogical. In fact, drawing upon your own actual dreams may be a good idea.
- Think oblique. Hint rather than state. Instead of having a character remember a dream from start to finish, drop in flash memories of the dream as they go through their day. Vivid vignettes instead of technicolour dramas.
Fellow writers, do you put dreams into your fiction? Or maybe something you’ve written was inspired by a dream. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.
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