1. bionerdwithaporpoise

    bionerdwithaporpoise New Member

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    Is a dream always bad?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by bionerdwithaporpoise, Jan 12, 2017.

    I'm a fairly new writer, so forgive my potentially amateurish questions

    There's a scene (not sure if that's the proper term) where my MC falls asleep, dreams, and wakes up all in one go.
    It doesn't occur within the first few "chapters" (I haven't divided it yet, as it's not finished) but it'll be in the first 1/3 of the story, I'm sure. It's not prophetic, either.
    So I don't think it falls into the box of cliches or no-nos, but I could very well be wrong. :p

    The purpose of it is to weave in some backstory, but in a way that my MC or the reader won't know whether or not it's a true recollection until later on. It makes him seriously question what he's been told his entire life about his birth and young life. It'll have a transformative effect on my MC, which I think works.

    Also, it's a 950 word dream. Is this relatively too long? I'm at 70k with my first draft so far and feel I still have a hell of a lot to do, so I predict this will be a brick of a fantasy story. But I can't say for sure...

    Thanks :)
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    For me, the scene you describe is a big no-no. I find dreams a very lazy way to give information, especially ones that make far more sense than dreams do in real life.

    Other readers won't mind dream scenes at all.

    Personally, I know enough readers share my views that I would find another way to get my character questioning his life.
     
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  3. bionerdwithaporpoise

    bionerdwithaporpoise New Member

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    Yeah, the realness and consistency of it is a worry of mine.
    I thought about making him have the dream only once, while he's in the medical wing right after the head injury, unconscious and in a coma. I've been doing research on peoples' experiences being in a coma and they often claim to have prolonged hallucinations or dreams, which are usually unsettling. My character's is unsettling as well.

    I also just remembered that GRR Martin did it in A Game of Thrones (not sure if you've read it), the chapter where Bran is unconscious after being pushed from the tower, which I calculated to be about 1,850 words. But, I'm not nearly as skilled as G.R.R M to pull off a long, cohesive dream/vision. Just a reference.
     
  4. Brie Marie

    Brie Marie New Member

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    I get the whole confusing-the-reader-thing, but keep in mind in real life, dreams are distorted versions of multiple truths, so dreams are not perfect memories. And as long as you get the point across in an interesting way, without unnecessary information, word count shouldn't matter. :)
     
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  5. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    I think a potential problem is that if you have the dream as the entire first 1/3 of the book it will make the book feel like it is ALL meant to be dreams, and when you come out of it and continue the story, it will jar the reader because it will feel like it is two books.

    That being said, it can be done. It is the smoothness of the incorporation of the dreams into the story that changes it from being amateur to being professional. Weaving threads together like a master makes you... well... a master.

    Also be aware of the 'unreliable narrator' and all that this technique involves when you enter any project involving dreams telling a backstory.

    It is often suggested that you write your draft with the dream parts all in italics. Sometimes this format even makes it all the way through to the final published work.
     
  6. bionerdwithaporpoise

    bionerdwithaporpoise New Member

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    The entire 1/3 of the book isn't a dream...it's somewhere in the first 1/3. But thanks for the italics suggestion, I like that idea` :)
     
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  7. DueNorth

    DueNorth Senior Member

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    A couple things: Backstory is tricky. It is of course often important for the reader to have, but tricky for the writer to weave into the narrative in a believable and interesting way. So, I get the "temptation" to use the device of a dream. In my opinion it is risky. Which brings me to a point I've commented about in other threads on this forum on the topic of dreams (and @Brie Marie alludes to above), and that is that the current thinking in neuroscience about dreams is that their content is quite random and not at all accurate in terms of actual memory. So, my opinion would be that if you use it as a vehicle to introduce actual history that you want the reader to have, you are in the realm of fantasy.
     
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  8. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    Oh, okay. My bad. I thought you were describing a situation where the first 1/3 of your book was an 'it was all just a dream' kind of thing.
     
  9. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    If you're using the dream explicitly for backstory, then, yeah, it will come off pretty lame. Backstory in general is pretty lame unless it's absolutely necessary or is inextricable from the main plot (think Godfather). A dream scene in general can be okay if you're not using it as a substitute for something else. Funny dreams are fun to write, but if you need to prop up your story, should be probably consider other options.

    Yes you are. You wrote a sentence without spending a page and half telling me what you look like and what you're wearing. You're already more skilled than GRRM.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    For me, what you describe could be fine, could be bad--which is true of almost anything written. It doesn't have the things that annoy me about some fictional dreams.

    - It's not the opening scene.
    - You're not pretending it's an actual scene and then saying, "Ha, ha! It was all a dream!"

    ...OK, I feel the urge for a third thing, but I don't have one. Possibly the third thing is that you're not making it all spooky-profound, but I don't actually know if you are or not. I would throw in a little humorous dream nonsense if you're at risk of that.
     
  11. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    Do people ever dream about memories? I never have, but I have done some problem solving. Apparently a lot of people do. Perhaps if presented as a very obscure and abstract way. EX: Albert Einstein dreamed about riding in a sled and as if went faster everything became distorted. That is said to have been the inspiration for his very famous equation. Though, I'd have to wonder if a dream is really powerful enough to get someone to question reality. Perhaps it could be a combination of thing, dreams in addition to corresponding evidence. If things aren't adding up in life, a dream could be presented as a way in which their mind is processing it. I think it's a matter of careful writing, otherwise it can come off as trite.
     
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  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I'm not sure I got that far in the books, but it's been a few years. It's not the length that's a problem for me; it's the scene itself. I'd think it was a bad way to give information or give a character motivation whether it was 200 words or 2,000 words.
     
  13. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    I think if there is another way to give the information I'd say go for it.

    ETA subject of dreams: I have never dreamed about my past. What dreams have done for me is to solve plot-related problems when I struggled too long. I've a friend who routinely utilises his dreams to solve coding problems when he hits a wall. He told me that he dreams of how to code a specific routine and when he wakes up and implements the code it always worked.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2017
  14. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    I've had dreams that have contained people from my past, I figure that counts as a memory, or at least a partial one. Also, if something weighs on me during the day it'll work its way into a dream and wake me. Where from then I'll ponder the unwanted intrusion till the alarm (also unwanted) goes off.

    @bionerdwithaporpoise ...What about using very little exposition re. the dream? But use it as a waking trigger that'll have your character more compos mentis. From there you could weave in your info by their introspection and reflections in the small hours.
     
  15. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    I completely forgot about that. I have had random people show up in my dreams that I haven't seen in decades.
     
  16. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    You can only dream things you have experienced, you cannot dream something you do not know, it is all constructed from your memory, but it is sliced up and manipulated by your mind to create new worlds for you to explore. New ideas. New ways to look at things - and they seem like new experiences as a result. But it is all constructed from what you have experienced while awake.

    In the lives we are living, this has changed - as movies have altered what we, today, can dream beyond what our ancestors could dream. Now we have seen and experienced fantasies beyond what we could reach just within our realities, and our modern minds have an unlimited library of 'past experiences' to chop up and twist around for us.

    Our ancestors could dream of dragons based on a painting or a description, we dream of dragons like they are real living creatures...
     
  17. DueNorth

    DueNorth Senior Member

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    Hmmm? Partially true, but misleading. In the '80's there was quite a flap with some child abuse prosecutions involving allegations of horrible sexual abuse stemming from "recovered memories" that had emerged in therapy sessions with adults. Without going into all of the details (you can look it up by googling 'recovered memories'), it is quite clear that people do dream things that they have never experienced. We also dream things that we have imagined, read about, heard about, (and fear), etc.

    @amerrigan makes a good point, though, that our modern memories are enhanced by vivid imagery from things like animation, movies, and video games--which we may have observed rather than experienced. Dreams can be fun--or awful--but I wouldn't read too much into them (nor use them to illustrate backstory in a novel).
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2017
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  18. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    I think if the dream is about recovering some lost memory, and if it serves the story well... no-no-no, you should still not do it. I don't like when it's done in movies, and even less in literature.
     
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  19. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    I did write a massive sequence once where my sick protagonist is dosed LSD without him even knowing what it is, locked in a room covered in paper, he suffers a massive introspective nightmare where he travels back into his own past and is able to pull his memories apart like lifting spaghetti from a bowl and using the sauce to write his own future...

    Flash back to reality and he's muttering to himself on the floor painting pictures with the blood he is coughing up from his illness, and the entire dream-sequence is just a ridiculous moronic fantasy of my protagonist.

    I wasn't trying to be deep - it was just silliness for comic reasons - however, there was a lot of back story hidden in that sequence.

    I was writing a 60's period piece, and trying to capture the things they would write. Back then, a lot of 'dream sequences' were just thinly veiled psychedelic trips. Which is the historical reason why the disparity between 'dreams in media' and 'actual dreams' came about in modern presentations of dreams.

    Also, there's a sequence in one of the James Bond books were he goes swimming and the description of the swim is obviously a sex-scene, but it is hidden as doing something else, due to censorship.

    I like the idea of having something hidden being described in another action, I don't think it is done enough these days now that we can write anything without boundaries.

    My point is, maybe there is a way one can possibly twist the way the dream is used and end up with something creatively impressive that isn't just terrible. Its a matter of how inventive and non-cliche you can be as a creator.
     
  20. texshelters

    texshelters Active Member

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    Why do we dream? We do not dream to remind ourselves who we are, i.e. back story? That is not why we dream and thus it is clumsy.

    We dream our desires and especially our anxieties, desires and anxieties that we might not allow ourselves to have consciously.

    In my recent novel, I have three short dreams and one slightly longer day dream.

    The dreams are directly related to anxieties of the characters and the subconscious feelings that perhaps they made some errant choices in life, that they some how missed out. Peace, Tex
     
  21. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    Yes, but. There comes the stage in every writers growth when they cross over the threshold between reassurance and bravery.

    It it the barrier before we truly understand the power of the 'suspension of disbelief' in which we write and we ask of everything 'is this accurate to reality?' and say things to ourselves things like 'I don't think people will believe what I've presented to them unless there is real evidence to support it.'

    And on the other side of the barrier is 'My readers will NOT put my book down and go and look it up. My readers will not argue it. My readers will suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy the story. Maybe later they will argue if it is accurate or not. But that makes no difference. The difference is if they believed it while they were in my world.'

    Once you are able to look at all 'fiction' as a 'fantasy world you have created', even if its a romance novel you can say 'in the world of my book, this is how dreams work, this is what they do.' and you will have the confidence to invent new ways to look at things. To experiment with your art. And avoid writing an accurate paper of how dreams realistically effect human behavior, and avoid having your story stay within those bounds and not stray into the imaginary world at all, and avoid your art being safe and protected.

    You need confidence to hear the words:

    'yes, it might have been wrong in parts, but man, it was a great book.'

    'Yes, dreams don't work like that in reality, but this book blew my mind.'

    Once you have crossed the barrier, you start looking at things as 'how do they work in art' instead of 'how do they work in reality'

    How do dreams 'work in art?' They show Luke Skywalker chopping off Darth Vader's head and seeing his own face. They show Fellini trapped in a traffic jam and floating over all of the people that are stifling his art. They take Donald Duck into Mathemagic-land.

    They are a fictional world within the characters that live within your fictional world, a place of magic, where memories are free from the shackles of reality and are free from all form. Where characters long dead can still change the course of the plot of your story. Where you can go on a date with the woman you fell in love with in the first act, but died in the second.

    They make metaphors stand up and say 'hello, nice to meet you.'

    There is so much you can do with a dream in fiction. It is quite limitless... A conversation about how dreams work in reality is almost pointless. A discussion on how dreams have successfully been used in fiction in ways that have moved us and inspired us leads us to the answer to the question 'how do we do this ourselves?'
     
  22. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    That being said. I might as well discuss one of the aspect of Dreams and their function in literature.

    In fiction Dreams are classically the barrier between the normal and the super-natural. They are the place in which our protagonist are most vulnerable to the nefarious forces of their own mind, and to the minds of powerful others. They are physically prone and fall victim to onslaughts of a variety of things, including ghosts from the past, be they positive or negative.

    In the 'Hero with a thousand faces' they are the place where the protagonist is most easily approachable by the archetype known as The Herald. The dark mysterious force that suddenly enters our protagonists life and delivers the call to adventure.

    The protagonist wakes from the dream and thinks 'must I really go and slay that shadow? No... No it was only a dream.' (The refusal of the call.)

    And then the slow seeping of the supernatural into their reality creates a situation in which they can no longer justify it as 'just a dream' and they must go and find the shadow, never knowing if it is really going to be there when they arrive...

    If the dream is used as a backstory in this situation, it works by providing the idea of the 'ordinary world' - for example, the hero is simply dozing off to sleep in order to dream of days gone by, to relive sweet memories, completely unaware of the forces that the have accidentally opened themselves up to by volunteering to do this.

    [It doesn't have to be a dream. It can be a young princess out for a day of play with a golden ball, which she drops into a dark swamp and invites the Frog into her reality of The Frog Prince.]

    The idea that the protagonist can 'choose to dream about the summer she spent sneaking off with Thomas to kiss behind the gazebo' as if it is a television program, is completely valid in this type of situation, as it is a pre-established literary function for characters in fiction to do this, as long as she gets something more than what she bargained for.

    [This is, by no means, ALL of the aspects of dreams and their function in literature, but only one of these functions.]
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2017
  23. Historical Science

    Historical Science Contributor Contributor

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    I don't believe anything is "always bad". It's all about execution. I'm sure every "no-no" has been done well and effectively before.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2017
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  24. texshelters

    texshelters Active Member

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    They are suspending disbelief enough in science fiction. Why make it harder for the reader? There is no need for backstory in the dream; it can damage the flow and make the book hard to read. And sure, dreams can be used for many purposes in a work of fiction. I just wouldn't use it as a place for telling a character's story. Peace, Tex
     
  25. T.S. Wieland

    T.S. Wieland New Member

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    I agree with HistoryScience. Cliches are cliche because they are good, they are just over used, which isn't always bad. So as long as you try and take a unique approach to it that the readers will really enjoy, your golden. Build up your story first would be my suggestion. Don't come out of the corner of the ring swinging at a dream sequence. Ease into it and capture the reader so they don't blow the whole story off because of a dream.
    In my current novel I'm writing, I'm using a one time dream sequence, simply because the character is slowly tumbling into a metal break down and turning into schizophrenia without her, or the readers knowledge of it.
    ~T.S.
     

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