In a post last year I listed a few ways to not start your novel.
The first thing I listed in that post was dream sequences. I’ll still argue that if you open your story or novel with a dream, you’d better have a darn good reason for it. (Disclaimer: one of my WIP novels opens with a dream sequence, but I do have a darn good reason for it, as it’s a novel about dreams 🙂 ).
Anyhow, I was at a convention a few years ago and one of the authors doing panels made the comment that you should never include a dream sequence. I wasn’t so sure about that, but it did get me thinking, and for the most part (my dream novel, put aside) I agree.
Why? you ask. Well, think about it like this:
What do you do as a reader when you run into a dream sequence? You skim it, or maybe if skip it all together. Or if you do read it, you do so while wishing for it to end. It’s true and you know it.
But what is it about dream sequences that readers hate so much? I’m sure there is a variety of reasons, but I’ve narrowed it down to these four:
1. It doesn’t move the story forward.
As writers, we understand that every scene should advance the plot. If a scene doesn’t do that, it’s just a waste of pages and a waste of the reader’s time. That includes “slice of life” parts, mundane pointless conversations, and dream sequences. If you use any of that stuff, it needs to be there for a specific, plot-based reason that does advance your story.
2. It takes reader out of current story.
You have finally sucked in the reader and he is turning page after page to see what happens next. (Note: This should be the goal we all shoot for as writers.) And then you get past that immediate conflict and decide to take a break. With a dream. How you do think the person on the other side of the page will respond to that? They’ll get angry and put the book down. And even if you redeem yourself after that, that break away from the main conflict will still leave a reader with a bad taste in his mouth.
3. There are better ways to do whatever it is meant to achieve.
I mentioned that I have a WIP novel in which dreams play an important role, so that’s not necessarily relevant to this post. But I also have a couple of short stories (unpublished) that have random dreams appear in the middle. One particular story uses a dream sequence to tell the reader some details about the main character’s past. And that is horrible and I shouldn’t it. Seriously. There are dozens of other ways to provide backstory, including dialogue, thoughts, or even an old fashioned flashback. But a dream sequence. Not so much. (Note to self: Cut that scene.)
4. Finally it risks filling pages with irrelevant scenes.
I touched on this in point number one, but this is more specific. I’ve read several short stories, and even a novel or two, that were filled with meaningless dream sequences, that were put there literally to do nothing but increase the word count. Okay, I’m sure that wasn’t the literal reason, and the author’s intent was something a little more meaningful, like to give us some character insight or whatever. But whatever. Don’t do this. Boring and irrelevant scenes that don’t affect the outcome of your story or help drive the plot should be avoided, whether they are dreams or not.
So to close things out, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well I’ve got some dream sequences in my novel that do server a purpose.” And you just might be right. There are no fixed rules to writing fiction, and this post is no exception. I’ve just given you four reasons to not use dream sequences. But I’m sure there are at least four reasons why you should.
And that’s what I’ll talk about tomorrow.
So until then, have a happy Monday and a great week.
And leave a comment if you’ve got any other reasons to avoid the dream scenes!