follow a rookie writing his first novel

Dream sequences

This week, I’ve been looking at writing a dream sequence – and there’s a big,  big problem…

I’ve looked at how they are generally treated, especially when the dream is some sort of premonition. The problem is that they are far too literal. Now, I know a thing or two about dreams from my therapy work (providing it, not being in it) and universally they are all metaphoric. Absolutely everything in a dream is a metaphor – the people, objects, colours; everything. If you dream about yourself – even that isn’t you (the only time it is you is if you’re seeing the dream from your pov – if you actually see yourself, it isn’t you).

I can see why this isn’t written this way though, because making sense of a dream, relies upon the dreamer’s meaning applied to the dream images – for example, if you like cats, dreaming about one is likely to indicate something pleasant, whereas if you have an allergy and dream about them, it means something entirely different. Books that contain standard dream imagery by the way are all but useless; it is a very individual thing and cannot be generalized.

So, if I stay true to reality, I would need to construct a metaphoric dream sequence based upon the characters interpretation, which will either leave the reader clueless or require some degree of explanation which may be, well frankly, boring.

Perhaps dealing with dreams falls into a similar camp to dealing with dialogue – i.e. unrealistically. It is common practise to write dialogue in a way that practically no one would actually speak it, so why not dream sequences in a way that no one actually dreams it. But it grates with me to do this as my genre might be termed ‘magical realism’, that is, stories that contain magic the way it is actually practised, and that does include dreaming.

How would you deal with it….


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2 thoughts on “Dream sequences

  1. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever done a dream sequence. I’ve done a couple of scenes which at first appeared to be dreams but turned out to be one character having a conversation inside another’s head (I have a character who can do that 🙂 ). I did one scene where a character talked to a ghost, but he was awake and it was obviously all in his mind.

    Real dreams are too tricky, as you say. It’s like the movie Inception, which was fine for people whose dreams look like big Hollywood action movies (which mine don’t 🙂 ).

    Two things on the “magical realism” point. One is that (and you may well be aware of this) the term is generally used to mean something very different (and that’s sort of what I do, so I guess I’m a bit protective about it). The other is that if you’re going to portray magic as it is actually practiced, that would be a refreshing change for a friend of mine. She’s doing a project about the inaccurate depictions of “magic” and “the occult” and “Goth culture” in the news media.

    • I was only vaguely aware that the term magical realism is used for a different genre, but I can’t think of a better label for what I want to write – any suggestions? any idea what Carlos Castaneda, Paolo Coelho or Dion Fortune novels come under, as they are similar (but without the humour)?

      I’m pleased to please your friend 🙂 my other ‘non fiction’ anthology came about for exactly those reasons concerning the tat that was being peddled at the time relating to spell casting…

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