Dream Sequences

Little do we know that he is dreaming of world domination...and fish.

Many authors have used dream sequences in fiction to do some exposition without blatantly telling the reader what happened in the past.  Nancy Collins has done this in one of the best sequences I have ever read, showing the tormented, innocent past of her vampire Sonja Blue without making her explain it to someone else.  In fact, we are left guessing whether she ever tells anyone out right what happened to make her a vampire, except for the demon that did it to her.

The dream sequence its self is a fantastic writing device, if a little trite.  True, nobody wants a huge hunk of exposition in the middle of a moving story, but sometimes, it needs to be there.  The problem with a dream sequence is balance.

A writer might be tempted to spill out every single secret a character has in the middle of the dream sequence for one simple reason.  Nobody but the reader will know.  None of the other characters will realize that the main protagonist has been through a lifetime of abuse or was brutalized, making them the person they are now.  Everyone but the reader is left in the dark, to have such surprises come on them when it is most dramatic.

But what does that leave for the reader?  What kind of attachment can one have to a character who holds no intrigue?  While the argument could be made that a reader is more attached to a character after learning all of his or her secrets, it takes the tension out of the story.  Who would know whether Sonja had the strength to stop Morgan or not at the end of Midnight Blue if they had not seen what he had done to her?

The balance of putting in a dream sequence will be different for everyone.  Whether it is simple flashes of a mediocre past, or a chapter-long look into the character’s psyche, it is a writing device that while slightly clichéd, is also easy to use, and can be done in hundreds of creative ways.

So is the power of dreams.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. niconica
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 10:08:56

    I enjoyed your insightful post. 🙂

    Cheers, Niconica


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