Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Your Dreams

On Monday, I touched on the research on how we dream and some of the proposed purposes of dreaming. A lot of you shared some really cool dreams you've had, and it's clear a lot of us have some similar dreams. I think it's hard to argue that dreams are utterly meaningless and random--it's obvious they're not, right? I recognize an anxiety dream when I have one (oh, that interminable dream where I'm late for a meeting and can't ever get out of the house because I forget one thing after another ...). I recognize my mind's attempts to guess at future events. I recognize dreams that are no more than wishes for things I'll never have (and don't need, either).

Dream interpretation is an activity that's closely associated with psychoanalysis, a particular theoretical orientation* within the disciplines of psychiatry/psychology that finds its origins with Sigmund Freud. He thought that adult dreams are actually thickly disguised wishes from the unconscious, but that the actual dreamer probably didn't have access to their true meanings.<--that's why you need an analyst to tell you! And then Jung came along with all his archetypes ... which are for an entirely different post, I think.

Freud and Jung were far from the first to attempt to interpret dreams, though. That practice goes back thousands of years and can be found in many cultures around the world. Regardless of how we interpret, we humans are fascinated by our dreams. Which is why they're so prevalent in fiction, right? There are many books that have been inspired by dreams (Frankenstein! Stuart Little! Jekyll and Hyde! Twilight!), and dreams are often used as devices in fiction.

Except ... that doesn't always work. Here's an excellent post from the INTERN about some of the problems that can occur when writers use dream sequences in their manuscripts. The brilliant INTERN posits that dream sequences in stories are often redundant with actual events in the book, or they are magical delivery devices for essential plot information (essentially, cheating), or they are dumps ... of either whimsical writing or info (you really should go read her post--and the comments).

Still, I understand the draw. We're so intrigued by our own dreams, so why shouldn't they play a role in our stories? Really, what's wrong with a dream or two? What's the right way to include a dream? When is it okay? What do you think of dream sequences in books you've read? Have you ever written a dream sequence into a manuscript? Would you like to defend that choice, or would you like to slink away quietly now?

I kid. Don't you dare slink away. Answer my questions. *stares at you*

*I have a different theoretical orientation, if you're wondering.

Okay, now you can slink ... straight over to Deb's blog, where she'll tell you about the books that inspire her writing.

31 comments:

  1. After thirty seconds of someone telling me their dreams, my eyes glaze over. I would hope in a novel, the dream sequence would be REally well done otherwise...my eyes would glaze over.

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  2. I think the dream sequences in some fiction can be a little too convenient. It often throws me out of the story. As in, OH COME ON, WHEN DO WE EVER GET THE EXACT ANSWER WE NEED FROM A DREAM? (Meanwhile, this is probably a story about killer robots or space fairies, and I do not question this logic at all.) I'm struggling to think of an example of a dream sequence that I really enjoyed. Hrmm...

    I do enjoy the dream sequences in Arthur, but that's partially because they go about it in such a hilarious and blatant manner. They fully embrace the fact that the dream is a lesson and SILLY COSTUMES AND SINGING AND MORAL OF THE DAY FOR ALL.

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  3. I'll only use a dream sequence in a fantasy-based story (like in my YA horror). In that case it's believable because most often it isn't a real dream. But in non-fantasy based stories, you can't use the dream to show a memory. That's too contrived.

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  4. I'm very lucky that I took a day off work yesterday to spend time with my family, because I had a terrible nightmare on Monday night in which my younger daughter was abducted and then badly burned in a fire. Thank god she let me hold her a lot while we hung out, because it was a horrifying feeling, that lingered long after waking.

    Anyway, enough about me. I have a few short dream sequences in my book, and I have no problem with them, as long as they don't ramble too long, or, as you say, cheat.

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    1. That is a horrible dream, Matt! I think when we dream like this, we face our worst fears and try to wage war with them. But it's true that something as dire as this dream can linger long after waking.

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  5. I'm not crazy about them (and I've learned, ahem, to keep them out of my stories). It's too easy. A plot device. Sure, there are books/movies it's worked in. Um, the Wizard of OZ is the perfect example of how to use one correctly. And then Dallas is the perfect example of how NOT to use one. ;-)

    So I guess it depends how you use it. If it's soley to get information to the reader easily then no, no, no.

    ~JD

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  6. I get the Intern's point, but as so many of her commenters commented, dreams in novels can be exquisite. (Among those mentioned were Neil Gaiman, Marge Piercy, J.K. Rowling, and Tolstoy.) Sooooo, I would go and study these masters, see how they do it, and then give myself permission to dream on.

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  7. Lol! I was intimidated by your stare to answer your questions. :-) I actually am not experienced enough to comment intelligently about writing dream sequences...but I think it is cool to use our dreams for a story line, to feed our creativity and imagination.

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  8. I also believe dreams hold significance. Not all them of have a deeper meaning. Sometimes I dream about food because I'm hungry, not because I should write a cookbook. : )

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  9. I've used flashbacks disguised as dreams in my fantasy writing. The dream isn't something that could be replaced with an acutal event in the manuscript. Also, I don't actual show the character dreaming it, just analyzing it. That seemed realistic to me because we all like to examine our dreams, no?
    Perhaps I should slink away now.

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  10. i do love to write dreams- and be inspired by dreams.
    i love the delightful absurdity of them.
    i will read the intern's post and probably change my mind.
    trying to think back to my stories, i think i've only actually written out dreams in one story, where it isn't really dreaming, but dream-walking, though the dream-walker isn't aware of the ability.
    i like it when fiction has a blurring of the lines of the reality that is created in that universe- where it isn't afraid to embrace the fact it is fiction- like INCEPTION. dreaming is fascinating, and (essentially) we all do it. i believe it should have a place in our artistic expressions- but only when pertinent and appropriate.
    also- freud was a sick puppy.
    and what is your theoretical orientation? inquiring minds want to know! :)

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  11. I have a dream sequence outlined for my next novel, and despite negative feelings towards them in general, I still feel it delivers an important element to my story. I guess we'll see. :)

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  12. I used to use dream sequences...though seem to have grown out of them. I have a ton of dreams and incorporate some themes in my writing, but not the entire story...it wouldn't make sense, LOL!

    Nice post!

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  13. Since my YA Victorian fantasy novel is based heavily on dreams and the sometimes fuzzy line between reality and fantasy, I use them. I use a few of them, since that's the primary way my MC interacts with her guardian at the beginning of the book. I treat them as another setting - not as a hazy bundle of subconscious wish-matter. My MC interacts with them the same way she would in a physical setting. Also, the events in the dream impact the waking world. A wound in the dream would be carried out of the dream too.

    I love dreams and what they can represent for people, how they can inspire people, how the good ones can transport you as well as a book can, and leave you tingling with the experience long after the dream has ended. Much like a movie, I think.

    That said, I welcome any help to make the dreams fit into the storyline better, tie things up more nicely, and fuel the plot (which mine do). Love this post!

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  14. Your post made me remember the book 'Rebecca' and the opening line, "Last night I dreamt I went to Mandeley again." It was a haunting first paragraph as I recall. I think you could tell some important info about a character through their dreams.

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  15. In my first ever manuscript, I used a prophetic dream sequence to begin. That was my attempt to fix my telling instead of showing. Then I had the audacity to have the kid wake up and look in the mirror to describe how he looked. I had no idea what I was doing.

    In my last manuscript, I use a "dream" for something that's really happening while she's been drugged.

    I agree that dreams are tricky because it's hard to create an authentic dream.

    Want to hear something weird? One morning my husband, daughter, and two children realized we all had similar bad dreams on the same night. I wonder if some sound outside triggered all of us.

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  16. I don't really get dreams in a story unless it's a murder mystery and the spirit shows up in a dream to let on who the murderer is! LOL! Overdone!

    Just today my hubby and I realised we both had the same dream of our little Grand daughter....wonder why? The mum took her away and we miss her too much!

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  17. Jung is much cuter in that movie with Kiera Knightly. Just sayin'.

    I don't mind dream sequences so long as they don't break a few of my personal rules: they're not too long; they don't keep happening all the time, and they're not useless.

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  18. I have a dream sequence in the manuscript I'm revising/editing right now -- although the protagonist has been drugged and her dream is a mixture of what's really happening confused with her fears and some information that's been slogging around in her subconscious. She doesn't wake up with any clear answers, but she does decide on her next step.

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  19. I have one novel with nineteen dreams in it. It's currently in the trunk, and I suspect it will stay there. It was fun to write, though!

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  20. *Holds hand up timidly*

    Yes, I have a dream in my current WIP. Very brief (only a couple of paragraphs). My justification is that it foreshadows the protag's state of mind that she isn't aware of yet. Kind of, "Hello! This is a warning from you subconscious..."

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  21. Thoughtful analyses of dreams can be fascinating, but I think for most of us, the only actual dreams we find fascinating are our own. Blow-by-blow accounts of someone else's dreams, whether in real life or in a work of fiction, can be tortuous. My WIP does have a brief nightmare scene in it, but it IS brief. And it serves a purpose. Right off the top of my head, I can't recall an effective dream sequence in any of the books I've read, but I'm sure there are some out there, and if properly handled, I'm sure they can be a very effective tool.

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  22. LOL! You're so silly. I have written one very short dream in a MS of mine. Once. Otherwise, I try to steer clear like you've said. And I had this dream the other night that was so bizarre and interesting... and I forgot it. d'Oh! :D <3

    fun stuff~

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  23. Dreams--the ones I remember well--have such a bizarre reality to them that it is easy to believe there is a message there somewhere. I've tried to write down my dreams but I remember so few of them that I always give it up after a couple weeks. Also, I've never been able to figure anything out from my dreams. If my subconscious is trying to tell me anything, it's probably that I need more sleep! :)

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  24. hi dr sarah! i didnt ever read a book thats got dreams in it but i saw movies with them and it didnt make it worse or better from me. i didnt ever put a dream in any of my stories but i might some day. i dont wanna get limited out on my creative stuff cause someone says dont do dreams. yikes! your stare is scaring me. now im gonna have bad dreams. ha ha.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  25. As with most things, I think there's a way to do it that's okay. I'm okay with dream sequences if they're not too info-dumpy, if they're necessary, and if they're short. It's also okay given the right context. For example, in the Percy Jackson series, there are dream sequences in all the books and they basically fill a plot/info-giving role. They're short and relevant, so they don't bother me, but I also accept the frequent use of the dream sequence (and normally, I'd roll my eyes at the high frequency of them!) because prophecy & prophetic dreams are a staple of Greek mythology and its heroes.

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  26. Dreams are a great source of story ideas. The problem is, I can't remember my dreams half the time!

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  27. I haven't remembered many dreams in the past few years, but two that I did remember happened the month before NaNoWriMo 2010 (when I did it in July) and heavily inspired my novel. I wrote a few posts on my blog last year about taking inspiration from dreams. There were four dreams that went together to inspire that novel. Only one (the shortest one) appeared in the story as a dream sequence. I think (and hope) that I handled it well. I guess I'll ask my beta reader what they think when I find one.

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  28. *waves from the back of my MC's alternate reality*


    Guilty. I've always been intrigued by other people's dreams, and mine of course. I don't know that I've mastered the telling of dreams in my writing, but am working on it. Like most seem to agree here, as long as there's a point and it doesn't drag on and on, I find them fascinating and the perfect tool for crossing through those fuzzy lines of our fantasies and reality. I mean, what better way to show a character's conflicted and denied emotions than in a dream.

    OMG. Just had the mental image of Wayne and Garth and the *dream sequence*!

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  29. Returned to say I really liked The Intern's post.

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