Dreams Part II: When they work

Alright, yes, we are only a week into my commitment to have a new blog up every Friday and I’ve already failed. I have a good excuse. Really…. Alright, so I don’t have a good excuse. Or at least it’s no better than anyone else’s excuse. It’s called life and procrastination.


I will say this, I thought this second part of the Dreams blog was going to be a lot easier than it’s turning out to be. You see, I figured I’d gather up a few sources that were pro dreams, distil that information down to something blog sized, and voila! “Mais non!” (I have a fascination with the French language) the information I sought was not to be found. I think that speaks a little to the issue at hand.


First, I turned to my many books on writing, none of which had anything about dreams. I then turned to the internet where I found very little and what I did find had very little useful information. Finally, I headed off to the bookstore to see what I could find there. Alright, alright, so it was a sad attempt at an excuse to buy more books. But don’t worry, I didn’t buy anything. Of course that was only because I couldn’t find anything in the writing section that had any references to dreams. So it looks like I’m not going to be able to beg, borrow and bite any of this.


Unfortunately, I’m at a loss for times where I have come across dreams in fiction that I thought worked well. By in large, people just don’t do it. The few times that I can remember seeing it in recent memory are on the screen in some capacity. In a post on “Adventures in Writing” by blogger Dave, he mentioned the bat dream sequence in the latest Batman series, Harry Potter, and George RR Martin. While the blogger known only as Dave gives examples of dreams he thinks work, he doesn’t explain why they work, and that’s really the point of all of this. So, I’ll do his job for him and try to figure out what it is that made these work.


Dave notes that in Batman Begins, the dream is a boyhood memory that haunts Bruce Wayne into adulthood. As with the poster on the Fantasy Writing Group that got all of this started in the first place, what we seem to be dealing with is not really a dream, but an excuse to use a flashback. Indeed, the shot that Dave speaks of does not play out as a surreal dream, it is a fully realized scene from the Pro’s past (for those of you who don’t know, I tend to use ‘Pro’ often, meaning ‘Protagonist’). And I’m going to deal with this notion of flashbacks soon because I’ve found a great deal relating to that topic. For now, we have to ask ourselves if the dream was even necessary? If it serves as nothing more than a flashback, why not simply go with the flashback?


As for Harry Potter, I can see the dreams serving three purposes:

  •        The threat of Voldemort is made real to the viewer and Harry while keeping his identity hidden.
  •        Dreams of long dark hallways and locked doors take on a far more psychological bent which tip the reader off to Harry’s inner turmoil.
  •        A connection is made between Harry and Voldemort, hinting that it is possible for Harry to travel down this same road of corruption.


As far as “A Game of Thrones” goes, the dreams that Dave speaks of come during Bran’s time in a comma. Whether or not these are really dreams is up to debate. With the addition of a three eyed crow that helps to teach Bran how to open his third eye and apparently bring on the “skin-change,” it is questionable that these were dreams at all. They sound more akin to soul flight to me, or convening with ones spirit guide as in Native American tradition. None-the-less let us assume that they are dreams, or at the very least explore why Martin needed them.


Because the character of Bran would eventually be a player further on in the story, it was necessary to keep him alive in the mind of the reader. Were Martin to simply drop his character into the oblivion of a coma and then have him wake up one day, hundreds of pages later, the reader would have lost all attachment with said character. It also ups the ante for the attempts on his life because we are in on the secret that Bran is definitely still alive in his body and not merely a vegetable in a coma. We also have the third element of Bran’s development as a character. Bran does not simply go into a coma, remain stationary during that time and then wake up with his development in the same place it was when he went into the coma. Bran comes out of the coma a changed person.


The only other article that I could find on the web supporting dreams in fiction came from Chris Wayan. It appears on his website from almost twenty years ago and reads more like a defense of his use of dreams in his own work than an exploration of how to make them work. Indeed, even Dave seems to be on the defensive in his article because he too has used dreams in the very beginning of one of his novels. Mr. Wayan is more interested in the surreal accounts of dreams than the cut and paste scene’s that we’ve dealt with elsewhere. Though I did not find the article of much use, I provide a link to it here so that you can judge for yourselves.


Eleven years ago, Christina Holmes posted a query about authors who use dreams as integral parts of their stories. A list of the responses follows:

Shoeless Joe - WP Kinsella
Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis
Perfect Sonya by Beverly Lowry
Strangers From the Sky (Star Trek novel) by Margaret Wander Bonanno
The Unwanted by Jon Saul
Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll 
Acts of Faith by Hans Koning
The Bannaman Legacy : a novel by Catherine Cookson 
The beginner's book of Dreams by Elizabeth Benedict
Redeye : a novel by Richard Aellen
Wine of the dreamers by John D. MacDonald 
London fields by Martin Amis 
Meridon by Philippa Gregory 
Sideshow by Anne D. LeClaire
Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin
the Newford books by Charles de Lint


Of the list, LeGuin’s book came highly recommended and was even made into two movies although it does sound a bit surreal. Imagine your dreams coming true, no matter how bizarre. That’s the premise of LeGuin’s book. Now throw into the mix a psychiatrist that doesn’t believe that your dreams come ture (of course you are the only person that knows that they do) and have said psychiatrist secretly take control of your dreams. Sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone, if you ask me.


But of course, these are examples of dreams acting as driving forces in the plot. I think that is something that should be noted.


And for now, I will leave it at that. Because I was late on this post, I am going to double up. Tomorrow I’ll go over what I think are the ground rules when dealing with dreams. Break them at your own peril.


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