Saturday 26 February 2011

Dream sequences

I always think that a dream sequence in a novel is a cop-out. Literary dreams hold up the narrative, are often irrelevant, and are usually rather boring. Take this, for example:

Woman lost in London. She's meant to be at a concert with her husband, but has lost him. She's forgotten where she lives, and has only keys and about two pounds in her pocket. It's dark. She's crying. She meets her neighbour, and asks where she (they) lives. "January," says the neighbour sharply. "But I asked for the address!" "January!" the neighbour repeats.

That's it. End of dream.

Are you bored yet? I am. And it was my dream. Last night. John had a much more interesting one about three men ("who might or might not have been triplets") who were all thriller-writers. That's a bit more like it. But even that would badly interrupt any story, wouldn't it? I think people put dreams into novels to play for time, or to entertain themselves.

(My most interesting dream was many years ago, and I dreamt that I was collecting jockstraps. That's right. Jockstraps. Including a Jamaican wrestler's jockstrap. I dread to think what that said about me.)


  1. Actually I think your dream is rather interesting and could be the basis of a short story - I'm wondering if she (you) ever finds out where she lives and why she's forgotten. Also why is the neighbour being so awkward?

    But I dislike dreams in novels too unless they have some sort of relevance.
    But Jock Straps . . . Frances tsk!

  2. Hi, Teresa. If you want to use my dream for a story, be my guest!

    (Sorry about the jockstraps. But you can't help what you dream about, can you?)

  3. What is it you're putting in your night-time cocoa? I want some.

  4. You don't, Keith. Believe me, you don't.

  5. I think it's like everything else in a novel - the dream sequence has to earn its place. I had one in TB&TW as a way of getting the central character's subconscious to shout at him but, in the end, I decided that it wasn't strong enough and deleted it. Had to find another way for his subconscious (which, clearly, being medieval, he didn't know he had) to make itself heard.

  6. Good point, Alis. Used sparingly and as an integral part of the story they can be effective. But I think they are too often abused. Especially when they go on and on.....

  7. I don't use dream sequences very much in my writing, but I blur the line between reality and dream-state so thoroughly, I'm not sure anyone would notice if I did.

    Ironically, I had a lightly peculiar dream this weekend myself. Shall be blogging about it tonight.