Question 45: Dream sequences

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pandasgirls8 asks: How do I write a dream sequence?

The important thing about dreams in stories is that the reader should know it's a dream. There are always exceptions to this, of course. Some writers want to trick the reader. Some readers might like it, others will not appreciate being tricked. What you don't want to do is confuse the reader. So for the purposes of this chapter, we'll go over how to make dream sequences obvious. Once you understand all that, then you can think of ways to bend the rules to achieve the effect you want.

Italicize the Dream Sequence

This is a common way to set the dream sequence apart from the rest of the story.  Blocks of italics tell the reader there's something different about this text. I've seen this method used to identify visions, memories, telepathy, as well as dreams. This is probably the easiest and most obvious way.

If it's a really large block of text, though, then you might want to reconsider this method. Reading more than one page of italicized text is hard on the eyes.

Character Narrates the Dream

Another method I've seen sometimes is when the character is aware they are in a dream and tells the reader about it as it transpires. I'll make up an example...

The world around me is hazy like they often are in dreams. Rooftops with blurry lines and trees that sway with no wind. One thing is in crisp detail though. My parents' old station wagon. I haven't seen that thing in years, yet there it is. And suddenly I'm in the backseat of it, and my parents are in the front, and we're on the way to Disneyland again.

Character Wakes Up Suddenly

This is a common method I've seen for tricking the reader. It's especially common in movies, where there's an intense scene going on, and you're sitting there watching with your mouth wide open because you can't believe it's actually happening. Then the character suddenly bolts up in bed, and you realize none of it was real.

This is okay for short dream sequences. This is because short scenes don't give the reader much time to become emotionally invested in what's happening. The more invested they are, the more annoyed they'll be that none of it actually happened. You don't want to annoy your readers.

What you choose to do with your dream sequence is up to you. But if you can help it, try to avoid confusing or annoying your readers.

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