Surrealism is the art of dreams, and yet it seems like a good deal of the time when people actually write about dreams, they do not make them surreal in the slightest. I’m not saying that’s the only way to write about dreams, but I do find it strange that people have such an aversion to it.
I’ve heard a lot of things when it comes to writing about dreams in stories. The main one I’ve heard is to never ever start a story with a dream sequence. Why? Because – supposedly – the reader will then feel “tricked” because they will then find out everything that just happened wasn’t actually real, so what was the point of it even?
While I understand the idea behind this, there is literally only one scenario where this is not a good idea to do: when the dream sequence you have at the beginning has no meaning or consequence to the rest of the story. Because some people like to do things to make their beginnings more memorable, so having a dream where the main character is being chased down or something could be exciting, but it would be ultimately disappointing to find out it wasn’t actually happening coupled with it never being mentioned or referred back to again.
This should be common sense, though, really. It’s not the fault of having a dream sequence, it’s the fault of being a lazy writer who heard that you always need an exciting beginning but realized your story can’t be exciting without that sort of thing. If that’s the case, don’t bother at all. But don’t label all dream sequences at the beginning of novels bad just because of this, as I’ve never seen any published novels that have done this (though I try to stay away from badly written books as a general rule).
It’s perfectly fine to start a story with a dream sequence, especially if it becomes important to the rest of the story later. Maybe your story is about dreams, in which case it would make sense to start it with one. Or, if not directly about dreams, the dream in the beginning could play a key part later. Don’t knock it until you understand whether or not there’s a purpose to it.
But, you might be saying, you’ll still get that feeling of being “tricked” because everything that happened didn’t actually happen. I’m going to be blunt and say if you feel like you got “tricked”, then you’re rather shallow when it comes to reading. Just because something didn’t happen in reality doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Dreams have a huge impact on people, as they are an emotional experience, whether people understand it or not.
But there is this solution that could get rid of that “tricky” feeling. Write dreams like actual dreams. Be strange, be surreal. If it doesn’t seem real, people will be able to pick up on the fact that it’s probably a dream (unless the point is you don’t want them to realize it until the end, but that’s beside the point). If you don’t know how to write real dreams, then try to remember your own dreams as best you can, and if you can’t remember any dreams you have, why are you writing about them in the first place?
I see too many people striving to make their dreams realistic and making sense and that makes them more unrealistic than anything else. Doing that on occasion is fine, as there are some dreams that almost perfectly replicate reality except for one or two subtle things. But people get hung up and making sure every aspect of their story makes perfect sense, even the parts that shouldn’t, like dreams.
Dreams defy logic and reality. No one truly knows what dreams are or how they work, but some lucky few are able to traverse the world of dreams well enough to retain its knowledge on how it works. Those great writers and artists who have seen into other worlds, other dimensions. Perhaps that’s why people defy that type of art so much, though.
I apologize if this post seems either blunt or ranty; I have strong feelings on this subject and it was somewhat emotionally driven. Please don’t take any of this to mean that I am hating on people who don’t write dreams this way or don’t understand them, I am merely expressing my own frustrations. Again, apologies if this was too blunt.