Thursday, July 07, 2005


I just ran across an interesting link on Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's weblog. The link goes to an article about dreams, particularly women's dreams in ancient Greece. Apparently most of the dreams recorded were of a sexual nature or related in some sense to childbearing, but it was interesting reading nonetheless. It's also not surprising that sexual dreams would tend to be recorded more than non-sexual ones, especially those coming from women in a male-dominated society. The link to that article is here.

The entire subject of dreams is interesting. Dreams are powerful and a very important part of our lives. If we didn't dream, we would all be walking around acting like raving lunatics, since dreams occur during REM sleep. That's why having your sleep interrupted too often makes you feel so exhausted--it's often not that you didn't get enough sleep in cumulative hours, but that you kept being awakened during the REM cycle. You can have 8+ hours of sleep and still be sleep deprived--and dream deprived. Even when you don't remember the dreams, they occur. I personally believe it's part of how a healthy mind and psyche helps us to work on and deal with problems. It's no wonder, then, that dreams are full of archetypes and symbolism.

Plenty of the writers out there have heard the injunction against using dream sequences in fiction. Some people think they're a weak crutch, while others think they're great if done right. I sort of have a foot in both camps. I like them if they're done right, but I hate to read them when they're a writer's quick way out of a problem that should have been solved differently. Anybody want to comment?


tambo said...

Just like POV shifts, passive tense, adverb speech tags, backstory, prologues and flashbacks (and all the other "bad" things) dream sequences have their purpose. If they're done well, they're fine. If they're done badly or used as a crutch, they're horrid.

Personally, I don't think dream sequences should be used to drag the plot forward. They can, however, be effective for showing character insights and giving an alternate/skewed viewpoint of a situation or happening. Good ones work, bad ones... well, they don't.

If it's not the easy way out - like, oh, I'm giving the MC a dream sequence so that they know to journey to the South Hills - then it can work.

KHurley said...

Yep, I agree completely. Y'know, Robert Jordan used a whole dream world in the Wheel of Time series. That was kind of cool, because instead of the dreams acting as a crutch for the plot, they were more of a communication device as well as an alternate plane to which the dreamers could go. It was interesting and I hadn't seen dreams used quite that way before.

Anonymous said...

Narrative fiction is a virtual reality, and a dream is a virtual reality of its own. Using a dream sequences in fiction is one virtual reality within another. It's very hard to write that without seeming diffuse and arbitrary -- a problem the trope shares with cyberpunk VR sequences.