Saturday, 16 June 2012

Dare to dream?

Does your book or the book you're reading contain a dream sequence? More than one? Nice. Isn't it a great way to show the subconscious anguish your protagonist is enduring? You can break the laws of science, introduce fictional (hah!) characters, bring people back from the dead or the future, have your characters act out of character, and live out fantasies. Dare to dream.

Everyone has dreams. Well, I know one guy who claims to never have had a dream, but he probably just doesn't remember them (he wears odd socks).

We can be scared, stressed, excited, even titillated by our dreams. Dream components often comprise events, settings and people from real-life events of the preceding day. The plot of the dream is usually fantastic in some respect. In dreams we can have sex with, fight, kill or are pursued by people or things in a way that isn't likely in normal life.

So, start your novel with a dream sequence and use dream sequences when you want to give the reader real insight into the subconscious, right? Wrong, according to Mittelmark & Newman's How Not to Write a Novel:

 Early twentieth century fiction was newly awash in Freudianism, and no respectable novelist would send his book into the world without a layer of symbolism, dramatising the unconscious fears and desires of his characters. This was often accomplished by presenting the character's dreams, usually in a font called Stream of Consciousness Italic.
 Science rushes forward, and it is now understood that reading page after page of characters' dreams about building walls with bricks of anguish is about as interesting as, well, listening to an actual stranger tell you about his actual dreams.
 A good approach is to allow one dream per novel. Then, in the final revision, go back and get rid of that too.

Mittelmark & Newman's book is hilarious and, in between trying not to snort my cup of tea up my windpipe, I try to remember the book's extensive 'not' guidance when I'm writing my novels.

So, life being short and this being the e-revolution and all, I decided to pull out a couple of my early action adventure espionage novels from under the bed and polish them up for ebook release. I mean, how bad could they be? As well as the electronic files (I'm a compulsive e-squirrel) I also found a paid-for critique from a London agency. Here are some choice exerpts from their report.
  • The prologue needs to set the tone, provide a crucial piece of information to be recalled later, introduce a character, or have an event that sparks off all resulting events. What it really shouldn’t be is a pointless action sequence involving apes.
  • I’m surprised a Swiss banker is happy to be so closely connected to a murder. While I don’t know any I can’t imagine it’s their style particularly, so I’m rather doubting what I’m reading since I’m given no reason to accept it.
  • This suffers from the most common error of first novels; you tell more than you show.
  • The quality of the text is passable, but doesn’t do much for me. 

Looking back, and looking at the manuscript, they could have said it differently and made more of a monkey out of me (hey, I want my money back!). They might have shared the following findings:
  • A ponderous, almost pompous, literary style.
  • Florid speech tags and adverbs that would have delighted Enid Blyton.
  • Improbable dialogue wherein two characters explain to each other everything they know just to inform the reader.
  • Wandering point of view that buzzes around inside the head of a character, then another, and then reports stuff that neither character could possibly know or see.
  • Judgemental voiceover sections explaining factual background in a near academic style.
  • Cringe-worthy attempts at humour, mostly trying to embed vaguely amusing real life occurrences for which you had to be there to get them (if they were even funny the first time).
  • Dream sequences by the bucketful.
I'm 51,000 words through the rewrite. It's the first of two books in a series and I'm determined to get both books rewritten, edited, proofed, covers designed and e-published before autumn (not to mention charging ahead with the sequels to Peril and The Baptist). The second book starts with a dream sequence (instead of a pointless action sequence involving apes). Am I going to edit out all the dreams? Hell no! Or maybe. I'm not trying to write a Booker Prize Winner, my aim is to entertain. Does entertainment have to follow literary rules?

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  1. I like a good dream sequence

    1. Yeah, Ey, dreaming is such a big part of most people's lives. Seems like it belongs in fiction.

  2. I like them too as long as they are short and obvious -- none of that, he woke up and realized it was all a dream nonsense. The rest sounds like you made some typical mistakes of inexperienced authors. don't we all?

    1. I know what you mean, Cynthia - the impossible situation resolved by pressing the dream eject button.
      I just realised that The Baptist contains a dream sequence, but it's short and sharp.

  3. This made me smile Ruby - funny but accurate! Thanks!

    1. Objective achieved, me dear! And I remain a fan of ape prologues ;-]

  4. Just reached page 271 of The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (A Wallander Thriller) and chapter 16 starts with a dream sequence of someone recently murdered...

  5. Dreams can have a huge impact on written work, but they are difficult to do well. I haven't managed it yet. :-)

    1. There's always a risk of overwriting them, trying to get all the emotion and inferences across.

  6. "we can have sex with, fight, kill or are pursued by people or things in a way that isn't likely in normal life."

    You got me thinking now... what sort of 'things'???



    1. Um, yeah. Warm, consenting things? Or 'depends on the genre' might be a better answer? I'll stop digging ;-]

  7. Great Blog. Thanks for the information.

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