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:
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.
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