8 Effective Techniques for Crafting Captivating Dream Sequences

It’s no secret that dream sequences in novels can be polarizing. We’ve all encountered poorly executed dreams that feel more like a lazy plot device. However, when done right, dreams can add depth and intrigue to a story. So, how can you write dream sequences that captivate readers and avoid common pitfalls? Here are eight effective techniques for crafting compelling dream sequences that will leave readers wanting more.

1. Dreams that Create Mystery

J.M. Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians” showcases a dream that sparks curiosity. In this enigmatic dream, a hooded child builds a snowcastle while the protagonist watches. The child’s face remains hidden, and the dream leaves readers wondering about the connection to a key character. Using dreams to create mystery instead of solving problems is a brilliant strategy.

2. Dreams that Reveal Desires

Roberto Bolano’s “2666” demonstrates the power of dreams in revealing desires. The main character in this gripping novel has spent years chasing a mysterious literary figure named Archimboldi. To emphasize her longing, Bolano depicts her dreaming about Archimboldi. By having your character dream of what they truly desire, you can convey their intense yearning effectively.

3. Dreams as a Choice

Dreams in fiction can exist solely within the dream world or intertwine with reality. Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” presents a character on the brink of death, facing a hallucination where a mongoose offers a choice: life or death. While dreaming, the character actively chooses to live. This demonstrates that dreams can influence real-world decisions and steer the direction of a story.

4. Dreams that Fuel Relationships

Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” incorporates dream sequences to explore relationships. The protagonist dreams of conversing with a deceased friend, providing closure and addressing unresolved emotions. Dreams can serve as a means to deepen connections, even beyond the realm of the living.

5. Dreams that Stoke Fears

Fear dreams are a common occurrence in real life, so including them in fiction is only natural. In Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian,” a woman has a haunting dream about being trapped in a closet filled with meat. This disturbing dream leads her to become a vegetarian, demonstrating the power of dreams to provoke change and strong decision-making.

6. Dreams as Foreshadowing

Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News” utilizes dreams for foreshadowing. The protagonist dreams about her house falling into the sea, which comes true the next day. Though the characters may not understand the symbolism, it hints at what awaits the reader. Dreams can provide subtle clues that heighten anticipation and add an air of mystery to your narrative.

7. Guilt Dreams

Dreams can serve as reflections of guilt and fear. In “The Master and the Margarita,” the protagonist experiences an extended dream during a trial, projecting his own guilt and anxieties into the dream world. This dream acts as a critique of societal restrictions and provides a surreal narrative experience.

8. Dreams as Symbols

Dreams can present symbols that represent deeper meanings. In Crime and Punishment, the protagonist dreams of a man mercilessly beating a horse, which is a metaphor for his intention to kill an old landlady. Using symbolic dreams allows readers to delve into complexities and adds layers to your character’s psyche.

Bonus: Here are a couple of dream sequences worth exploring:

  • In “A Personal Matter” by Kenzaburo Oe, the protagonist’s dream in Africa features a death struggle with a phacochoere, reflecting his fears and challenges.
  • Katherine Anne Porter’s “Ship of Fools” shows a dream repeating a traumatic scene, eventually revealing the characters’ own faces and intensifying their fears.

Remember, crafting effective dream sequences requires care. Avoid the pitfalls of using dreams as mere tricks, being too literal, or presenting them as a lazy substitute for actual events. When done right, dreams can elevate your storytelling and engage readers on a profound level. So, dream big and write even bigger!

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