“I wear the cheese; it does not wear me.” — the Cheese Man during the dream sequences in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Restless.”
I knew after I read a glossary entry on dreams in gothic fiction that I wnated to do a dream sequence in one of my stories. I had a place in my book where the possibility opened up that I could do one. But then I had to think about not only what makes a bad dream sequence, but what makes a good one. Using one can’t be taken lightly–if you find an agent list of what they don’t want to see, a dream sequence is near the top of it.
Here are the three things I came up with:
1. Give it a purpose. I admit–the previous dream sequences I did were because I thought they were cool and neat. And they ended up on the cutting room floor because they didn’t do anything for the story. A dream needs a purpose for being in the story, whether it’s to develop characterization or move the plot forward. What I did is have a dream repeat an event the reader saw but that the character didn’t. It becomes a major turning point later in the story when he realizes why he had it means they are in a whole lot of trouble–trouble he might not be able to fix.
2. Size matters. Forensics & Faith blog notes:
I was thinking that when I followed some of the surreal elements that dreams have, the sequence really couldn’t run that long. It’d grow tiresome for the reader because it doesn’t read like normal narrative. So shorter is better. Mine came in at 239 words.
3. Surreal. What’s a dream without the weird stuff? Sometimes you can have a dream where you’re in someone else’s body. Or you might be in one place and then you’re suddenly in another place entirely. Even some of the images, like the Cheese Man, can add to the flavor of the sequence. I used an antique bicycle for one of the strange pieces of imagery. I hesitate to suggest reading a dream dictionary though to try to put in images that mean specific things. The problem is that the reader may not associate that image with that meaning–much better to let them try to figure out what the image means.
By the way, I bet the meaning of the Cheese Man is that it started out as an inside joke as relating to someone on the show and turned into something entirely different!