Writability: On Writing Dreams and Nightmares
So I got a question semi-recently from a reader about writing dreams and nightmares. I found this an especially interesting question, both because I was surprised I hadn’t covered it, especially given I’ve written a ton of dream sequences for various projects, including Beyond the Red. Dreams are really interesting, and when done well, a dream or nightmare in a book can convey a few things:
- Flashback/memory. Dream sequences can be a great way to flash back to or hint at an event from your POV character’s life, especially if it’s a traumatic event. Dreams are sometimes the way the brain processes difficult-to-process life things, and in writing they can be an organic way to look back at an important event in your POV character’s life.
- A character’s fears, desires, or something they’re struggling with. I’m sure just about every one of you have dreamed about something you wanted, or something you were afraid of, or something you were sad about, or someone you missed, etc., etc. Likewise, in books, dreams can be a way to show character emotion—especially emotion that your POV character is trying to bury.
- Symbolism. When they aren’t a direct flashback, fictional dreams are often symbolic. As the writer, you get to decide exactly what happens in the dream and what you want the readers (and your character) to focus on. Symbolism, whether through colors, the way the dream plays out, peoples/animals/things involved, or something else, can be a really effective way to hint at something going on without outright saying it.
I find the key to writing dreams is to keep them simple. The longer and more complicated a dream is, the more confusing it’ll be to your readers (and, honestly, to your character). But sprinkling a few dreams here and there, when done thoughtfully, can be a really effective and memorable way to show the readers what’s going on in your POV character’s head. Like anything else, just don’t overdo it.
Have you ever written a dream sequence for one of your projects?