Thinking about using dreams in a story.
First off -- if anybody wants to write dreams, they should go for it. There's the vast panoply of Western literature to back you up. It's full of dream sequences.
-- With a dream sequence, the reader 'sees' the technique. She gets a glimpse of the stagehands moving the props around, as it were. It's an inherently intrusive technique -- like chaptering. But, unlike chaptering, it's unusual enough that the reader notices. It's heavy handed. Or heavy footed. Or something.
-- A dream interrupts the flow of action even more than an equal expanse of backstory or description. It stops the pacing more than a flashback. This is true for seven lines of dream sequence and for seven pages . . . though the interruption gets more profound with every line you add.
All the reasons for not inserting a flashback -- and they are myriad -- are valid for not inserting dreams.
-- A dream puts the character in a very passive state.
While a dream may lead to action, the dream is not a clever plot or a brave action the character has accomplished. The dream is something done to him. The consequences and actions that arise from the dream come from a deus ex machina rather than an active choice by the character.
In most stories, you want the characters to do stuff rather than have stuff happen to them.
-- If the dream is to affect more than one character, the dream has to be discussed and explicated. That's dialog -- and it's dialog about something abstract and distant. Any discussion or consideration of a dream takes the characters away from the here-and-now of the story.
The upside of using a dream sequence is . . .
-- There are things you can do with dreams you can't do any other way.
I used a half-page dream sequence, once. This was in Spymaster's Lady where Annique dreamed about a horrible moment in her childhood. Dreamed about her mother.
I did the dream sequence right there
mainly to foreshadow the coming revelation,
but also to show Grey as the man who would comfort Annique, not just for her current problems, but for her rather bleak and exploited past,
and to hint at some of the trauma that creeps in around Annique's reluctance to have casual sex,
I also liked what it did to the pacing at that point.
But I used that dream sequence after a week's work and trying out three or four other ways to do the same thing and with the reluctance of a surgeon prescribing a chancey antibiotic, rather than tripping into the manuscript with a 'hey nonny nonny let's throw in a dream sequence.'
So I guess I am saying think twice and then twice more before adding a dream sequence and then when you're sure, go in and do the thing.
As always -- just my take on this.
(The title of blog is the Everly Brother's Song, not to be confused with anybody else who sings about dreaming, ok?)