I have a confession to make: I ***HATE*** dream sequences and drug sequences in my books, movies, and television shows. (You might think that I’m being a bit too forceful, with stars, capital letters, bold, and increased font size. Believe me, I’m not. My goal is to make you understand the depth of my emotion on this topic.)
I get it. Authors want to convey information outside the mainstream of their narrative. They want to show a character’s inner self, her secret motivations, his true core beliefs. They want to demonstrate what happens when a character is plucked from all that is familiar and normative and thrust into a world where none of standard rules apply.
But when I read these scenes, or when I watch them, all I get is a disconnect from the story. All of the creator’s careful worldbuilding, the contract between the author/director and the reader/viewer, is made null and void. I’m left looking at my watch, wondering when the diversion is going to end, when I’m going to get back to the real story, the one I invested in when I picked up the book or sat down to watch the flick. (I’m looking at you, Matt Wiener, with your repeated drug sequences on this season of MAD MEN. And I’m looking at a bunch of books, too…)
As an author, I’ve experimented with dream sequences. I’ve explored the “fake out”, writing a dream from the beginning of a chapter, so that my reader doesn’t realize (at first) that things are different, that the rules are changed, that they have no tools for parsing the action I present.
In fact, I’ve even left a small handful of those sequences in my finished work. The novel I’m almost through drafting, SINGLE WITCH’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, uses a dream sequence to show the after-effects of a magic spell gone horribly wrong. I’m pretty sure it’ll make the final cut — mostly because even as Jane describes the nightmare she’s experiencing, she says, “This doesn’t make sense. This can’t possibly be happening.” I *think* this approach will let my reader experience Jane’s disorientation, even as I present the aftermath of disaster. (The dream scene also lasts for a single paragraph, which I think gives me a bit of permission.)
So, no matter how many stars, capitals, bold, large-font statements I make, I’m willing to sell out a bit. ::wry grin::
What about you? Do you find dream sequences energizing, exciting ways to stray from the plod of straightforward narrative? Or do you think they’re a cheat? Or something else? And what dream sequences do you think are especially successful, in books or movies that you’ve read?
Just to get the ball rolling, I’ll toss out a dream sequence that I think is wonderfully successful — but it’s a massive spoiler, from a movie that came out 32 years ago. In AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, there’s a dream sequence that works because it’s a dream within a dream — the dreaming character wakes up, realizes he was having a nightmare, relaxes in the aftermath of the horror, only to have something more horrific happen in the dream that is actually continuing. (Highlight from LONDON to the period, to read the spoiler.)
I look forward to reading your thoughts!