I'm not a big fan of dreams appearing in fiction. When a character dreams in a story, the dream tends to be either highly coherent and relevant to the plot or highly symbolic but clearly interpretable. Either way, that's rarely what real dreams are like. These fictional dreams stretch credibility, and most of the time when I read one, I think the story could have gotten on just fine without it.
So imagine my surprise when I read through my manuscript and discovered just how many dreams I'd included. Now, I hasten to explain that the dreams don't exactly happen in the narration but rather are described in hindsight, and then only briefly. For example, "During the little sleep I got that night, I dreamed of children without faces." As if that makes it acceptable.
I know I wrote the dreams in with the thought that it helps to show what the characters are worried about, since all the dreams reflect subjects of concern. But it's not as though the reader might otherwise be unclear about whether the characters are preoccupied with these topics. And my own dreams are hardly ever about things I'm actually worried about, unless my subconscious thinks it's really important that I know what I'll do when I find a public radio personality naked in my bathroom.
When I realized I had all these dreams in my novel and that I should get rid of them, I started coming up with excuses for why and how I should keep them in. So I knew they had to go, according to the rule I've just decided to name:
Lisa's First Rule of Revision: If you're considering whether something should be cut, it should. If you're wavering between cutting it or justifying its presence by somehow making it more important, it should absolutely be cut.
So, sweet dreams to the dreams. Which means that the character who used to suffer from frequent nightmares is now spared. I hope he appreciates it, since in all other ways I've made his life worse since the first draft.
What do the rest of you think about dreams in fiction? Are there ever good reasons to use them? Have you seen it done well?
Good Stuff Out There:
→ The Book Roadie took a bookbinding class and posted photos of the books she bound.