Using Dreams as a Plot Device: Yay or Cliché?

writing
question
discussion

#1

Hey everybody! I have a question for all of you. Are you a fan of using dreams to further the plots of your stories? Do you consider this to be a cliché technique?

If you enjoy using dreams as a plot technique, how do you use them to further the plot? Do you introduce dreams that hint of things to come? Do you use them to reveal hints about a character’s true nature?

As a person who loves studying dreams in general I’d love to hear your opinions :smile:


#2

I tend to see them as a cliche, but I’ve also seen them pulled off well and in a way where they don’t feel like a cliche at all.


#3

I guess I’ve really only used them a couple of times.

The first was in a story I wrote where the character had been going to the same therapist since she was a child and was about to graduate from college. She’d struggled with depression since she was taken away by her grandparents to live with them after she spent most of her life with a sort of second family (her mom was knocked up as a teenager and her parents kicked her out, so she went to live with a good friends family, who kept the MC after the mom just sort of disappeared).

She’d been having the same dream for years of being ripped away from them and was never really able to move on, but the dream was used to sort of introduce her past.

I used this in another book in a similar way. The MC suffered from nightmares of the life she had with her mother when she was a child. A dream was used again to introduce a character later on in the book, who was the guy who saved her from being molested at seven years old. She’d blocked out that part of her life until halfway through the book when she had that dream. She didn’t remember he existed until then.


#4

I like how you used those dream sequences to naturally enhance your plots with the dreams feeling natural and understandably psychological.

To me, I need to be careful that I don’t overuse dreams in my stories to the point that they detract from the overall plot. When I returned to the first draft of a story I’m working on, I found to my alarm that every chapter had a dream sequence, to the point that the story flow was absolutely chaotic.

I’m editing it now to the point that there’s only a handful of dream sequences in comparison, and this time, they do naturally enhance the plot by revealing important things, without feeling forced.

My new rule of thumb with dreams in my writing is that adding dreams to a plot is much like adding salt to a cooking dish; just as salt is only used sparingly to enhance the dish’s flavor, so to should dreams be used sparingly, just enough to enhance the power and appeal of the main plot.


#5

I think I only showed the actual dream twice in one of the books and zero times in the other, instead having the MC talk about the dream.


#6

I generally dislike them because they usually feel like lazy foreshadowing. The only ones I liked (that I remember) were from Harry Potter, but they were also used to manipulate him and had consequences beyond him magically getting information.

I think I’ve only used them in one story, and that’s because the premise was the MC couldn’t tell if he was awake or dreaming. (Each time he “woke up”, he flipped between two realities).


#7

Gotcha. I think overall, that’s a more preferable method of using dreams in plots.

I think back to the original Twin Peaks tv show, where in episode 3 we get that infamously bizarre dream sequence of the little man in the red coat dancing in the “red room”, which only shows up again at the very end of season 2.

When we use dreams lightly like these, ensuring that the plot is the focus and not the dream, the story ends up becoming better for it.


#8

I haven’t done it yet, but I am planning to.
I love studying dreams too bc I’m a lucid dreamer. I write my dreams here on Wattpad and get inspired from them A LOT!

So, what I’m trying to say is, as long as you don’t do the cliche of “it was all just a dream” then it’s a great plot device. Especially if it showed actual progress in a plot or a character levels.


#9

I feel like writing dreams are a hit or miss. Me as a reader, I wouldn’t mind reading it as long as it has something to do with the plot.

For example if your character has PTSD or emotional trauma from something that happened years ago. Then this would be the “right” way.

I hope this helps!


#10

I really don’t like using dreams in writing, but everyone else has valid points lmao. I just don’t like reading big long paragraphs of italics you know? And I hate reading things in stories that don’t involve me as a reader, so this lazy foreshdowing in dreams just doesn’t cut it for me. Lay out clues, be subtle, make me work for my entertainment, which sounds weird but eh :zipper_mouth_face:


#11

I’m using one dream sequence that’s going to act as a reclaiming of a memory for my android character who has lost fragments of her memory and begins to remember via the virtual dreams androids are given during their ‘resting phase’. Otherwise I’m not a fan of dream sequences unless they are hugely important.

I also really hate hallucination scenes where a character pictures they are talking to another when that character is not there. I just hate these scenes because it’s made to feel like they are actually having this conversation but they are not. Such as the f***ing annoying scenes in 13 Reasons Why when Clay pretends Hannah is there so he can talk to her. No, she’s not there. She’s dead, you’re not rebuilding your relationship with her by pretending she’s there.


#12

Oh wait!!!

I did use it once in a one-shot. Everyone of the readers loved it. It showed the sexual frustration of a character and then the truth about another character came out later by the end of the dream or while waking up.


#13

Bingo!! See Harry’s downfall when that happened in Order of the Phoenix was that he relied on them so much that Voldemort found it all too easy to implant a false vision in his mind that Sirius was being tortured in the Department of Mysteries; as the story goes, had Harry stayed put and listened to reason instead of over-relying on his dreams and visions, there’s a possibility that Sirius would’ve lived instead of dying during the climatic battle in that book.

I like how you used your dream two flip between awakeness and dreaming, it reminds me of what happens in the Silent Hill video game series: the main characters constantly get caught between altered versions of reality to the point that they don’t know if they’re awake or dreaming anymore (this is especially potent in the very first game, poor Harry Mason got really put through the wringer).


#14

Yup. If there’s some weight to dreams or they’re tied to the premise (like Inception), then I don’t mind them. It’s when they’re used as lazy exposition that I have a problem with them.


#15

I get inspired by my dreams too, as a lucid dreamer myself! For better or for worse, the most disturbing of my nightmares has helped me create some deliciously vivid horror scenes in some of my stories.

Though of course I agree with you; I need to take care that I don’t pull the cliche “it was all just a dream” because I can only imagine how frustrating that can be for readers who then feel let down after realizing it was only a dream sequence.


#16

Thank you, this absolutely helps! An idea I’ve been toying with recently is having my MC be haunted in her dreams by somebody else’s emotional trauma, or at the very least, dreams symbolic of the other person’s emotional trauma. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that how I write them doesn’t end up being cliche in the eyes of the reader :sweat_smile:


#17

The Terminator came to James Cameron in a dream and now he’s one of the most expensive film directors of all time and almost every film he has released to date has broken records on ticket sales/box office profit.


#18

I understand what you mean! I can admit that I used to write wonky dream scenes all written in italics and looking back, I regret it. Especially as the author of those scenes, the writing just looks obnoxious :disappointed_relieved:

My new goal is to use any dream sequences I do create as a natural means of drawing the reader in through imagery and such that’s easy to visualize and absolutely relative to the plot at large, without spoiling too much of course.


#19

wow 10/10 plot would read :star::winterstars:


#20

That sounds totally perfect! I’m not against dream scenes haha, just if they’re done in a weird way it’s a bit off putting :hugs: