Using Dreams as a Plot Device: Yay or Cliché?



I love writing scenes that answer some questions but then create even more tantalizing questions for the reader to ponder :relaxed:


Thank you so much for sharing this! Media and many stories tend to drastically blow up what people with PTSD struggle with and how they deal with their struggles. Like you say, not every moment of trauma will lead to a screaming breakdown; it’s simply not realistic.

I’m really sorry that your dreams have been this much of a problem for you :frowning: If I was unable to wake up from my dreams I’d be terrified to go to sleep every night.

Again thank you for sharing this, this is important insight into what PTSD is really like!


Understandable. They have to be absolutely centric and vital to the plot otherwise they can wind up being pointless altogether.


Agreed! This is something I have to watch out for when I write dream scenes; I have to ensure that there’s a fine balance between enough subtle symbolism and understandable meaning of such symbolism.


I am indeed a dreamologist :grin:

These are some delicious dream sequences! Velocity’s descent from a warm, caring individual into her present heartless state sound like a gradually more terrifying nightmare that was once a beautiful dream.

For my current WIP, I used a very short dream to hint at the true tragedy that the main plot is focused on; I gave just enough (well, hopefully just enough) to drop enough hints to the reader without completely revealing what’s going on.


It’s just my personal opinion chill.


I use dreams to foreshadow and for backstory in my first two novels.

I was going to do a POV change at the very end and I had to figure out a way to introduce that POV without head-hopping or switching out until the end.

As a “Recovering Head-Hopper” :roll_eyes: I was having a lot of trouble getting my plot where I wanted it. It was terribly hard to break the head-hopping habit. So I decided it was better to do my flashbacks and POV changes in a dream.

Now - I’m not saying that ‘head-hopping is bad’ for everyone - I’m saying I had a horrible habit that I needed to break.

But the dream sequence is like anything else - doing it well and getting high-quality results can require help from someone else - and a lot of revisions. But it’s a powerful tool that can really enhance a story.


I likewise use dream scenes for a heavy dose of foreshadowing, and to cunningly drop important bits of backstory for the character my WIP is focusing on. I also struggle with what you have, my original draft of the story was going all over the place because I was too focused on the dream scenes :sweat_smile:

Nonetheless these dream scenes will always be worth it to us, and for good reason!


Shit happens when you realize the life you led was a complete fabrication from the start, you’ve been “had” on so many fronts (Velocity complained about lost chances to Reyna in the wheel house of her fishing cutter), you’re bound to take your pound of flesh from someone because of it.

You know what they say: “Beware a woman scorned…” :wink:


That’s fine. I’m chilling. Actually, I just woke up. :slight_smile:


You mean something personal or political from the writer’s POV? I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before. Usually, dream sequences (for me) are meant to be either serious mind candy or a nightmare that I don’t want to visit on my own terms. lol


I don’t mind them. I think I only have one story with any dreams. I do flashbacks more than dreams, but flashbacks are usually indicated as flashbacks with something like 4 years before, or whatever I use. Dreams, however, are just italics. I have one story I know of that has only 2 dreams. The first dream is when she dreams of this guy she hates, and she is not happy about it. She begins to do dream interpretation to prove she isn’t infatuated with him. The second dream is right before she runs into him while getting a midnight snack, and its a vampire story so he bites her in her dream. Her neck is sore as she wakes and she goes to get her snack in which he asks her if her neck hurts (because he can read her mind). It’s just subtle hints at things. I don’t use dreams much though. That’s the only story.


Oh, and I also have very lucid dreams in real life, so dreams are interesting to me. I enjoy dream interpretation as well.


I think a lot of elements can be attributed as cliche. It’s just how you work them into your story that dictates whether it stands out or not.

That said, from a personal standpoint I’m not a huge fan of the entire storyline being centered around a dreamscape and not having the reader made aware of this fact early on. There are certainly exceptions, but if the twist is merely there to compensate for shortcomings as a writer or used as a way to avoid having to answer questions built up along the way it often rubs me the wrong way. It feels like a cop-out to me unless it’s properly executed and actually adds meaning to the plot as opposed to detracting from it.

Now this is a very specific example of dreams being used as a plot device as there are a ton of ways you could incorporate them into your narrative but since the topic is quite subjective anyways I thought I’d highlight an example of which I found annoying.


My PTSD dreams are claustrophobic in nature. Usually I’m somewhere doing something and will walk into an alley or a hallway or a sewer pipe and the farther I go the smaller it gets until I am so trapped I wake up sweating and in panic. This directly reflects the reasons for my PTSD, trapped in an abusive situation worse, worse, worse, until you go mad. (thankfully I did get out of it)

So to me dreams are very realistic and I love to use them in stories to reflect what’s going on in characters’ lives. There definitely is a correlation.


It’s good you got out of it. I had similar experiences and they felt so real and I often felt trapped in the dream because unfortunately someone I knew purposely and literally burned me. Causing me second degree burns and to go to the ER and be transported to a hospital two hours away because the local hospital didn’t have burn professionals.

So it made me trust people a lot less afterwards and I became a sort of recluse. I got fidgety and was so afraid to eat on the first night, I burst in tears and I’m not the person to cry at all. So I avoided hot foods and drinks, currently the only thing I avoid is hot drinks. It’s been a journey.


dreams are a fascinating phenomenon, I think they always make a very intriguing plot device. 100 percent will read!


I was just writing a dream for my characters! I’m using it to give a little insight into character A from the POV of character B, and to show a glimpse of their background together.

I’m pretty worried about it being confusing, though, what if my reader can’t tell the difference b/w what actually happened vs. what the character dreamt? D:!


I think you’ll do great! As long as you have a friend or someone you trust to give a look over and ask them questions to see if they’re think it’s a dream or not


I think dreams can absolutely be used in an effective way as a plot device, character development, etc. They can give the reader insight into a character that would other side not be explained or said in dialogue. I think that specifically nightmare sequences can be very effective as they provide a glimpse into, possibly, the greatest fears of your character.

I am a huge dreamer myself, I have crazy, nonsensical dreams all the time. They effect my mood the next day and how I fall asleep. I write from what I know and what I have experienced, therefore I love to use dream sequences when it is necessary to explain something further or even, scare the reader.