I had this dream the other night. There were talking cats. An airplane. Several reams of blue tissue paper draped across a grand piano. And it gets weirder from there. Coincidentally I just inserted a dream into my latest short story, and I'm dancing around the strangeness of it all.
Just how odd can a dream be in a story before you completely lose the reader?
In a story dreams ought to have meaning, right? They should push forward the plot or reveal a snippet of the primary character that perhaps remained hidden from the reader. Freud will turn in his grave when I type this, but sometimes dreams don't make sense or hold a deeper meaning other than their cushy face value weirdness. They can be the fantastical, nutty, Lady Gagas of our mind that leave us with a beautiful yet unimportant image rattling around our brain for days. The fun ones are so vivid they wake us up in a cold sweat, and we have no idea which world is real. Or in which world we'd prefer to reside. Dreams in stories rarely function for the fun of it. If they do, they often see the business end of a red pen and never make it to the final draft.
Are dreams worth it in a story? First person dreams are mildly easier, but I'm writing in third person limited which in my opinion makes it trickier. How can I truly represent how the heroine is feeling in a dream sequence where I'm not using the 'I' and on top of that I have to leave out the flying hammers? I don't want this to turn to a point of view discussion. That would take multiple blogs and several days to deal with. I'm just wondering why the dream is there. Was there a gaping hole begging for an information dump? And who ever wants to admit that there are gaping holes in your story? In this particular case I neatly wrapped up the teacher's (yes I'm writing about a teacher, but it's elementary so not autobiographical at all :-) fears and determinations and duties and miseries in a few paragraphs from dreamland. I'm just not that fond of the word dream and neat living together in the same sentence.
Anyway, after I inserted the dream, I went back. I carefully walked through the story and planted details to ensure that the dream made sense. But then the scene stopped being, well, dreamy. I'm not unhappy with it. I guess I just hate editing dreams. Crafting them is fun. It's like flying around in a room with no gravity. Who doesn't love to write when there are no limits, except then reality slaps you in the face and the story has gone drastically off track. It's a dilemma, for sure.
Probably best to go back and study dream sequences that I really admire from my favorite authors. I know that there are people out there who do it just right.