Wednesday, January 15, 2014
DREAMS AND FLASHBACKS--TO USE, OR NOT TO USE? by CHERYL PIERSON
Have you ever tried to write a dream sequence or a flashback in your novels? What did you think of it when you were finished? Were you happy with the end result, or did it leave you feeling a little flat when you read back over it?
The school of thought on dreams and flashbacks is divided. Some believe that the use of these devices exhibit the writer's immature efforts at crafting backstory and plugging it in, resulting in an amateurish debut into the literary world.
If not done well, this could prove true.
But why pick on flashbacks and dreams? Even plain storytelling without the use of these literary devices can sometimes result in what dissolves into, at best, a "freshman effort." It's not necessarily due to using these tools, though some critics may call upon this as their "rule of thumb" to judge by.
Another argument against flashbacks and dreams is that they lead the reader out of the actual moment of the story, and may somehow "confuse the reader."
Oh, come on.
The only bit of confusion that might occur is not the result of the dream or flashback itself; rather, the inability of the writer to make his meaning clear--again, resulting in an immature presentation.
Yes, flashbacks and dreams are sometimes tough to transition to and from, and make that transition "work." But they can be invaluable tools in creating your backstory.
What are the advantages of dream sequences? They can foreshadow events to come, or provide information about events that the dreamer witnessed.
In my book, Fire Eyes, U.S. Marshal Kaed Turner is being tortured by a band of renegades, so he isn't paying attention to some of the details of events and conversation that is taking place around him at the time. But later, when he's safely recovering, he dreams about what happened to him. This dream does two things for the reader:
1.) It lets us know what, exactly, was being done to Kaed through the conversation and actions of the participants. We see and hear what is happening, as if we are there, in the moment, without Kaed having to re-tell it to someone.
2.) It allows Kaed (and the reader) to seize upon a very important piece of information that's pertinent to the plot.
He was not aware of it consciously, but his subconscious thoughts had picked it up, and it was revealed in the dream.
If you are writing a story with psychic or paranormal happenings, dreams could be a shared link between characters. This device is used often in novels that include time travel, as well.
One thing to consider when writing a dream sequence is the way your character sees life, and what his or her culture is. Make your dreams and flashbacks reflect this appropriately. In Native American culture, an owl is a symbol of impending death--not wisdom. It might mean different things to people from other cultures. Yet, a raven will probably hold much the same symbolism for everyone.
Your characters can solve problems in their dreams. This happens in reality--it can happen in fiction.
"You didn't kill Liberty Valance. Think back..."
Remember, like the presentation of a gourmet meal, a seamless story is in the telling, or the writing. Backstory is sometimes essential, as are clues to the story that might not be able to be presented any other way. Make your transitions to the past, or in and out of the dream state, as flawless as possible.
If you do this, your readers won't be confused, and you'll hold them spellbound as they see the story unfold along with your characters.
Do you use dreams and flashbacks in your writing? I'd love to hear your comments and thoughts on this. I personally love both dreams and flashbacks, and use both quite frequently in my writing. Let me hear from you!