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Starting a scene with nightmares

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, Mar 27, 2014.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I have no idea if this is a good idea or not. To clarify, this isn't a bait-and-switch scenario, where the reader is duped into thinking the dream is real. I state at the start of the scene that it's a dream, and then describe it. (It isn't the opening scene of a book or chapter, either.)

    The context of the scene as a whole is this: the MC, Ariel, is in prison awaiting her death by execution after maiming the villain, a prince. She'll wake up from the nightmare to realize another character is trying to break her out of prison. (The fall of the axe in her dream corresponds to the fall of an unconscious guard in real life, at which she wakes up.) She goes with him when he explains what's going on, and they flee into the night.

    My questions are this: Is starting with a dream sequence a good idea even when it isn't a bait-and-switch thing? And does having the dream be about the beheading make it too obvious that things will turn out differently in real life?
     
  2. Shine Magical

    Shine Magical Dreamer

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    Personally, I do not like dreams as introductions, especially when they turn out to be actual foreshadowing.

    You should keep in mind that this will be the way you introduce the characters to the reader for the first time, and you may not want to introduce them in a light that turns out to be contrary to the next time the reader meets them in "the real world."

    I think a dream introduction could work well though if there is a character that only appears in dreams, or something along those lines that gives the dream actual significance.

    In your case, I dislike that an axe falls onto someone's head corresponding to the fall of an unconscious guard. There is no reason for it and is extremely unlikely to happen, unless the character has powers that correlate to that. Why not simply have her hear a noise and cut right into the action of someone breaking her out of jail?
     
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    It isn't, as I said in my original post. It's intended to be the opposite of foreshadowing. There will be no axe in real life.

    I should have stated this in the OP. The scene in question takes place mid-chapter, in chapter 15, at the climax of the book. So the reader has already been with the character for 300+ pages at this point.

    No, there's nothing of the sort.

    There is a reason for it -- it portrays the way events in dreams often overlap with real-life events. Have you ever been woken up by a buzzing alarm clock which sounded like something else in your dream? The MC has no special powers, either. And cutting right to the action is proving easier said than done.
     
  4. Shine Magical

    Shine Magical Dreamer

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    ...I haven't. :(
    I didn't know this actually happened to people in real life!

    Edit: In that case, you should be aware that there are readers that this hasn't happened to before and it might seem like a cliche writing technique to them. We will see what others have to say.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2014
  5. Noma Galway

    Noma Galway Archmage

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    The buzzing alarm clock thing happens to me all the time!

    As for the idea, I like it, and I really do like the correspondence of the axe to the guard falling. I've started stories with dream sequences, and it's difficult to pull off, but just kicking off a scene would be fine, I think. Also, I do not think it makes the outcome too obvious, but I would focus on really building a lot of tension with the rescue.
     
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  6. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    If the concern is how to set the dream apart from the regular action, we also have a couple chapters that begin with dreams, and how we set the dreams apart from the rest of the narrative is to relate them in present tense. We also indicate right at the outset that the character is dreaming, to further avoid confusion.

    Notice how the tense changes when Etienne wakes up, pushing right out of the dream.
     
  7. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    The issue is whether or not to include a dream at all. The dream only lasts for a couple of paragraphs, tops, so formatting isn't so much of a concern. Should I post the relevant excerpt as an example?
     
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Hmmm...

    Ariel is in prison, *KNOWING* she is slated for execution in the near future.

    A nightmare seems quite plausible in that circumstance.
     
  9. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    I agree with Thinker. Nightmares make perfect sense. Go ahead and post the excerpt, but I imagine barring unforeseen strangeness (which I've never seen from you) it works.
     
  10. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Shall I take that as a compliment? ^^;

    Okay, here's the dream, and the first paragraph following:

    Sleep brought Ariel no respite. She dreamed of what she dreaded, what she knew would come. The courtyard air burned her face with cold, and the crowd cheered, booed and hissed as she emerged into the dawn. Ahead lay the chopping block, a monolith of bloodstained stone; beside it stood the executioner, tall and black-hooded, scraping a whetstone over the bronze blade of his axe.

    Ariel's legs were lead, but she dragged them forward, one foot in front of the other. The block was meant for taller folk than her; she could not kneel and lay her neck in the groove, so she bent down awkwardly, hunching her back. One hand crept up to clutch Eira's snowflake necklace. Would someone give it back to her after this was done?

    The crowd hushed, and King Madoc's voice thundered out to fill the silence. Ariel didn't listen to his words, but counted every heartbeat, and prayed that God would find her here. Her lips shaped a silent "Amen" as the shadow of the axe rose high, then fell.

    Ariel jerked awake with a gasp, and slumped back against the wall. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath, then froze. What had woken her? Not just the dream... someone was moving outside her cell. Metal jangled--keys, maybe? It must be the changing of the guard. They were oddly quiet.
     
  11. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    Dreams are fine if they add to the story. From what I read, it appears there are clues in this dream that play out across the story.

    Ariel is accepting the beheading. Is this a manifestation of her guilt? Is she repentant for hurting the prince?

    This is surprisingly detailed for it to be happenstance. A sense of inferiority?

    I don't know who Eira is, but the relationship between Ariel and Eira must be something special. Is Arieal afraid of losing that bond?

    As to your stated intention, I think you need to map the dream sounds with the real life sounds with more precision. Doing so would create that ambiguous disconnect associated with dreams. For instance, don't have her wake up at the axe falling, have her wake up when her body hits the ground. Have her note the oddity of the noiseless axe, that she thought the metal as it bit against the stone would make a ringing sound.

    Have her instead start awake as her body hits the ground. It would correspond with the guard hitting the ground after being knocked out.
     
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  12. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    To a degree, yes.

    No, she doesn't regret it. The prince is a [email protected] who deserved that and more. She's just terrified of dying, especially without seeing her family again (what's worse is she knows they're coming to save her, but doesn't know if they'll make it in time), but knows better than to try to fight or flee.

    Nope. Fae (i.e. her captors) are much taller than your average human, so a chopping-block made for them would be taller than one made for humans.

    Yup. That comes into play later, too.

    Duly noted. ^^ I'll work on that. Thanks for your comments!
     
  13. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    But you have her "dragged them forward, one foot in front of the other."

    This convey's a stubborn need to see this thing done, rather than resist it. Change it to where she refuses to move her legs, but glides forward against her will.


    Then make it fit the dream. Have her note the size of the chopping block, that it's too large and meant for Fae criminals. As she approaches, have it appear meant for human proportions. Don't mention that it shrank, just have Ariel puzzle how it appeared so large at a distance but smaller as she nears it.
     
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  14. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Done. ^^


    I'm not sure she would puzzle over that, given what she knows of the Fae -- namely that they're experts at illusions and trickery, even outside of dreams. And since she's IN a dream, it doesn't have to make perfect sense anyway. Nor should she necessarily think to question it. She isn't lucid dreaming, after all.
     
  15. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Edited version of the dream/waking:

    Sleep brought Ariel no respite. She dreamed of what she dreaded, what she knew would come. The courtyard air burned her face with cold, and the crowd cheered, booed and hissed as she emerged into the dawn. Ahead lay the chopping block, a monolith of grey stone bearing countless lives' worth of stains: older ones were green as aged copper, newer ones ink-blue. How many Fae had perished here in seasons past? Beside the block stood the executioner, tall and black-hooded, scraping a whetstone over the bronze blade of his axe.

    Ariel tried to plant her leaden feet, but they slid forward against her will. The chopping-block shrank rather than grew as she neared; when she reached it, it stood just the right height for her to kneel and lay her neck in the shallow groove. She shuddered as she did so, centuries of dried blood scratching her throat. One hand crept up to clutch Eira's snowflake necklace. Would someone give it back to her after this was done?

    The crowd hushed, and King Madoc's voice thundered out to fill the silence. Ariel didn't listen to his words, but counted every heartbeat, and prayed that God would find her here. Her lips shaped a silent "Amen" as the shadow of the axe rose high, then fell.

    No sound came from the impact of metal on stone. Likewise there was no pain. She had imagined death to hurt. Triumphant cries rang in her ears as her head rolled forward and her body fell back.

    Ariel jerked awake with a gasp, and slumped back against the wall. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath, then froze. What had woken her? Not just the dream... someone was moving outside her cell. Metal jangled--keys, maybe? It must be the changing of the guard. They were oddly quiet. Probably thought she was still sleeping.
     
  16. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    I love the changes. They really do an excellent job of communicating both a dream-like quality and Ariel's emotional state. However, I'm still not feeling the connection between the end of her dream and what's happening outside of her cell. The first passage I bolded, I did so because of the dissonance that now exists between the end of her dream and the way she awakens. Keep the end of the dream. It's wonderfully nightmarish just as it is. I would have Ariel simply wake gasping in place, no full body movements.

    The second sentence I bolded as problematic mostly because of the question, "Why would her jailors care if she is sleeping?" Surely the guards aren't shooshing each other and tip-toeing around just so she can sleep. I'd cut this observation entirely and back all the way up to the changing of the guard. It happens at specific times, yes? She would be able to use that change to count how many hours she has left to live, and she may dread shift change.
     
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  17. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Excellent points, Lowan. The changing of the guard does happen at specific times, but since Ariel hasn't yet grown used to Faerie time (which, to a human, feels like it's being scrunched and stretched at the same time in comparison to Earth time, so an hour feels at once like a minute or half a day, etc.), the routine is pretty much meaningless as a mean of keeping track of things. Even without that, in total darkness, there's nothing to help her keep time straight anyway while she's awake. She'd lose track of her heartbeats eventually.
     
  18. DassaultMirage

    DassaultMirage Minstrel

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    I did have that dream once. In my dream, I was hugging my dead cousin and my mother was pulling me away by the arm. I woke up to find myself in the conscious world where my brother was sleepwalking, pulling my arm. I see no problem with your falling guard.

    Well as long as your dream ain't the pretext for deus ex machina I have no qualms.
     
  19. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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    I think putting in a dream in regular text is fine. After all is the reality currently being experienced by the character and, thus, the reader.

    One way to start a book with a nightmare, perhaps, is not to have it from the POV of the dreamer but from the POV of the person causing the dream, such as the main faerie in Jonathan Strange or Dream in Sandman. It'd be interesting to get into the mechanics of creating nightmares.
     
  20. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    To me, it's not the dream in itself but the connection to the MC that matters. The scene reads well; if anything, I'd make it more nightmarish. That is, the connection must surely be to illustrate the MC's fears, to emphasize how trapped she is, how doomed. She perhaps could struggle more. That could either by physically (in the dream) or psychologically -- the dream-state where one moves through it powerless to resist, but one is screaming in terror inside one's head. That way, when she is jolted out of sleep, she can have that moment of disorientation and panic that comes with waking from a nightmare.

    I think the quick move from a dream of dying into a sudden hope for life works quite nicely.
     
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