DREAMS AND FLASHBACKS–TO USE, OR NOT TO USE?

 

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.

 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!

FIRE EYES will be re-released through WESTERN TRAIL BLAZER publishing this summer with a brand new cover and some changes to the story that were left out of the original version.

 

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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10 thoughts on “DREAMS AND FLASHBACKS–TO USE, OR NOT TO USE?”

  1. Hi Cheryl,

    I’m with you, I think if done correctly dreams and flashbacks can enhance a story. I used dreams in one of my stories. The hero is a former Confederate Captain and I used a dream to show things that still haunt him from the war and what he fears most now. I also used a dream with the heroine, because until they were reunited she was happiest when dreaming of him, it’s where she lived.

    –Kirsten

  2. What a great blog. I’ve used dreams only one time and I found them to be a interesting tool for getting information to the reader about the plot and/or the characters. I think they need to be short though. I’ve read books that have long dream sequences and I tended to skip over them and get back to the story.

    I confess I haven’t read Fire Eyes yet. It sounds like a really good story. Congrats on the re-release! Looking forward to seeing what the new cover is like.

  3. I have one book that I am about to edit for publication and have put in and taken out a flashback. : ) Moved the scene to a prologue, but didn’t want the reader to get the idea the entire book would be dark. So, I am back to the flashback idea. I think they do work as long as they aren’t long and boring. If it’s just info and not a scene, I’d rather see that come in snippets.

  4. Great post Cheryl. I have used an extended flashback one time in a published work. More often I use what I call ‘flitbacks’ – small snatches of flashback that maybe only take up a paragraph or so.

    I have used dreams on a few of occassions, but these are most often nightmares and highlight some deep seated traumatic experience or fear the character is experiencing that they refuse to speak about.

  5. I have used a flashback in my current series, this pivotal moment in the three hero-brothers childhood.
    I’d never done it before and it was a challenge to do it right. I hope I got it.

  6. Hi y’all,
    I am out of town and am a terrible texter so am going to say thx. To everyone who commented today! I love flashbacks and dreams as long as they come across like they should, and I do agree its a challenge to make it come out right sometimes. Linda thanks for the compliment! Mary, I am sure it will come out just as you meant for it to. It seems not alone in liking dreams and flashbacks in my writing and reading!
    Cheryl

  7. I enjoyed your post, Cheryl! I’ve never used a dream sequence, but I have used flashbacks. Not sure I would do so again, although I have to agree that the key is presentation & transition in and out of them. Your use of the hero’s dream to reveal what actually happened makes sense to me, as does Kirsten Arnold’s use of dreams. Nightmares are a symptom of PTSD, as all too many of our soldiers could tell you.

  8. As a reader, dreams and flashbacks help fill in the story. There have been a few times, however that the author hasn’t done that good a job in the transitioning and left me confused. Luckily that hasn’t happened that often.
    Will the new issue of FIRE EYES be coming out as an e-book or in print?

  9. I’m home –thank goodness–so now I can better respond–I’m not much of a “texter” and had limited computer time. Thanks again to all who commented.

    Ann, Thank you so much–I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, transition in and out of the flashback and dream is so important. There’s nothing worse than expecting a good read and having it turn “hokey” because of something like that.

    Patricia, I totally agree with you. As writers, we have to give the details somehow, and a reader can’t know the things we do unless we get the point over somehow. I think most writers are so aware of the transitioning problem that they do spend a lot of time and effort on “getting it right.” The new edition of Fire Eyes will be in both e-book and print, and will be a little longer (not much) than the original, as I am getting to add back in some of the things I had to leave out in the original. Thanks for asking! I will let y’all know when it’s coming out again as soon as I find out.

    Cheryl

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