I'm writing the introduction to a story. The intro starts with a dream, then the main character wakes up, and then he and one of the secondary characters have a conversation while waiting for a bus. The dream is extremely different from reality and so I wanted to have the main character being jolted out of the dream. This is the first rough draft I've written for it, but I'm having trouble with it. It's annoying me and I can't keep writing because there's something off about it. I've never started a story with a dream sequence before, so I'm having difficulty pinning down exactly what's wrong about the dream sequence without also trying to add more to the dream itself.

There's a lot of stuff about this opening that's annoying me. It seems sort of not-quite-there when I read it. It feels really... I guess maybe segregated from the reader? I don't know how to put it, but it feels really clunky. I want it to be slightly unsettling, it doesn't come across in my writing at all (to me, in any case). And I don't particularly like the transition out of the dream either.

So I'd like a critique. Specifically:

  • Does this dream sequence work as an introduction? I'm worried about how long it is and whether or not it's boring. The dream sequence is pretty important and needs to be exciting, but I don't think it is. But I'm also worried that if it's too exciting, it might act like an anti-hook and make everything after it seem boring. What I ended up with seems drab, though.
  • Is the dream sequence unsettling? I'm not really going for mysterious, but I don't really linger on any of the images in the dream, so I feel like the whole scene isn't "strange" which is how I want it to come across.
  • Is the transition from the dream into reality okay as it is? What I mean is, is it not jarring enough to break out of the dream? Is it too weak a transition for the dream sequence?
  • The characters Felix and Dante have a conversation afterwards that I think is sort of unwieldy/unrealistic. Would you say the same? It's supposed to be a pretty lazy conversation that could go anywhere... but I don't think that comes across very well.

Excerpt is here at Pastebin.com. For some reason, though, the bolding and the italics in the piece kept deleting words when I entered this into Pastebin, so in the end I just used the notation that we use on SE for bolded words and italicized words. ** surround bolded text and * surround italicized text.

closed as off-topic by Neil Fein Mar 11 '15 at 19:24

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I think the dream sequence is a much better read than the dialog after it. There are some minor things in the dream sequence that make it a little confusing for me - for example in paragraph 13 there are so many emotions at play, - guilt, relief, fear, shame, happiness, conflict/indecision. Is he really "happy" that it is her in the machine, or is he ashamed that he is relieved it is not him? It was also not clear to me why he would die if he stayed. Is the same threat that put her into the machine now threatening him?

I think your transition out of the dream was good, and although it is graphic, it works. I don't think it would be a bad thing to be a little more explicit in paragraph 19 that he is waking up.

What was the most jolting for me was the setting when he woke up. At first I was picturing two gay men in bed together. I thought Felix and Dante were lovers, and was confused why he was dressed in bed, then more confused why he would be so deep in REM/dream sleep on a bus stop bench. That, and the dialog felt like it was forced. Are there more subtle ways to fill the reader in on the racial profiles of the two friends? The dialog felt too forced to get that point across to the reader. They know each other's backgrounds (at least the tone of this dialog suggests they are close friends who have known each other for a while) so to be so explicit sounded unnatural.

I would focus less on the dream because that is pretty solid, and more on rewriting what comes next. I think the dream works as an intro, but was confused by your comment - not going for mysterious, but want it to seem strange - it is definitely mysterious and elements (locked shut, alien tools) are strange.


This is a little late to the party, but you haven't chosen an answer yet, so I'll give my opinion.

On point 1:

Why don't you try thinking of the dream sequence as a prologue? From your question, I'm not sure if you're writing a short story or a novel, so I don't know if a prologue is a viable option, but if not then just think of it as a detachment from the actual story. Try to make a point where you could easily act as if a chapter was ending, and another one was beginning. Starting a chapter with the main character vomiting would be quite interesting, and would immediately hook the reader.

On Point 2:

I feel as if you are writing a little bit clunky and jarred, which I can understand as you are writing a dream sequence. However the visceral imagery that you are writing about, the complete lack of context and being dropped straight into the action with no explanation should make the reader realize it is a dream, or at least they will know it is not a reality. And if not, there are very few paragraphs before they are taken to an entirely new location, so that should be quite obvious.

On Point 4:

I think you need to establish that Felix is at a bus stop first, before you start to introduce another character, because as Chris said, despite knowing that they were at a bus stop from the question I still read it as if they were in bed together. Also, I doubt Dante would comment on Felix being asleep unless he had been for a significant period of time, and if they were friends I doubt he would have let him fall into a deep sleep. It would make more sense for Felix to have fallen asleep for a few seconds and had a very vivid dream, and upon waking he realizes it for himself.

Also, and I only noticed this because I tend to do it myself, it reads more like a screenplay. All of the exposition is coming from the speech of the characters. For example, you can have the internal monologue of Felix establish their ethnicity first, and then still have a conversation about it, but reading it made me feel a little uncomfortable whilst I didn't know what their ethnicity was.

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