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In a third-person novel I am writing, one of the characters has a very significant dream that I would like to transcribe. The problem is, I would like to focus on the character's reaction to the events in the dream, but do not know whether it is realistic to have her reacting as the dream is happening, or have her react to the specific events in the dream after she wakes up.

Example:

[while dreaming] Rhea understands what this dream is now. It's how Dr. Evans imagines it will be once he has the kids under his control. Even so, only in his dreams would he ever be able to call Colton "son" without getting hit. Colton replies with a terse nod, showing that he doesn't desire to return the feeling. It encourages her to know that even in Evans' dreams, Colton isn't comfortable being referred to as "son" by this man.

vs

After Rhea wakes up, despite the unsettling images she has just witnessed, she finds a small amount of solace in the fact that even in Evans' warped dream reality, Colton still wasn't comfortable by being referred to as son by that man. Especially since, in real life, her brother would most likely attack the man if he ever attempted to refer to him as such.

So, simply put, should I write the dream sort of like a flashback, merely narrating what happened and then have her wake up and analyze it, or write the dream like normal narration and show the character's reactions as the dream events happen?

(I should mention that this character has the ability to see dreams that are not her own, and knows when she is dreaming, and when the dream is not hers, even though she cannot interact with the dream-world or control her actions within it.)

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I would go with the first option. It's my understanding that's not Rhea ' s dream, but it's someone she knows well. Depending on the character, they would or would not tell the person they saw their dream. I feel as though the second option works well in scenes like they didn't know what the dream was about, or if you want to show other character's reactions to the dream. But I would go with the first option if I was you.

I hope this helped!

  • It did, thank you. But, the problem is that Rhea is also in the dream, so to differentiate between her narrating and her watching the dream version of herself should I use a phrase like "Dream-Rhea" or should I assume it's implied? – RE Lavender Jun 19 '16 at 3:15
  • @RELavender I would assume it would be implied, and if not, he reader would find out when she wakes up. – DJFluffy Jun 19 '16 at 3:23
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Your questions says that your character is having a non-lucid dream, yet in your first description, which is supposed to be in dream, it says "Rhea understands what this dream is now." That is exactly what a lucid dream is. I think your best option may be to describe what she is seeing and her reaction as if it is a normal scene and either her reaction within the dream that helps her realize she is dreaming (maybe she realizes her surroundings look fuzzy) or describe the scene and then describe her waking up and realizing it was all a dream.

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Of the two writing samples, I found the first one terribly confusing, and the second one much clearer. If you do want to give a sense of how Rhea reacts to the dream while she is experiencing it, you should stick to what she is aware of at any given moment.

"Feeling better, son?" Dr Evans asks patronizingly, and Rhea braces for a violent response. Surprisingly, Colton responds instead with a tense nod. How can he stand to have that man call him "son"?

Only later, after she awakes, will Rhea understand that this is how Dr. Evans imagines it will be once he has the kids under his control.

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Being a writer, I sometimes criticize the poor writing in my dreams while dreaming them, or note how a person or place is distorted from the real world example it is based on.

Sometimes I seem to make myself wake up from a dream that seems about to turn bad.

But don't ask us writers in the writers stack exchange, ask science experts in the science stack exchanges.

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