I am a writer and I hate dream sequences.
More than any other convention or cliche, dream sequences are the stupidest thing ever cooked up by the author’s imagination. I avoid them wherever I can. I avoid them like a river of lava. And if the time comes when I absolutely have to set foot in it, when I’ve exhausted all other options for alternate routes, backtracking, and even digging under the earth, I still don’t do it. Nothing wastes more of the readers time than going into a dream. I wish more creative writing teachers and guru told students to avoid this disease of books. Here’s why:
1) Dream sequences in books don’t follow dream logic. This was also one of my (and others’) big complaints about Inception, but I could dismiss it because Leonardo diCaprio’s character says “the more unrealistic the dream gets, the more the dreamer becomes aware that it’s a dream (and the more chance of getting kicked out/attacked). So I suspended disbelief. Maybe it had something to do with the magic machine. But any other time, the dream always follows the same logic and physics of the real world. As if the creator’s trying to fool you that this is reality. There are no transitions, no randomness, no sense of mindscape. Dreams should be like fantasies, like Mena Suvari’s boobs turning into roses in American Beauty.
2) They’re always filler. I have rarely found a dream sequence in a book or movie that didn’t already have a minimal run time/word count. Usually because of a paper-thin plot. If it’s not an excuse to exhibit cool stuff for the trailer without consequences on the plot, like Batman v. Superman, then it’s padding.
3) They’re always foreshadowing. No one ever dreams about something that happened in the past or current emotions. It’s always something in the future. Every protagonist suddenly becomes clairvoyant when they dream. I guess heroes all gain ESP while they sleep. Suddenly they can see what the bad guy is doing, or how the hero might die. The Matrix does this. Star Wars does this. Lord of the Rings does this. Dune does this. The freakin’ bible does this. It’s tiresome. It’s like the author forgot there are other ways to foreshadow than using dreams. And then we get to the point of the story where reality catches up to the dream and the audience goes “hey, I remember that. Wow, everything came full circle. Let me suck the author’s dick now.” Nothing important happened, you dolt. The author just showed you the “coming up next” reel.
4) They all end the same. The dream wakes up sweaty and screaming, gasping like they were underwater. If they were in bed with someone, he/she wakes up too and comforts the dreamer. “Go back to bed, sweetheart. It was just a dream.” But it WASN’T all a dream. We–the audience–know that. That’s the dramatic irony of it all. Oh, foul Mistress Irony, when we you release your cold hands from my bosom.
5) Nothing changes as a result. Any time I see there’s a dream sequence in a book, I know I can skip it because nothing is going to happen in the real world until the person wakes up. By its nature, you can’t proceed with the plot until the dream is over. Dreams can only ever add to characterization. The scene NEVER has a bearing on the plot or setting. 99% of the time you can take the dream sequence out and nothing changes with the story. It doesn’t belong.
And does the dreamer do anything about the dream afterward? NO. He/she never changes course of action, because what idiot would? “Well, I remember seeing this exact thing in my dream last night, and when I went to the left, a glass pane fell on me. But that couldn’t possibly happen in the real world, could it?” No one ever holds their head in their hands and goes “Oh, waily waily waily, if I only I had paid attention to that dream I could have avoided all these dire consequences.” Nope. Because that person also dreamt that he was getting a jumbo pop from an elephant and what the hell are you supposed to do with that information.
Maybe my hatred stems from my own personal experiences — I rarely dream. And when I do, the dreams are rooted in primal emotions–usually frustration, loneliness, longing for adventure, and friendship. But always weird shit: me and Neil Gaiman defending a mall from a throng of zombies, a girl strutting her stuff on the deck of a pirate ship and then her boobs turning into butterflies. Last night I had a dream that some cops were indirectly accusing me of pedophilia in a 1980’s house, and then there were zombie trees that ate people and turned them into tree-human zombies and it was like X-Files, and Smoking Man appeared at the end, not blown up like at the end of the series. None of them — NONE of them — are ever anything remotely considered prophetic.
My personal experience does not negate others — maybe some people do have logical dreams. I hope they are very happy fighting the orcs and piloting spaceships that I’m sure exist in their world.