The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

I Hate Dream Sequences

dream sequence whale

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.

Postmodern Mainstream Literary Realism (for Adults)

book therapist's couch

Let’s talk about ‘postmodern mainstream literary realism’ for a second. What does ‘postmodern mainstream literary realism’ mean? Basically, anything that’s not genre fiction (Sci-Fi, Westerns, romances, fantasy, etc.). They’re all terms for the same thing, I just lumped them together. If you see it on the NYT best sellers list, it’s PMLR.

And I hate it. I can’t stomach it. I can rarely read such stuff. It’s pretentious, it’s wordy, it’s nonsensical, it’s dull, it’s repetitive, it’s boring. I’ve made numerous attempts to read The Great Gatsby that ended up in failure. Then there’s The Almost Moon, Heart of Darkness, The Catcher in the Rye, East of Eden. These are often the lowest rated books in my trove. Some literary books I like, e.g., Reservation Blues and The Help. But what I’m really talking about is stuff they made me read in high school and college.

The Great Gatsby Book Cover
Can anyone tell me what is on this cover?  And where it is in the book?

I could never figure out why such books get such high accolades and praise, while they remain so unreadable. Why is it J.R.R. Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and others get continually snubbed? Now I know, thanks to an article by David Farland (to which most of this content is credited).

William Dean Howells almost single-handedly created the PMLR movement when he wrote an article decrying certain tropes. Famous historical or mythical creatures. Exotic settings. Uncommon events, like murder, arson, pillage, ghosts, beasts, escapes, shipwrecks, monsters, 5,000-year-old ladies, witches, sexual innuendo or any of the like. And no moralizing. He praised stories that dealt with mundane. The common man living an everyday life. Truthiness and honesty were the new calls to arms. Show the world as it is. Write with beautiful imagery instead of exciting events.

Personally, this sort of manifesto makes no sense to me. Why set restrictions on literature and art? Why reduce your subject matter to only the most banal conflicts and characters?

Why should anyone listen to this guy? Because Howells was the editor of The Atlantic Monthly at the time. At the time, one short story sale here could keep a writer in ‘pork & beans’ for a year. So of course, writers who wanted to eat paid attention and did a face-heel-turn. Thanks to this, Star Wars novelizations that outsell NYT bestsellers 3-to-1 never make a peep. It’s like the MPAA using ratings to keep non-studio films down.

What happened was that, since the magazines picking up this PMLR movement were The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, etc., popular fiction & poetry moved toward elitism. This started the careers of poet snobs like William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings (ooh, sorry, ee cummings, I forgot you’re too good for punctuation) that used imagery to create the story.

pipe this is not a pipe picture
This is not a pipe. It’s a PICTURE of a pipe.

Except that doesn’t work, unless you’re making a comic strip. I mean, come on, read any of those poems I linked to and figure out if they mean anything profound. The only way you can translate their meaning is by continually analyzing, discussing, and guessing. And sometimes you need the writer to just up and say it, which is like having Rubik solve the cube for you.

Or how about Hemingway and Faulkner? I know your teachers assigned that stuff in high school. I already talked about these two before. Faulkner wrote about nothing. He wrote pretentious prose and words that were English but didn’t go together. At least Hemingway was readable, but his stories were not stories. Hemingway left too much to be interpreted. They were half-finished or missing the parts that would cement the meaning. We call that “unformed” stories. And it’s not like he did this to leave it mysterious. He knew what the proper beginning/ending was (in the case of “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, or (in the case of “Hills Like White Elephants”) what the subject matter was. He purposefully chose to leave those parts off. Why? I don’t know. Maybe he was a douche-bag. He certainly was one in real life.

That’s where the elitism comes in. Can’t you imagine a bunch of Ivy league professors with monocles and handlebar mustaches, smoking and drinking fine scotch, staring at these texts. No one knows what it means, but it seems like it should mean something. Everyone interprets it differently and each thinks he’s right, which is like that old joke about the blind men and the elephant. It becomes more fun to argue about the work than to read it.

Everything became so existential and unmoralizing, absent of theme or clarity. It was like no writer could take a stand on something they wanted to say. These people write and write and write, and end up saying nothing. Except maybe something angsty about how life is meaningless. “Life’s a bitch. You have sex, then you die.” They were proto-emos.

And if any of you took creative writing in college, you can see what ended up happening. My professors concentrated so much on IMAGERY. Everything had to have an image associated with it. A piece had to have “beautiful imagery”. We had drills where we each had to spout a powerful image gleaned from some story. And then a few days spent on point-of-view and stylistics and way too much time spent on poetry. Does any of this sell books? No.

Guess what I learned in the real world? It’s about characters. Plot and characters, plot and characters, plot and characters. It’s about character creation. It’s about plausibility. It’s about grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. It’s about query letters. It’s about high concept. It’s about tools in the tool box. It’s about writing something that people want to read. It’s about not using adverbs. It’s about characters that want something. It’s about good villains or tough obstacles. It’s about avoiding pitfalls like character soup, too much backstory, and readable prose.

Here’s the real sad part. Howells didn’t make his proclamation based on any sort of research or looking at past, overused trends. No. Howells was a socialist. He made his proclamation to further his political agenda. He wanted more work about economic issues, to serve as propaganda. He had no interest in furthering literature as an art.

And it shows. Genre fiction’s never been more popular, only no one will admit it. Nearly every top-grossing movie is genre-based. Except for Titanic, which is romance, you have to get to #39 (The Da Vinci Code — a mystery) before you get something that would be on the NYT best sellers list. You might say that’s simply popular vote, not critically acclaimed. Oscar nods feature the occasional angst story like “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone”, but there’s also “Black Swan”, “Toy Story 3”, and “Inception”.

There’s plenty of great works before and after PMLR that have witches and ghosts — works of Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. I don’t care that the elitists don’t like it, but you have to at least acknowledge it. You can’t look at a book that’s outselling every other and say “Oh, that one doesn’t count. It has elves. They don’t exist,” or “Unless it takes place in the real world, it’s commercial fiction meant to appeal to the masses.”

The only restrictions you should place on a book are that it must not be boring, it must not be incomprehensible, and it must have something to say. PMLR is a genre just like any other — it has its own features like its settings (contemporary, in the real world), themes (it doesn’t moralize), characters (non-special, everyday joes), and style (high imagery and unformed-ness). Acknowledge that. Live that. Learn from that.

And I’ll be in my spaceship if you need me.

Things You Should Know About: MarzGurl Picks Apart Twilight

marzgurl anime

MarzGurl is one of the Channel Awesome (A.K.A. Doug Walker’s That Guy With the Glasses) vloggers. She specializes in anime and the works of Don Bluth, which are a lot more comprehensive than I thought.  Plust she looked smoking hot as Princess Mononoke in Suburban Knights.  Channel Awesome’s more known for their videos, but right now MarzGurl is doing something I think is fairly important.

She’s examining Twilight, the book, as she reads it. She was curious what all the fuss was about, as any good geek should do, and is posting a literary analysis as she goes on.

I’m really impressed with the level of detail. She’s looking at exactly what is wrong chapter by chapter, specializing in Stephanie Meyer the writer and Bella the character. And it’s not just good because Twilight deserves to be bashed (and if you don’t believe me, click the link).  It’s good for writers. It shows the level of detail you need to go into when making a novel, unless you want to reveal yourself as an incompetent fraud.

For example, in the first few pages, it’s immediately clear that Meyer has no idea what time her story is taking place. Bella starts in Phoenix, AZ and going to upper Washington state. Even though it’s not relevant to the plot (what plot?), MarzGurl does a great job illustrating that, by the context clues, there’s no way to determine what time of year it is.  The temperatures and precipitation cited are inconsistent with the real world. It’s clear that the author herself doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.  And that’s bad writing.

Not to mention the great descriptions of how apathetic, ungrateful, shallow, whining, and manipulative Bella is. Before we even learn about Edward, she has three other boys pursuing her, and she doesn’t give a rip.  Yet she claims to be unattractive and plain.

Not to mention Meyer’s writing style. I’ve never read her books, but I can see right away, by the passages MarzGurl points out, how inconsistent and nonsensical her prose is. People don’t sound like they’re talking to each other. They don’t sound like real people, let alone teenagers (she did get one part right – that they’re self-centered). Plus her characterization hops from one mood to the other, with no motivations. There’s a lot of “and then” connectors, but “but” and “therefore” like there should be.  She can’t decide if Bella wants to be noticed or unnoticed.  She can’t decide if Edward wants to be around Bella or not.  She can’t even decide what time it is.

So check it out. Twilight fan or not. You’ll be glad you did.

MarzGurl Picks Apart Twilight: The Novel