Outlining for The Dreamer

Today I’m starting off my morning by laying out the scenes for my next novella, The Dreamer. For this one I am breaking so many literary “rules”, namely *don’t go sticking dreams in the book, they’ll be passed up by the reader, and *don’t start your book with a dream.

Here’s the deal: My protagonist has a dream she can’t wake up from, and the harder she tries to wake up, the more real the dream becomes, until she is awake (and behaving rationally) in the dream world. The dream-world is sort of this 14th century high-fantasy style world, with focus on magic, wizards, evil warlocks, and a smattering of lore and tales I had an obsession with throughout childhood.

So you understand, the dream has to come at the beginning, and there is no good way I can avoid writing that dream sequence. At the bottom of today’s post I am including a list of random links which are written about writing dreams; I have every intention of returning to read them later, as I fear I have had one cup of coffee too many to be able to do anything but want to bang fingers on a keyboard.

This is what I wrote about it when the idea first hit me:

Laura rides in a dream world, wandering snowy woods with a stranger. Though initially neither worrisome nor dangerous, Laura eventually realizes that every time the dream takes her close to awakening, a stranger puts his hand on her forehead and she returns to complicity.
That is, until the day the stranger is a little late in returning to camp. Laura and her horse, Ghost, run away in a blizzard with little hope of survival–but a little hope is all they need.
Laura awakens nude in a 14th c. inn with a bridle in her hands and an equally naked man, blood from nails on his hands and feet, is sleeping alongside her…and Laura realizes that somehow, this dream world has become her world and she has no place in it.

Plot Goal
Will Laura wake up at home or is she stuck here with Ghost in a world she does not know?

Heart Goal
Will Laura find her place in the world, that she fits in, that she feels at home somewhere?

Literary Similarities:
Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland,      The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Now the bridle and the bloody hands/feet comes from a tale I heard as a child, about a wicked witch who had an enchanted bridle. Every night she would sneak into a man’s cottage and put the bridle on him and he would turn into a horse. She would ride him to do all her witch-y duties, and take off the bridle in the morning. He woke every morning exhausted, until one day he understood what she was doing, and he put the bridle on her one day, had her shoed at the farrier’s, and sold her at the horse market. When the new owner took the bridle off his mare, there was the witch standing there with blood on her hands and feet.

OK, so it isn’t exactly a touching tale, but it stuck with me. As an adult, the witch riding a man every night actually has sexual connotations. Hmmm. The point is, in a dream this makes perfect sense, and I want to keep that hint of absurd reality going strong–but my idea is to keep Laura’s emotions and reactions very much grounded in how any one of us would respond, and to have her lose that “I know what’s going on here” feeling we get when we are dreaming about crazy things.

So all of that I wrote down a few weeks ago, not so coincidentally after I woke up from that dream. I had the thought that it was interesting enough that I could use the core idea as an actual story, but I thought I would just stash it away and almost forget about it until months later. It turns out that I’m feeling compelled to write it after I finish up this NaNo story. At this point I am employing my newly-mastered outlining skills and gathering up information. I have a book called The Encyclopaedia of Things that Never Were, and I’m going to use that as a reference for some of the story-related material. But technical things, like how to capture that hazy yet sharply realistic dream quality? Yep. Links. And re-reading some of my literary similarity books, because they all have that same pseudo-dream feel to them.

I will go into my 10 major scenes in another post. For today, I think I’ve hit on plenty of information. Here are a list of dream-links:

Like I mentioned above, this is as much for my reference as for yours. I haven’t actually read most of these yet. I’m too jittery. And today is only for organizing and planning of this project.

Till next time,



2 thoughts on “Outlining for The Dreamer

  1. W. C. Fields supposedly said, “Never work with children or animals,” and a lot of creative story-telling folk break that one successfully. I wonder if how a storyteller uses the a dream makes a difference. As a point of interest or for it’s own sake, I can understand why describing a dream might be a tricky proposition. Though my nocturnal visions might be interesting to me (as I wonder why the hell I dreamed I was running through the African savanna on a break from grading essays and dressed as a clown), I can see how a reader might find them boring, disconcerting or even disturbing. In your case though, as a vehicle to get “there” and as a complication, I don’t see the peril.

    I’m reading the “Gentleman Bastards” series by Scott Lynch–an urban fantasy trilogy I highly recommend. Lynch pulled a dream scene that had me thoroughly convinced it was a part of the tale. When it became evident that what I had read was a dream, I wasn’t put off at all as it seemed both to underscore the feelings of the main protagonist and it fit well into the plot. I felt I understood the main character better as a result of the scene.

    One of my favorite quotes is the one by W. S. Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” I say ‘go for it’ and if you can pull it off more power to you.

    Write-on, girl!

    1. Running through the savannah dressed as a clown? THAT’S an odd one.

      I certainly agree that for the most part, dreams shouldn’t be included. It isn’t too often that a random dream pushes a plot forward, but there are a few dreams which people understand en masse, such as teeth falling out or being pursued or falling. These can underscore emotional turmoil quite nicely because they are such a common dream, but usually aren’t required.

      I enjoy the dream sequences such as you describe, too. I’ll have to add that trilogy to my Christmas list. 🙂

      W.S. Maugham’s quotes is one of my favorites, too.

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