Posted by: Diane Curran | July 5, 2009

When a dream is a cop-out


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Sweet Dreams

I used to consistently remember my dreams and write them down. I think one fed into the other…the more I journalled, the more I remembered. Bizarre images, even more bizarre when they were fuelled by pizza.

Here’s an example from my dream journal:

In Montreal?
Like a joy ride, a slippery dip with a steep decline then ascends to throw you onto the next one. Amazing feeling as you fly over the gap. Fear factor. Seems possible to miss but nobody does. Physically structured so you don’t miss it.

But will Mum & Nana make it?
I’m concerned.

We seem to be connected to a train station.
I’m looking for a piece of artwork. A statue of a little girl. But she’s no longer on display. It’s covered in cellophane but the cellophane is peeling around the edges and I can glimpse the statue through the gap.

Ok, so yes my dreams were a bit strange. And if you want to work out what it means, try this Dream Dictionary.

I also had a few prophetic dreams. The scariest is the one where I dreamed I’d taken off from the airport and was flying over the ocean, and then the plane very quickly descended into the ocean. It was terrifying, and I woke up freaked out and sweating. The dream preceded a Swiss Air crash by a few hours.

I actually like the in-between time when I am half asleep and half awake…that’s the time I can direct my mind, think about my current story, imagine whole scenes, and find solutions. And hopefully, wake up and write them.

I did a mini-workshop last week on Writing and Dreams with my writer’s group. But Jennifer did not look at symbolism at all — she said that it would take too long. Instead, she gave us a pre-dreamed dream, and we expanded on it — taking the scenario and the character in all different directions. It was an interesting exercise.

Dreams are great and can provide fascinating fodder for fiction but there is one point where they should not be used (with the exception of The Wizard of Oz, which is the forerunner).

If an author uses a “It was all just a dream” as a plot resolution, it is the lazy and unimaginative way out. To me, it’s a cop-out.


In The Wizard of Oz, it works, because ‘you were there, and you were there, and you were there’ — the doubling up of the actors from her real life to the land of Oz, the heroine’s journey in the dream, and the lessons that she learned. But let’s see, Patrick Duffy can’t get any work after he leaves Dallas, so the whole twelve months of episodes are Sue-Ellen’s dream? Give me a break.

I’m sure there are more examples in books and movies, though I try to avoid them. But I do remember when I typed a script for a friend many years ago, my sense of dismay when I reached the end, to find that he’d used the cop-out. It had all been a bad dream.

But surely, that would not be the end of the story…dreams then affect what you do in your life. There would be a further resolution. The story should not end just as the dreamer wakes up.

Do you allow your characters to dream? And what do they dream about?

Or can you think of any books or movies, where you felt ripped off because it turned out to be just a dream?



  1. Yes, ‘Dallas’ immediately sprang to mind for cop-outs!

    ‘The Bold and Beautiful’ often employs a dream/fantasy sequence that reveals a character’s true feelings. For instance, aeons ago, on the morning Brooke married Eric, she dreamt she was marrying his son Ridge instead. She woke up feeling disappointed that she wasn’t marrying Ridge. She went ahead with the wedding to Eric. Doomed marriage, of course. Eventually she divorced, remarried 14+ times. Now she’s back with Ridge…but for how long?

    (I know far too much about ‘Bold’. Pretty freaky.)

  2. Dallas… argh the hair, the shoulder pads, the bad bad bad acting and yet as a teen I was addicted. Preferred the Dynasty ending the best, blow them all up! Woohoo. Then it was all a dream. Sigh.

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