Writing tips is a new category of posts here at Writerly Life that will be appearing every Tuesday. It’s a series of concrete tips for improving or kickstarting your writing. The tips that fall into this category are the sorts that you can do today or even right now, and they’re chosen to immediately re-vitalize your writing in some small (but meaningful!) way.
This week’s tip is:
Cut it out with the dreams already!
Henry James famously said, “Tell a dream, lose a reader.” When our siblings insist on telling us their dreams at the breakfast table, is there anything more boring? We all love telling our own dreams, because they mean something to us; the weird aspect of a dream is how everything feels imbued with meaning and significance, even if none of it makes sense. At the same time, this feeling of meaning and significance is rarely transferrable to others. It’s just nonsense to your readers or listeners; and it’s boring.
It’s not only old-fashioned writers who say this. Michael Chabon recently bemoaned the use of dreams in a New York Review of Books post. Dreams are puzzling, and they can inspire good, polished art, but they need more discipline. When a dream appears in a story, it’s often just a re-hashing of what has already been established in the light of day. Why do you need a dream to repeat that the main character feels smothered by his parents? If you’ve shown it to satisfaction in the real action, then you’ve done your job.
So when in doubt — cut out that dream! Your story will suddenly feel less gauzy and unsure of what it wants to be. It will just be instead of trying so hard to be.