How to Wield Your Characters’ Dreams

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A dream may be motivation. It may be a vision, and ideal, or a character all its own. How do you use them in your story, though? Grand dreams can (and should) have grand consequences. Here are a few options for harnessing characters’ fantasies for the sake of storytelling.

Dreams as Destinations

They say it’s the journey, not the destination, you should value. This is true – both for road trips and novels. Dreams make great destinations for characters, whether it’s an actual place they want to reach, an emotional state, or a social achievement.

Characters literally follow the dream, and the path they tread lays out your plot. You can consider this another way of letting your characters’ motivations guide the story, but dreams are fickle things, and it’s easy to change the final destination when your readers aren’t looking.

Ideals and Corruptions

Most dreams are ideals. They’re perfect, and therefore impossible, but we and our characters chase them anyway. The problem comes not from achieving these dreams – because we’ve just established that’s impossible – but watching them warp.

An ideal is only as pure as the person dreaming it. Once a character compromises their values, sees the awful realities of life up close, or simply become disillusioned, the ideal turns into something else. Although corrupted ideals are popular villain motivations, it’s much more interesting to watch the hero’s gleaming dream pick up some tarnished edges. There’s nothing like fighting to the end of the road only to find you’ve accidentally ruined your ideal, or that your ideal was not what you imagined in the first place.

A Dream as a Nemesis

Not all dreams are healthy, even if they’re very pleasant and seem good for us. A bright idea may grow sharp edges, and great ideas may have unexpected drawbacks. This opens the door for a character’s dream to take on an actual role: as a nemesis.

Blind pursuit of dreams kills. Falling into the trap of single-minded focus blinds saints and sinners alike. As characters approach their goals, the threat of their dream can grow larger. Maybe the audience is aware of the danger. Maybe they’ve only caught a few ominous hints. Or, maybe they’re as blindsided by the dream’s true nature right alongside the protagonist.

Dreams Shared Between Characters

Even if two people believe they share the same dream, it’s never an exact match. Starting two characters on the same path, facing the same dream, and letting them create a zig-zagging mess of betrayals and alliances is always a great time. It’s a shortcut to drama and intrigue, and if you have a good grasp of character, the results will be different every time. How does the dream compromise the value old friends see in each other? How could it unite a hero and villain, or drive them apart?

What dreams propel, limit, and haunt your characters? How have you played with the core motivation of your protagonist? These subtleties make for great stories. Share your ideas and deceptive dreams below.

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