How to start your story/hook with a dream

At some point in your writing career, you will think about writing a dream as the opening to your story. It'll intrigue you. The thought of your character waking from said dream, the hook being part of the slumber. Reality can bend, the world's physics will shatter.

Anything is possible in a DREAM!

It happens to all of us.

It happened to me.

So you do it. And that's when it hits you...There is a rule. It is spoken, (screamed really), in every forum and blog about writing.

RULE: DO NOT START YOUR BOOK WITH A DREAM

The reason?

People hate it.

I'm gonna call BULLSHIT.

Let me elaborate...

I'll start with where I started.

I was editing my book.

It was an old manuscript that I'd been rewriting for about a year. (I know, I'm stubborn.)

The Witch of Fire and Shadows, for those who'd like to know.

So, I'm editing this book and after some helpful feedback from beta's I decide the entire beginning must go. It was an info dumping boring hot mess.

So I let myself go, let the story pour out of me and it turned into a nightmare that the character wakes up from. Now, the character had already had this reoccurring nightmare in other parts of the book but I felt like it was a great way to get to know the MC.

I hand it to some beta readers.

One beta says, "You can't start a story with a dream. It's writing 101. Get rid of the entire first chapter and offer it as a free prequel on your reader list."

So I did what most people would do, I got sad. I really liked my first chapter, the hook felt strong and other readers were into it.

I asked myself, why does this beta hate it so much and what's the deal with this rule?

One beta said, "You can't start a story with a dream. It's writing 101. Get rid of the entire first chapter and offer it as a free prequel on your reader list."

So I do what most people would do, I got sad. I really liked my first chapter, the hook felt strong and other readers were into it.

I asked myself, why does this beta hate it so much and what's the deal with this rule?

Why do readers hate when the hook is a dream?

Hours of google later, I've dived into every possible source I could find about writing a dream as your hook and spent more time analyzing my findings. I took into account the perspectives and lobbed them into different groups.

Writers, people in the industry, and readers.

I started ignoring what writers and people in the industry said as it was mostly the same thing...it's a rule bla, bla, bla.

But why? Why was it a rule?

Readers said they felt betrayed.

So I explored that. Why would they feel betrayed by a dream as a part of your hook?

I studied their opinions.

Eureka! I narrowed it into a simple answer so you don't have to.

When someone starts a story with a dream that has no bearing on the plot it feels like a bait and switch.

If you want to piss off the reader have the dream be this completely different thing then the characters reality where they wake up and none of the hook matters.

For example: start the story on a pirate ship looking for booty to plunder and have the MC wake up to go to fifth grade. That will create a lasting 'what-the-heck' moment.

You see, the dream might be super cool and catchy but it has no/limited value to the rest of the book.

How do you write a dream as a hook then?

It needs to have REAL value.

Not a little bit.

Like A LOT OF VALUE.

I've narrowed it down to two main points to execute when writing a dream as a part of your hook.
FIRST, let them know its a dream.

ASAP.

You want it known early. Don't keep it a secret for shock value. NOPE. To readers that feels like the bait and switch.

SECOND, have it affect the plot. THE PLOT.

Not just characters development.

Not a tiny bit of blurry foreshadowing.

There has to be some significance, and you have to give it to the reader NOW. Yep. Then and there, expose the purpose of why this dream matters for events later on in a hefty way.

THIRD!

I know what your thinking, I had said two main points to execute the dream hook sequence. But I'd be wrong if I didn't speak this obvious point.

Write it well.

That means use your style, your voice, the bits of magic that make your work unequivocally yours. Which may mean bending my points above. If your readers love your obscurity then be obscure. If they love being shocked and having the rug pulled from under them, then shock them. At the end of the day, your readers love your work so do you as the audience you've cultivated would expect no less.


In The Witch of Fire and Shadows, my hook is in a nightmare. The reviews are good and no ones mentioned the dream, so feel free to check it out if you'd like.

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