Write better emotion into your story by sending your hero into a state of altered-consciousness: scenes that include nightmares, visions, and sleeplessness all work double-time by foreshadowing future events and effectively conveying the root of your hero’s fears.
1. Wake your hero up with a nightmare.
Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games use terrible dreams that scare the hero awake (a familiar feeling with which readers can immediately connect).
- In Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s dream foreshadows the significance of Professor Quirrell’s turban: “ . . . he had a very strange dream. He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him . . . — there was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating and shaking. (HP Ch.7).
- In Twilight, Bella’s dream foreshadows Edward’s sparkly-ness and the divide between mortals and immortals: “In my dream it was very dark, and what dim light there was seemed to be radiating from Edward’s skin. I couldn’t see his face, just his back as he walked away from me, leaving me in blackness. . . . Troubled, I woke in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep again for what seemed like a very long time. (TW Ch.4).
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s nightmare highlights her guilt and her worries: “My slumbers are filled with disturbing dreams. The face of the redheaded girl intertwines with gory images from earlier Hunger Games, with my mother withdrawn and unreachable, with Prim emaciated and terrified. I bolt up screaming for my father to run as the mine explodes into a million deadly bits of light.” (HG Ch.7).
2. Send your hero a horrific vision.
Each hero experiences visions, whether from memories, shock or poison. The vision is another way to express the hero’s worst fears.
- Harry Potter’s vision foreshadows his future battle but also brings up a repressed memory: “Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead.” (HP Ch.2).
- In Twilight, Bella’s mind is overwhelmed with visions while trying to grasp the shock of Edward’s truth: “A few small shudders trembled through me. My mind still swirled dizzily, full of images I couldn’t understand, and some I fought to repress. Nothing seemed clear at first, but as I fell gradually closer to unconsciousness, a few certainties became evident.” (TW Ch.9).
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s poison-induced delirium fills her mind with visions of her worst fears: “All the things I dread most, all the things I dread for others manifest in such vivid detail I can’t help but believe they’re real. Each time I wake, I think, At last, this is over, but it isn’t. It’s only the beginning of a new chapter of torture. How many ways do I watch Prim die? Relive my father’s last moments? Feel my own body ripped apart? This is the nature of the tracker jacker venom, so carefully created to target the place where fear lives in your brain.” (HG Ch.15).
3. Deprive your hero of sleep just when he needs it most.
On the eve of a big conflict, when it would be important for the hero to be well rested, make sure stressful images keep him up all night. Again, readers can immediately relate to this feeling and will more fully experience the rising conflict.
- Harry Potter: “Harry went to bed with his head buzzing with the same question. Neville was snoring loudly, but Harry couldn’t sleep. He tried to empty his mind — he needed to sleep, he had to, he had his first Quidditch match in a few hours — but the expression on Snape’s face when Harry had seen his leg wasn’t easy to forget.” (HP Ch.11).
- Twilight: “Sleep had evaded me; my aching eyes strained open . . . But I couldn’t close them; when I did, the images that flashed all too vividly, like still slides behind my lids, were unbearable. Charlie’s broken expression — Edward’s brutal snarl, teeth bared — Rosalie’s resentful glare — the keen-eye scrutiny of the tracker — the dead look in Edward’s eyes after he kissed me the last time . . . I couldn’t stand to see them.” (TW Ch.20).
- The Hunger Games: “I pull on a thick, fleecy nightgown and climb into bed. It takes me about five seconds to realize I’ll never fall asleep. And I need sleep desperately because in the arena every moment I give in to fatigue will be an invitation to death. It’s no good. One hour, two, three pass, and my eyelids refuse to get heavy. I can’t stop trying to imagine exactly what terrain I’ll be thrown into. (HG Ch.10).
Why it Works
The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth explains that the hero’s change of consciousness is a common motif in the hero’s journey, and it has been used in everything from Ulysesses to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (The Key, Ch.6).
Most importantly, readers understand the power of dreams, and by super-imposing their own memories and intense emotions on to the hero, they do the heavy lifting for you!
Don’t stop at altering just your hero’s consciousness for a great story– take it one step further and try using your OWN dreams to be endlessly creative.
Did you know that Stephanie Meyer got her idea for Twilight from a very vivid dream? Maybe there’s a gem waiting for you tonight.
Head over to the master outline to see how these index cards fit in with the rest of the story.