Five Tips For Creating Realistic Dream Scenes In Comics, Stories etc..

2017 Artwork Realistic dream sequences Article sketch

Although “it was all a dream” is the one twist ending that all writers and comic-makers are not supposed to use (“it was a dream within a dream” is something of a grey area though, especially in the horror genre), there’s no rule against including dream scenes in your story or comic provided that they are either obviously a dream and/or are openly declared to be a dream at some point within the dream.

The main reason why writers and comic-makers aren’t supposed to use “it was all a dream” as a plot twist is because it’s an extremely lazy one. However, dream scenes can be one of the most interesting types of scenes to write and/or draw.

But, how can you do this in a believable and/or realistic way? Here are a few tips:

1) Lacunae and missing details: Generally speaking, when you are dreaming, you’re often thrown into the middle of a story which you both do and don’t know everything about.

Things make sense within the dream itself but, when you wake up, you can’t always quite remember why certain key events happened or the precise details of important things in the dream (even in the dream itself, you might only have a general sense or vague knowledge of why important things are happening). However, if you do something similar in a comic or story, then you’ll obviously end up confusing your audience.

The trick here is, of course, to only leave out details that don’t seriously affect the events of the main plot. You could also have your characters declare that they don’t remember some important thing (eg: the reason why they’re doing something), whilst giving your audience enough clues to let them fill in some of the details. Or you could make the missing details themselves a central part of the plot of your story or comic.

Likewise, if you’re making a comic, then you can also take advantage of one key feature of many dreams – lacunae. This is a fancy word for gaps in time and/or memory. Since comics don’t take place in real time, you can intentionally create a dream-like atmosphere by including slightly significant time and/or location jumps between chapters and/or separate webcomic updates.

Just try not to confuse your audience with this (eg: either give your readers clues so that they can fill in the gaps and/or make sure your characters comment about the lacunae).

2) Altered settings: Although dreams can take place in entirely imaginary locations, dream locations are often altered versions of real places (or places you’ve seen in movies, TV shows, games etc..). You might dream about your local town, but it might also seamlessly include random parts of other towns or there may be lots of subtle differences from the real location. Likewise, a familiar house might suddenly have a few extra rooms or something like that.

In fiction, a good way to replicate this is to include subtly altered versions of settings that are familiar to your audience (with your narrator commenting about a few of the subtle differences).

One sneaky thing that you can do if you’re making a comic is to make any complex outdoor backgrounds change slightly from panel to panel. As long as the location still looks similar enough that it can be recognised at a glance, then you can often get away with this.

3) Psychological factors: The thing to remember about dreams is that they take place entirely within the mind of the person who is dreaming. Everything and everyone in a dream is based on the dreamer’s memories and/or things that the dreamer has seen, read or thought about recently.

So, your dream scene should be a reflection of your character’s mind. If a character is nervous, then it’s probably going to take place in an uneasily creepy world, where no-one can be trusted (even if they can be trusted in the “real life” parts of your story) and where danger is never far away.

If a character is a fan of something, then their dreams are probably occasionally (but not as often as you might think) going to include elements from things that they are interested in (to give some examples from my own dreams, I’ve met at least a couple of characters from various versions of “Star Trek” in various dreams, I’ve had a few computer game-style dreams etc..).

4) Dream quirks: These vary from dreamer to dreamer, but dreams often have their own set of recurring quirks. These are fundamental “rules” within dreams that are often followed, even in different dreams. They often make no sense, but they can be used in a dramatic way to either subtly signal to your readers that the character is dreaming and/or to give the dream some semblance of consistency and logic.

To give you a creepy example from my own dreams, my nightmares virtually never contain blood whenever I get injured. In fact, I can only think of literally one nightmare I’ve ever had where I’ve started bleeding (it was one when I had a nosebleed that got worse and worse throughout the dream).

In the other injury-based nightmares I’ve had, I can end up suffering all sorts of horrific injuries and it will all be completely bloodless. This somehow makes it ten times more disturbing.

So, yes, dreams often have recurring “rules” that vary from dreamer to dreamer.

5) Plot twists and dream logic: Writing convincing dream-like plot twists can be fairly difficult, since plot twists in dreams can often seem to happen without any foreshadowing. However, from my experience of dreams, there often is foreshadowing – but it happens in a very different way.

Generally, if there’s a strong theme and/or emotion in a dream, then it’s going to take physical form in some way or another. Likewise, a character’s thoughts or fears about something within a dream will usually quickly end up taking form later in the dream (as I’ve discovered for myself during at least two nightmares! If a pile of leaves in a gutter looks like a giant spider creature or if an old scythe reminds you of the Grim Reaper, it’s usually not a good idea to think about it too much when dreaming!).

Regardless of whether you believe that it exists in the waking world or not, dreams contain a turbo-charged version of the “Law Of Attraction“.

So, if you’re going to include a plot twist in a dream, then it has to follow dream logic. What this means is that you have to either hint at it through strong themes/emotions, or you have to briefly show one of your characters either thinking about or feeling afraid about the possibility of some implausible event happening.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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What A Nightmare Taught Me About Plot Twists In The Horror Genre- A Ramble

2016 Artwork Nightmares and horror fiction article sketch

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote an article about writing (and storytelling in general). It’s also been a while since I wrote about the horror genre too. Even so, I’m going to have to start this article by talking about my dreams for a while.

As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later – although I should warn you that, since this is an article about both nightmares and the horror genre, it may contain some disturbing descriptions. But, I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

The night before I wrote this article, I had a nightmare (which was probably caused by the fact I was watching “Supernatural” at the time). It wasn’t really your garden variety anxiety dream, it was an actual nightmare – with creatures and everything. Well, one mythological creature of some kind, a monster hunter and everyone else.

The interesting thing about this dream was that it wasn’t actually seriously scary until the very end. Yes, this dream actually had a creepy plot twist.

The twist was, of course, that I (unknowingly) turned out to be the ancient creature that the monster hunter had been following. I haven’t even seen “The Twilight Zone” and even I know that this twist is taken directly from that show.

In retrospect, this melodramatic plot twist should have been obvious – given that the monster hunter shot me within two minutes of the dream starting ( at the time, I just assumed that he was aiming at someone else and had missed). Not only that, when I actually saw the bullet wound later in the dream – it was surprisingly small, almost painless and totally bloodless.

Then again, this wasn’t really that shocking for the simple reason that, in most other nightmares that I’ve had, any horrific injuries that I sustain are almost always totally bloodless and only mildly painful at most. It always seems perfectly normal at the time for some reason.

No, the really creepy part of the dream was the sudden change in the emotional reactions of everyone around me towards me when it was revealed that I wasn’t as human as I thought I was.

Although I overheard the monster hunter talking about the creature earlier in the dream (and mentioning that it can be harmed with milk), it wasn’t until after I’d seen my injuries in the mirror that the monster hunter suddenly appeared behind me and poured a glass of milk over my head.

Although the milk produced a theatrical cloud of smoke and some loud hissing sounds, it wasn’t particularly painful or frightening. It was everyone else’s shocked and/or hostile reactions that startled me into waking up quickly.

So, why am I talking about a nightmare that I had? What does any of this have to do with storytelling?

Well, it has to do with how plot twists are handled in the horror genre. As anyone will tell you, all good plot twists should be foreshadowed earlier in the story. To make a plot twist truly shocking, the reader needs to see a couple of subtle clues about it earlier in the story that theoretically give them a chance to work out the twist before it is revealed.

In the horror genre, readers expect a lot of strange and horrific things to happen. They expect tragedy, unusual characters and bizarre events. As such, there’s a lot more room for horror writers to hide clues about upcoming plot twists than there is in many other genres.

For example, I mentioned that all of the injuries in my nightmares tend to be totally bloodless. Most of the time, this just feels like an “ordinary” part of the dream – except for the one time that it was actually a clue that I was actually some kind of ancient creature. If this dream had been anything other than a nightmare, the fact that a gunshot hadn’t really hurt me much would have been a huge clue that something wasn’t right.

Another thing to remember about plot twists in the horror genre is that at least half of the shock value comes from the way that the characters react to these plot twists.

Yes, even if the twist itself is extremely shocking, it’s often only truly horrifying when the characters actually react to it. Regardless of whether they react with abject horror or with cold indifference, character reactions are an extremely important part of any plot twist.

Again, the truly frightening part of my nightmare wasn’t the fact that I was some kind of immortal ancient creature (since this, in itself, would be kind of cool). It was the fact that the people around me suddenly saw me as some kind of monster that had to be killed in the most horrific way possible. That was the true horror of the nightmare!

So, remember to foreshadow your plot twists carefully and – more importantly – remember that your characters’ reactions can make the difference between a scary plot twist and a silly plot twist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Tips For Drawing or Painting Your Dreams

2015 Artwork Two Basic Tips For Painting your dreams article

Dreams can be a really interesting source of artistic inspiration. Although they are unpredictable things and can often be rather boring and ordinary, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll have one really fascinating and memorable dream every once in a while.

Whilst you could write down a description of your dream – if you’re an artist, then it can often be far more interesting to make a drawing or painting based on your dream.

After all, dreams are usually visual things – so, it makes sense to record them visually in a painting or a drawing. But, how do you do this well? Here are two basic tips.

1) Choose a moment: Although it might be tempting to cram as much of your dream into your painting (or drawing) as possible, this usually just results in a terrible painting (even though it might be a good record of your dream.)

Trust me on this, I’ve made this mistake at least once or twice:

"Dreamt Dystopia" By C. A. Brown

“Dreamt Dystopia” By C. A. Brown

No, it’s usually a good idea to try to remember the most visually striking, dramatic, bizarre and/or memorable moment of your dream and paint that instead. Yes, it might not tell the entire story of your dream – but it will work a lot better as a painting.

The thing to remember here is that people will only usually see your painting for a few seconds if they are looking at it online, so you need to make sure that your painting is interesting in it’s own right without requiring a detailed account of the dream that inspired it. And, well, the easiest way to do this is to just paint the most interesting moment or image from your dream.

For example, here’s a painting of mine called “Cinema Diabolique”. It was based on a rather long dream I had last year but, as you can see, I chose the most dramatic and visually appealing moment from my dream for this painting:

"Cinema Diabolique" By C. A. Brown

“Cinema Diabolique” By C. A. Brown

2) Artistic licence: Although it might be tempting to make your dream painting as “accurate” as possible, it’s important to remember that a dream painting is a painting first and a record of a dream second.

What this means is that you may have to make a few changes, so that you dream painting works well as a painting.

For example, I had a dream the night before I wrote this article which ended with me stepping into a small room with pale blue walls that were covered with intricate scribbles in blue or red ink. There was a stairway at the end of the room and a mysterious man (in a dark coat) I’d been following in an earlier part of the dream was climbing them.

Whilst the original atmosphere and look of the room was rather cold, creepy, strange and desolate – I quickly realised that this wouldn’t work that well in my painting.

After all, if it was night outside and the man was wearing dark clothing – then the picture would contain nothing but cool colours (and look kind of dull). So, I decided to make the scribbles on the walls red instead, in order to make the man stand out more. Here’s what my final painting looked like:

"The Man On The Stairs" By C. A. Brown

“The Man On The Stairs” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, remember that your dream painting doesn’t have to be “100% accurate”. As long as it works well as a painting and gets across the basic idea of what happened in your dream, then feel free to make any changes that you think will improve your painting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Showing The Passage Of Time In Stories And Comics

2015  Artwork Stories time passage dream sketch

Although this is an article about how to show the passage of time in stories and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about my dreams (of all things) for a while.

Trust me, there’s a valid reason for this – although if you’re the kind of person who is bored by hearing about other people’s dreams, then you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.

Anyway, the day before I wrote this article, I had two of the most spectacular dreams that I’ve ever had. The first dream seemed to last for three months and it revolved around me going to live in a strange secret underwater city.

The second dream only seemed to last for three days and the only way that I can really describe it is that it involved me living in a strange parallel universe which was somehow both better and worse than this universe.

Of course, in actual terms, each of these dreams lasted for less than three hours (I know this because I woke up in between each of them – and because REM sleep phases are only something like twenty minutes long). But, in retrospect, I can understand how my dreams created the illusion of lasting for longer than three hours or just twenty minutes.

Basically, my dreams just did what most films and TV shows do and only “showed” me a few interesting moments from a much longer chain of events. They just showed me the “exciting” moments from a much longer series of events and let my imagination fill in what happened between these moments.

And, well, this made me think about storytelling and time.

You see, one of the great things about both comics and prose fiction is that, unlike film, they don’t take place in real time. You can describe two centuries in a few sentences (or a couple of comic panels) and you can spend twenty pages showing what happened within a single minute. In general, you are in complete control of how fast time passes in your story.

This is both a great thing and a terrible thing. On the one hand, it means that you can show everything in far more detail than a film ever can – but on the other hand, it also means that you have to be a lot more conscious about the passage of time in your story because, if it goes too slowly, then it will bore people and if it goes too quickly, then it will confuse people.

So, what do you do?

Well, if you’ve read enough books and/or comics, then you’ll have probably have already picked up an instinctive understanding of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to showing the passage of time in your story.

But, if you haven’t, then it’s important to remember that you should only show time in a “slow” way when something genuinely interesting is happening. The more boring parts of your story should be skipped over as quickly as possible or, if they’re not important to the story itself, left out of your story entirely.

I mean, if a new chapter of your story begins a day after the previous one, then most people are going to assume that nothing interesting happened between these two chapters. Their imaginations are going to “fill in the gaps” and imagine that your characters just went about their ordinary everyday lives in between the events of these chapters.

But, at the same time, try to make sure that the “gaps” between the interesting moments you show in your story aren’t too long. Whilst it’s ok to skip several years or months a couple of times in your story, if you do it in literally every chapter, then it might get kind of confusing after a while unless your story is exceptionally well-written.

Finally, and this probably should be fairly obvious, it’s always a good idea to signpost when your novel has “jumped ahead” in time. Usually, you can do this in a fairly subtle way – either through background details (if you’re writing a comic) or through a brief description like “later that afternoon…” or whatever.

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Sorry for such a basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Art And Dreams

...Don't you just hate it when this happens.

…Don’t you just hate it when this happens.

When it comes to sources of artistic inspiration, we can often overlook our dreams. After all, we don’t always remember our dreams and most people aren’t interested in hearing about them (for some bizarre reason I’ve never quite understood). But, if you are an artist, your dreams can be an absolute goldmine.

Even though I’ve already written an article about writing and dreams, I’ve recently realised that dreams are actually much more useful to artists than they are to writers.

Why? Because although the average dream might have a nonsensical “story” of some kind or another, the parts of dreams that we really remember are the things that we see.

Whether it’s a strange new location made out of a hodge-podge of familiar locations, a nightmarish creature, a surreal image or even just the general atmosphere of the dream – our dreams are absolutely crammed with fascinating images that we can put down onto paper or canvas.

Not only is this a quick (if somewhat unpredictable and unreliable) way of coming up with interesting and surreal ideas for paintings, but it also allows us to tell other people about our dreams in a way that won’t bore or confuse them.

Of course, the really interesting thing about dream paintings is that they rarely look exactly like the dreams that they’re based on. This might just be a reflection of my own artistic skills, but I think that it’s more due to the fact that you’re adapting something from one format to another entirely from memory (since you can’t exactly film your dreams). Not only that, you’ll probably have to change the composition of your painting in order to make it look more visually appealing too.

But, another satisfying thing about making art based on your dreams is that you will end up with a drawing or a painting that is almost like a souvenier. It’s almost like you have ventured into the unknown wilderness of your own subconscious mind and have actually brought something tangible back into the real world.

The reason why I’m writing about all of this stuff is because, a few weeks ago, I had a series of really fascinating dreams over the space of about two nights. If you’re the kind of person who falls asleep when you hear other people talk about their dreams, then you might want to skip the next two paragraphs.

This series of dreams included things like a visiting a cinema from hell and solving a gory Agatha-Christie style murder mystery in a creepy deserted house in France (the victim was someone called “Miqquebard” and the culprit was a man with a beard, if I remember rightly).

They also involved things like visiting a swanky party (and briefly meeting Suzanne Vega and Barack Obama there), trying to escape from a fortified council estate (whilst filming a documentary – there was also a brief cameo appearance by Aleks Krotoski in this dream too) and visiting a dystopic sci-fi factory/prison/spaceship.

When I woke up, I frantically wrote these dreams down and filled about eight A5 sketchbook pages with descriptions of them (as well as small sketches of the most important parts of the dreams) and I didn’t really think that much of it until a while later when it came to doing my daily art practice. I was feeling uninspired and I couldn’t think of a single decent idea of my own, so I reached for my dream accounts and painted this:

"Cinema Diabolique" By C. A. Brown

“Cinema Diabolique” By C. A. Brown

I also painted this other dream painting that will probably be posted on here tomorrow evening (along with a description of the dream). Although the full version of it is probably on DeviantART by now, here’s a preview of part of it:

"Dreamt Dystopia [PREVIEW]" By C. A. Brown

“Dreamt Dystopia [PREVIEW]” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, never underestimate your own dreams when you’re short of artistic ideas…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂