I just started reading "Brightness Reef" by David Brin. It's a great book thus far; Brin has a style that was difficult to penetrate initially, but it's paying off in some seriously engaging depth (the kind of depth you suspect monsters lurk under).
Anyway, this isn't a specific criticism of Brin (since it's something I think just about every writer does), but I realized he commits one particular felonious bit of literary skullduggery over and over again: let us call it, The Highly Significant Dream.
I've done it. I've read it elsewhere. And it's alluring: it's hard not to perceive dreams as meaningful, possibly portentous, and perhaps even as pseudo-lifeforms in possession of wisdom our conscious minds can't access. But what's funny is, dreams in books seem to bear no resemblance to real dreams--my real dreams, anyway.
The book-dream--The Highly Significant Dream--is usually riven with imagery: fires, deluges, bright lights, etc. Real dreams, as I understand from a little research/experimentation in the field of lucidity a few years ago and simply from the observation of my own sleep-visions, are mostly about people, not things; and I, for one, have never had a dream about a blankly malevolent force--the kind you read about in books.
Real dreams, I suspect, are much more intensely personal than the literary kind. Case in point? The other night I dreamed I was drinking with my friends. I don't think this is a subconscious metaphor for a lurking drinking problem or the more-distantedly-envisionable "washing away" of artistic hopes and dreams. I'm pretty sure my subconscious was just thinking: "Hey, man, you haven't hung out with your friends in a while. Why don't you go drinking with them tonight? In your dreams?"
The funny thing is that this dream is more revealing about my actual character than were I to be, say, drowning in a pool of lava, calling for help to a ghostly figure on a distant, storm-lashed cliff. But if I were writing a story about myself, I would probably metaphorize the subconscious/emotional reacton to absent friends with this lava-storm-ghost-story, and not the more visceral simplicity of an actual dream.
Anyway, from now on I'm going to try and write dreams for my characters that aren't, y'know, total bullshit.