The problem with backstory, of course, is that it’s inert, which is why it’s back and not frontstory. Frontstory is ert. We the authors have two choices, either leave backstory in some little lump somewhere, where it will be a great weight that slows our story down (Boo! Hiss!), or we can throw our backstory ruthlessly and without compunction into the hopper of our imagination and grind it into little tiny bits, so we can mix it in with our front story and no one will notice, but you get extra flavor and nutrition anyway. Yay, flavor and nutrition!
Dream-sequences are the Vita-Mixers of backstory, although Vita-Mixers don’t have hoppers. Mixed (get it? Mixed?) metaphors aside, dream sequences are great ways to include the backstory element, i.e., the content of the dream, into a front-story element, e.g., the dream itself, in such a way that it contributes to the development of the character and thus propels the story. If it’s done right. If not, it’s just dreck.
So, how do I do dream sequences? Since I believe in general that people mostly think in pictures, it follows that in a dream sequence, pictures will be almost the entirety of the content, if not all. If I do put in words, that will almost always be dialog, most likely a memory of something someone already said, and very short. Possibly musical. In St. Martin’s Moon, for example, Joseph Marquand has a dream in which, at one point, he hears someone calling his name down a stairwell, “Jo-ey. Jo-ey.” That sort of thing. The stairwell was current context, but the name was the name his girlfriend who died used to call him, thus bringing the girlfriend (whose name–don’t laugh–is Bing-Bang) and the horrific manner of her death into the present context, where…
I have an idea. Next post will be about flashbacks.