“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” Thus begins one of my favorite books of all time, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
It starts with a dream.
Writing advice often warns us of the dangers of inserting dreams into our narratives. Dreams interrupt the forward momentum of the story’s action, and even worse, the protagonist is asleep. Inactive. Passive. For some readers, dreams are a personal dislike, as is the debate about prologues.
But I think this dream opening works perfectly, even after 77 years of writing style changes. Because…
This dream establishes the narrator and makes it quite clear up front that she knows it’s a dream. The reader is not being fooled (at least, not about this).
The dream setting of Manderley with its overgrown grounds, magnificent enough to have a gatekeeper’s cottage (abandoned, of course!) is a lot more intriguing setting than the ordinary hotel room where the narrator sleeps.
The dream—a nightmare, really—establishes the tone of suspense. It hints at change, danger, love, fear, hurt, and loss. Something dreadful happened to send the narrator away. Those dreadful happenings still cause her to have nightmares about the place, even though enough time has elapsed to cause the grounds to become overgrown.
The dream establishes the mystery. Something devastating has happened to cause such a grand home to become neglected. Who were these people and why did they abandon such a magnificent place?
This dream pulls me in, every time I re-read it. What do you think? Do you like to read about dreams?