It’s Just a Dream

While this is a semi-common question in any writers’ group, I have seen it or a variation of it pop up three of four times in the last two weeks in one specific group.

What if my main character wakes up at the end of the story and it was all just a dream?

New writers seem particularly interested in this and ask if it’s doable, if readers will be okay with it, or how to do it well.

In general, my answer is NO. Don’t do this. Let’s look at the reasons why the answer is no, and then look at ways you could still explore this trope without upsetting the reader.

So, why is my answer a fairly hard no? First of all, it’s lazy writing. A lot of writers fall back on this when they have pushed their main character too far, stuck them in an inescapable corner, taken something critical from them, or done something unforgivable to them. But it’s okay! It was just a dream! See, the character is fine. No. Just no. If you’re going to be mean to a character, commit to it, don’t flinch away from it, and don’t cross boundaries you or your reader aren’t comfortable with in the first place. As for inescapable corners – go back, redo your outline, fix the plot holes, put some work into your writing and fix it so the hero can fight or think their way out.

Second, it’s not as neat, cool, unpredictable, or surprising of a twist as you think it is. Alice in Wonderland is perhaps the most famous of these stories where Alice is written into an inescapable situation (at least in the movie version, I’m rustier on the written version, apologies) and wakes up. There’s supposed to be a lingering question as to whether it was a dream or not, but considering that her body never moved from her sister’s side? The Wizard of Oz is another, this time the adventure being the dream/hallucination of the main character while she’s knocked out. Again, there is some question as to whether it was fully a dream or not, and in the books at least, she does go back, and in Oz, they know she was really there. The relationship between Oz and our reality is blurry, and the question of Dorothy’s body during all of this is, as far as I know, unanswered.

Third, you’re cheating the reader. Every hobby has a cost. The cost of supplies, the cost of time, the cost of effort. Reading comes at the price of the book (or a trip to the library), the cost of the time it takes to read that book, and an investment of interest, emotion, and attention. That’s why you write engaging characters in the first place, isn’t it? You want the reader to care what happens. You want them to be scared for your character, to cheer for them, to flip another page to see what happens next, to find out how the character escapes or succeeds. As a reader, when I have invested several hours of my time, as well as emotional energy into a character and a story, I want a satisfying ending. “And then he woke up” is not satisfying. But why? Simple. Because none of the trials, stresses, or dangers that I was invested in, none of the risk I was worried about and none of the rewards I was cheering for, matter. They were never real. So, why did I bother reading this book if none of it mattered? And why would I bother picking up anything else by that author?

But, sometimes dreams can be useful, as short term or long term plot devices. How do you use them properly? (And by properly, I mean, in ways that won’t upset your reader).

  1. Short dreams – dreams that are used to show the character is haunted by or scared of something, dreams that reveal snippets of memories, dreams that reveal prophesies or warnings – these are good, useful plot devices. They can deliver manageable chunks of backstory, they can provide foreshadowing, they can develop a character. I tend to make sure my reader knows it’s a dream – either by adding obviously surreal elements or by saying straight out “she knew it was a dream …” or “that dream always haunted her” or “the memory of the dream stayed with her when she woke” at the start of the dream sequence. This isn’t necessary if the dream is short enough.
  2. Dream entering as a superpower or ability – When a character can mentally enter the dreams of another through psychic abilities or magic. Again, this can be useful for sharing memories or backstory, both with the reader and between characters. It can be used to show how a character could tamper with someone’s dreams and the effects of that. Or, the dream world could be a physical realm with its own rules of engagement and physical risks (like dying here means you die out there sort of thing). This makes it less of a cop-out and more of a portal fantasy. Again, make sure the reader knows when they are in a dream and when they are in the real world.
  3. Replace the dream with a book, a magic realm, or a computer simulation – like The Matrix or The Neverending Story. In Altered Carbon, they had digital spaces too. Again, make sure the reader is aware of the setting, and changes in the setting. One of the reasons that The Matrix worked was because what Neo thought was reality was the simulation and he was woken up early in the movie as part of the plot of the movie – not as an escape from the plot of the movie. You also have characters moving willingly between reality and simulation.

The biggest thing to remember is that readers want REAL STAKES. If you cheat them out of the ending, then the stakes, the risks, the dangers, the growth of the characters, it all means nothing. If you are going to use a dream world, or some variation of it, the stakes have to remain real, the risks have to be real. Don’t cheat your story by weakening the impact of your climactic scene.

Other points to remember: own your story and your writing choices, don’t flinch away from difficult situations or choices; clarity is key, make sure the reader knows at plot appropriate times when characters are dreaming and when they aren’t; waking up isn’t a fix for plot holes or bad writing, do the work, fix your story, find a way to get the characters out.

Author Spotlight – LV Gaudet

Today’s post is an author spotlight/interview with LV Gaudet. This post, and the review I’ll be posting next month, were scheduled by the author via Silver Dagger Book Tours.

LV Gaudet writes dark mysteries and thrillers. She also writes for YA audiences under the pen name Vivian Munnoch. As LV Gaudet she has 7 books, as Vivian Munnoch she’s published 3.

Let’s head straight to the interview!

Author photo_270x400

Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?

When you are writing about serial killers and you ask someone, “Do you think I should just look this up online or go ask the RCMP (Canadian federal police)?” the answer will be, “No!”

If your McAllister series was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?

Groot. Just kidding. But, hey, wouldn’t that be fun? An evil Groot who scares the daylights out of the movie goers?  Honestly, I couldn’t say. I’m going to say the killer is that lead, since that’s whose story the series essentially follows. Someone charming but not too charming; and not too good looking. I would want the character to ring as real life and you just don’t get that in a gritty movie with plastic good looks. They would also have to play the mood swings well and be able to be disarmingly charming one moment and terrifying black rage the next.

Anything specific you want to tell your readers?

At some point in reading the McAllister series, you might wonder where the story takes place. You might search the books for a name, a location, any clue where the story is happening. That’s kind of the point. Hint: It’s near you. Surprisingly near you, wherever you are. I don’t give it a location because it can be anywhere. It is anywhere and everywhere.

How did you come up with name of these books?

Coming up with the name for Where the Bodies Are was horrible. Nothing felt right. I finally settled on taking a line literally out of the book, ‘…where the bodies are.’ I had to think fast because I had an Indy publisher putting the book out and I needed a title then and there.

The McAllister Farm was easier. They are the McAllisters and they live on a farm. Hunting Michael Underwood and Killing David McAllister are pretty much just explanatory names. They describe what the books are about. And titling the whole thing the McAllister series just made sense since the series focuses on them.

What is your favorite part of this series and why?

That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I can pick just one. Writing the scenes with Nathan, the character who was not even supposed to be in the story, was fun. When timid Marjory McAllister is forced to stand up against the bullying town ladies, watching this nervous little thing shine with her own inner strength. When Lawrence Hawkworth, the cowardly and not-so-moral reporter visits the old town hardware and lumber store and the old guys yank his chain. I laughed at that. I can keep going and going.

If you could spend time with a character from one of your books in the McAllister series whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?

Little Sophie McAllister from The McAllister Farm. Frankly, she’s the only one that doesn’t scare me. We would probably pick some flowers and play with those kittens in the barn.

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

My characters are all purely fictional people. I use random observations of people and their behavior to build their personalities, but I do not base them on anyone. I even try to avoid using names of people I know just to avoid anyone wrongly thinking the character is based on them. I had to change Jim McNelly’s name for that reason. It was originally John McNelly. Then I knew a John and changed it.

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?

I’ve seen this analogy used many times in writer groups and blogs, that the characters somehow developed a life and will of their own and refused to listen to the writer. I kind of get where people feel that way, the story can feel like it takes on a life of its own. I think it’s more of where the story needs to go isn’t necessarily where I wanted it to go as the writer. And sometimes I get off track and take the story in an unexpected direction.

Convince us why you feel your series is a must read.

Do you like a story that is dark? Scenes that might shock you out of your comfort zone? Do you want to know where the bodies are?

Maybe I should convince you and your readers why you should not read this series. What if you can’t put it down? What if it makes you second guess what you thought you knew about the world you live in? What if the things you believed you knew about serial killers was just so … much less than the possibilities?

Here are two poems I jotted off that might help convince you why you should not read this series.

Walk In the Woods

When you walk in the woods and your nose picks up that slightly unpleasant musky smell.

When you look at your neighbor with new eyes and wonder… Could he? Is she?

When you see two vehicles parked tail to trunk, alone, silently brooding.

When that car seems to be following you just a little too long.

When someone does not answer their phone.

Do you know where the bodies are?

Where the Bodies Are

Where it is dark, cloying, musky. In

The place no person treads. Where

Bodies silently rot flesh from bone. Secrets

Are hidden in undisclosed graves.

The corpses silently cry. On

McAllister ground far away. In the

Farm of graves insects feast.

Hunting the lost and forlorn. Not a

Michael or any other can hide. In the

Underwood, the dark earth beneath the cowering trees.

Killing is desperation to send the darkness away. Where

David is the man of no name, no face, no man. On

McAllister ground far away corpses silently cry.

Thank you, LV Gaudet!

Even with these warnings, I’ll be reading the McCallister series this month and posting a review of the series on October 17th.

Individual reviews of each book will be posted on Amazon (.com and .ca) and on Goodreads.

Silver Dagger Logo


Where the Bodies Are

McCallister Farm

Hunting Michael Underwood

Killing David McCallister

The Gypsy Queen

Garden Grove

Old Mill Road (New Release)

The Latchkey Kids (as Vivian Munnoch)

The Latchkey Kids 2: The Disappearance of Willie Gordan (as Vivian Munnoch)

Madeline and Mocha (New Release as Vivian Munnoch)

Comma Little Bit Closer

Sorry, I’m a sucker for a good pun … and a bad pun…

Today I want to talk about punctuation specifically as it applies to dialogue. Authors should keep in mind that the US, UK, and Canada may have slightly different rules for this. I’m Canadian, and I read mostly works published and formatted for a North American audience.

Quotation Marks

North American industry standard is to use the double quotation mark to indicate spoken dialogue. “Like this”. Depending on the font you use, they will be curlier or straighter. ‘Single quotation marks’ are used to indicate thought (more on thought and inner dialogue later) or indicate that a word or phrase is being stressed or singled out in some way. (No, not ‘those’ apples.)

Dialogue Tags

A dialogue tag is the ‘he said’ or ‘she asked’ that is put before, after, or in the middle of the dialogue line to tell the reader who is speaking it. Generally, they are separated from the dialogue with a comma.

“Talk first,” she said. (Here, the comma is inside the closing quotation mark and the s in she is lower case)

He said, “Talk later.” (Here the comma is before the opening quotation mark and the t in talk is upper case)

“Can we compromise?” she asked. (Here, the question mark replaces the comma but the s in she is still lower case – this also happens when an exclamation mark is used)

He said, “No, we cannot compromise!” (Here, the comma remains between the tag and the opening quotation mark, even though the period is replaced by the exclamation mark. Note, too, that the period in example 2 and the exclamation mark in example 4 are inside the quotation marks)

“Please,” she pleaded. “I just want to know what’s going on.” (Here, the comma comes inside the closing quotation, as in example 1. The period between the tag and the second portion of the dialogue can be a period or a comma, but it must come before the opening quotation mark)

Using words other than said is a contentious point of debate in the writing community. My preference is to let the spoken words and the action/description tags (which I’ll talk about next) convey the emotion and intent of the dialogue. However, if used sparingly throughout the book, words like pleaded, moaned, groaned, gasped, chortled, etc. can be useful in conveying tone of voice.


Action/Description Tags

When you replace the ‘he said’ with an action that happens alongside or immediately following the dialogue or replace it with a description of the scene or the character’s emotions, the rules around the tags change.

“Talk first.” She slammed her hands down on the table. (The comma has become a period because these are two different sentences now instead of parts of one sentence)

He shook his head. “Talk later.” (Again, 2 sentences separated by a period)

“Can we compromise?” Her lip trembled as she struggled to hold back tears.

His chair dragged loudly over the floor as he burst to his feet. “No, we cannot compromise!”


Combined Action and Dialogue tags

When you combine the ‘he said’ with the action he is performing as he speaks, the rules shift slightly again.

“Talk first,” she said, slamming her hands down on the table. (Here, the comma inside the closing quotation has returned and the action is added to the sentence with another comma)

He shook his head and said, “Talk later.” (Here, the comma before the quotation mark is back and the action has been added before the tag, joined with an ‘and’)

“Can we compromise?” she asked, her lip trembling. (The ‘s’ in she is lowercase again, indicating it is one sentence and the action has been added with a comma)



Sometimes a character talks too much and the dialogue requires paragraph breaks. To show that the same person is still talking, you open the quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but do not close them until the end of the speech.

He stood before the crowd and began to speak. “My dear friends, it is an honour to speak before you today. Lots of talking. Talking. More talking. Gee this guy talks a lot.

“That is what it is so important to address this issue today. So, I’m going to talk about it a lot. And some more. I have a lot to say!

“I don’t want to keep you all day, but I like the sound of my own voice so I’m going to talk a little longer. So, thank you for coming to listen to me.”



Adverbs generally end in ‘ly’. They are words that add a condition to another part of the sentence.

He ran. He ran quickly. He ran desperately. (Quickly and desperately are adverbs).

Adverbs are overused in writing. One suggestion I came across was to use an adverb if it turned an expectation on its head.

She smiled. We know a smile means happy so saying “She smiled happily” is a waste of a good adverb. It doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence or clarify a detail. “She smiled sadly” on the other hand means something very different from “she smiled.”

In dialogue, we often add adverbs to the end of a dialogue tag to add emotion. “He said sadly” or “She said happily”.

As I mentioned with words other than said, I prefer to let the dialogue itself, the actions, and the descriptions, do the heavy lifting. Adverbs in dialogue tags should be used sparingly.

“Talk now,” she said angrily. (because the adverb is tacked on the end, there is no change.

Angrily, he said, “Talk later.” (Again, no change, except to add the adverb to be beginning with a comma.

Don’t combine adverbs with words other than said. Shouted angrily. Sobbed sadly. Cried loudly. One or the other UNLESS it is required (and really, really consider if it’s necessary) for clarity in some way.


Thoughts and Inner Dialogue

There are several options, and all of them are correct. The key to writing a character’s thoughts or inner dialogue, or to writing telepathic exchanges in fantasy or speculative fiction settings, is consistency.

Option 1: single quotations. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. ‘But what I think is written in single quotations,’ he thought. (Note that the comma usage around the quotation marks is the same whether it’s double or single.

Option 2: italics, no quotation marks. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. But what I think is written in italics, he thought. (Note that the comma usage at the end of the italics is the same as if there were quotation marks)

Option 3: italics with either single or double quotation marks. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. ‘But what I think is written in single quotations,’ he thought.

I use option 2 for thoughts and option 3 with single quotations for telepathic dialogue. Whatever you choose, you must use a single option for the entire book to avoid confusion.


Written Communications

Emails, text messages, PMs on social media, scrawled notes, written letters … sometimes our characters need to write things down or read things that are written down. As with thoughts, there are a few ways to do this, and consistency is key.

Option 1: single quotations

Option 2: italics

Option 3: italics with quotations

(Do not use the same format for written communication as you do for thoughts)

Option 4: Bold

Option 5: Other punctuation marks. In The Underground I use ~ for short messages like texts. ~Answer your phone. ~

Option 6: Block quotes/modified margins – this is when you adjust the margin, so the body of the text has a 1” margin on left and right but a letter or email (especially if it’s several paragraphs) has a 1.5” margin on left and right

Option 7: Use the narrative to indicate it’s written (He read the letter) and use the same quotations as a speech


Questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll answer it for you. If you feel I’ve missed a special case/type of dialogue or if you have other options for thoughts and written communications, comment and let me know.

The Story Bible

That’s not a typo. I’m not talking about Bible stories – I’m talking about story bibles, or story canon. A story bible is a document, folder, or other reference device used by writers to keep their fictional world straight and consistent.

But how do you create one?

Start by recording all the unchangeable facts about your “world” – how your magic works, the climate, the seasons, the calendar, distances between locations, etc.

Next, make a list of characters – their birthdates, gender, name, family connections, backstory. Add to this how they are tied to various plot lines or other characters (best friends, romantic interests, enemies, allies).

Make a list of changeable facts – government, titles, corporate positions, allegiances, etc.

Lastly, make a list of all major plot points, the dates they occur, where they occur, who is there, and how that event changes any of the above facts.

Add to this as you add characters and events.

Why do you create one?

For consistency. Sometimes you have a single author building an extensive universe and a world bible will help them keep their facts straight. It is essential if you have a co-author so you can both stay on the same page. It is common for TV shows as well, where they employ multiple writers, often with a different person handling each episode. Events from each episode are added to the story bible so the next writer knows what has happened, what everyone knows, and the key personality traits and plot points.

It’s all about keeping your facts straight.

The Underground Cast Overview

I don’t want to pull a JK Rowling with this series of books, so I’ve done my best, in the books themselves, to make the nationality and sexuality of each character, as clear as the story allows. Now, as the final books are coming out for the Christmas season, I want to be even clearer by introducing some of the main characters and clarifying what the canon stance on their sexuality and nationality is.

Shawna Grieves – she comes out as a lesbian in book 4 and by the end of the series she has a steady girlfriend. I didn’t know that about her when I started writing book 1. She came out to me as I was working on book 3.

Maggie – she never explicitly comes out but by the end of the series, she’s Shawna’s girlfriend.

GIRL2 – she is one of Cheyanne’s friends in the bonus novella. While nothing is explicitly said about her, her friends go on about her hating drama and the “kissy faces”. She is Asexual and I really wanted to show her as a normal person with great friends who totally accept that she has no interest in dating.

GAY – he’s one of Cheyanne’s friends as well and is openly gay. He has a boyfriend and the two of them exist in the background of Cheyanne’s story.

Cheyanne – while Cheyanne is straight, she is unique in the story because she’s the only character who is expressly stated to be not-white. Shawna and Ethan’s father is of Irish heritage while their mother is German. Ethan and Shawna mention someone they’ve seen around the Complex as being black but he’s an off-page character. Cheyanne is the only other character whose nationality is mentioned, and she’s Ojibway (Anishinabe).

These books are geared towards 10-15 year old readers. I wanted the books to be fun, fast-paced, and full of drama, but I also wanted them to be safe reads. There’s no swearing and minimal violence. There are a few kisses but zero sexual content. And because of that it gave me the chance to portray a variety of characters without sexualizing them – they’re kids, pre-teens, on a mission, trying to survive, trying to find answers, first and foremost, and everything else is just a part of who they are.

As for why? My answer is, why not?

August Recap

I’m a few days late but here’s August in a nutshell. I wrote zero words.

That’s all folks!

Okay, so July ended off with me taking on a paid editing gig for a talented writer from the US. 80k+ words, epic fantasy, real D&D spin sort of thing, right up my alley. I spent all of my available computer time in August working on that and finishing up other projects.

  • Finished a paid editing job
  • Finished the edits and formatting on The Underground books 6-8, including fixing a major plot hold in the ending sequence (like series killing big)
  • Did the edits and reformatting on the Nothing Everything Nothing second edition
  • Published The Underground books 6-8 and Nothing Everything Nothing second edition in paperback and ebook

On the personal front, we started off August with a trip to BC to visit my sister-in-law. When we got home, we finished up school supply shopping and fit in all the remaining “things to do during summer vacation” – including the swimming pool and taking my husband to the zoo to pet the stingrays (so cool).

We ended off the month by adopting a cat. He’s a 4-month-old rescue from the Humane Society, came in as a kitten with his mother and litter-mates. He’s a white and silver short-hair tabby with a beautiful swirl pattern on his back and yellow eyes. We’ve named him Zephyr (but he’s often called Shithead or Dingus by me and Fluff Butt by the kids).

What’s up for September?

We’ve got to get the cat acclimated to the house and eventually introduced to the dog. The kids are going back to school (hooray!) I have a show on the 8th and possibly one on the 14th if all goes well. My baby sister is turning 30. Oh, and there’s a black belt test at the end of the month (I’m not eligible to test but my master is testing for his next dan so I’m excited to go). We also have the academy award dinner at the end of September.

Writing goals include finishing Zoedar Book 2 (we’re at 83k right now and 21 scenes to go), write up all the TV, movie, and book reviews I haven’t gotten around to yet, and look over the notes on Zoedar Book 1 that my extremely awesome beta reader provided.

I’m at 344k words this year. That leaves me 17.5 weeks to write the remaining 176k. That’s just over 10k per week, which is right on my usual goals. Guess I ate up all the buffer time I’d built up earlier in the year. It’s nose to the grindstone time to finish off the year strong.

Wish me luck!

I’ll check in again in a month.