Two (and a Half) Flavors of Dream Quest

Yesterday, I talked about the dream quest, the pseudo-supernatural, pseudo-symbolic trip through a not entirely real realm for the sake of goods, power-ups, fixes to otherwise nigh-on-impossible problems, or understanding of one’s own psychology. One thing I’ve noticed about these dream quests is that they tend to fall into two major types, each of which features its own set of uses and advantages.

The first type of dream quest is internal—the character is wandering about her own dreamscape. While I’ve seen many objects to this variety of dream quest, one thing seems to provide a common thread—something about the goal almost invariably ties in with the character herself. Most often, this is knowledge about her own psyche, or powers that she always had the potential for but had never entirely unlocked; when it’s an outside item, or external knowledge, usually there has to be some sort of link or resonance between her and whatever she’s seeking. Often, the character has more resources than she realizes (particularly if it takes her a little while to realize that she’s dreaming), being able to consciously affect the landscape to a certain degree by virtue of being its overall container and thereby master.

The second type is external. These are the ones where the quest is running through somewhere that isn’t the character’s head, often some other sort of supernatural realm or a shared dreamworld. Going to the spirit world? Hitting up Lovecraft’s Dreamlands? Wandering to the edge of death to get someone back before they finish dying (…okay, assuming this isn’t a Garth Nix book)? Right here. There’s far less limitation to the quest object in worlds like this; since it’s actually in wherever the character is running around, rather than being brought in through some sort of supernatural loophole, it can be almost anything (though psychological revelations are much rarer). Physics are somewhat more set, and somewhat less in the main characters’ favor—on the plus side, usually they have a slightly better idea what they’re doing.

Then there’s Type 1.5. It’s sort of internal, in that the setting is the inside of someone’s mind or dreams, but at the same time, it’s external, in that it isn’t the mind/dreams of anyone on the quest. I most often see this when trying to fix something that’s gone broken—the character might be ill, possessed, shut in by trauma, but either way, something’s wrong in there and the dream holds the key, often in that “this would be impossible if not for the symbolism” sort of way. Physics can get really interesting here, since they are under someone’s some-flavor-of-conscious control—it’s just not the characters’.

So before you send someone out on a dream quest, figure out where they’re going.

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