The fictional dream starts in the mind of the author. The weaving of this narrative can take, and I would argue that it should take, a lengthy period of time. The best stories, the ones that stay with us long after the last page, require time to percolate before they are written down. The writer’s dream becomes the reader’s dream via words on a page, which seems such a bland medium of exchange in a world full of astonishing graphics supported on sophisticated hardware, yet the simplicity of the written word belies its magic. A cinematic extravaganza delivers its imagery to us as a completed and sumptuous product, thus excusing us the mental effort of creating any scene for ourselves. A page of text invites us to involve our imagination in the process of absorbing the fictional dream, so every scene and every character become partly our own, embellished with details and implicitly shaded by elements of each reader’s ongoing dream. So less gives us more, if only we give enough time and attention to allow our full immersion.
An author with a story to tell should interrogate the candidates before committing any to the page. The first test is to ask what emotions do the characters evoke when viewed in isolation, then in the context of the story. They should be interesting in their own right, regardless of setting, and thus be ready to enter into any situation and increase the worth of the scene. This is what holds a reader in the story because such a character can come alive in the mind. Any deviation from the cast of characters – with their thoughts and voices and actions – can cause the fictional dream to fade, so the author should spread details of description and background throughout the text in small enough pieces to only slow but not stop the forward flow of the narrative. You only earn the right to digress once you have drawn the reader sufficiently into the story to give space for a little slippage. As you plan your story, you should ask yourself if you are maintaining the flow of the dream or disrupting it. Lyrical prose alone will not keep a reader engaged, but a vivid dream, either bold or subtle, will prevent a drift out of the story and back to the mundane dream outside your pages.