Why dream scenes don’t work

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I went on a mini-rant on Twitter about how much I dislike reading dream scenes.

I understand that dream scenes are supposed to give you insight into the character’s psyche, but they read as heavy-handed and make the writing feel lazy.

If a character has a fear of their father, for example, I don’t want to read about a dream the character has in which their father is represented by a giant stomping around their neighborhood, yelling in a booming voice and then transforming into a herd of spiders. Okay, in hindsight that actually sounds kind of awesome, but I still would much rather read about a childhood memory that shows why the character is afraid of their father.

Show me a moment from the protagonist’s childhood– that moment in the grocery store where the father kicked a display of cereal boxes and caused the entire mountain of boxes to come toppling down on top of the protagonist. Describe to me the sharp edges of the cereal boxes digging into your character’s arm. Tell me about the grocery store manager trying to calm the father down. Show me something like that.

Dream scenes are almost never enjoyable to read, anyway. They’re confusing and weird and it’s not much different from your spouse or your coworker telling you about the dream they had last night. Dreams are interesting when you experience them, but so boring to hear about.

Cut the dream scene out of your manuscript. Don’t take the easy way out. Your story will thank you, your characters will thank you, and your future readers will thank you.

Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL)

Last updated: December 2019

Mission Statement:

I look for books that delight readers, that help inspire wonder and imagination, that foster deep empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, that provide rich character representation of marginalized people groups, that take the reader on an adventure, that uncover fascinating stories from history’s footnotes, that explore issues of faith, that celebrate women and the female experience, that ask nitty gritty questions and don’t settle for easy answers, that make people disappointed when they have to close the book and go to bed, and books that add a touch of magic to readers’ lives. 

What I represent, in general:

  1. Picture books
  2. Middle Grade
  3. Young Adult
  4. Graphic Novels (MG/YA)
  5. Quirky gift books
  6. Devotionals for the Christian market
  7. Books for both the general market, and the Christian market

In 2019—This year I’m particularly eager to sign more:

  1. Picture book author/illustrators. Some of my favorite illustrators include Juana Martinez-Neal, Vashti Harrison, the Fan Brothers, David Litchfield, Anne Lambelet, and Emily Winfield Martin. I’m open to many different illustration aesthetics from hand-drawn to digitally rendered to unconventional mediums, and love having a wide range of styles on my list. I’m primarily looking for a unique, distinctive signature look. See below for more specifics on what I’m looking for in the picture book space.
  2. Graphic Novels. I’m looking for more MG and YA graphic novels. Some recent faves of mine: Pashmina, Making Friends, Pumpkinheads. I’d also love to work with someone who has a hybrid format similar to Brian Selznick’s works.
  3. YA Rom Com/Romance. Some favorites include Don’t Date Rosa Santos and When Dimple Met Rishi. I’m looking for a strong, commercial hook here.
  4. Mermaids. I want mermaid stories across the board! (PB/MG/YA). The catch here is that I’m not looking for the falls-in-love-with-a-human trope, the human-discovers she’s a mermaid trope, or an epic fantasy that features wars and kingdoms and sea politics. So I guess I want a… quiet mermaid novel? 

Visual MSWL—If you’d like to see a visual version of my manuscript wishlist, head over to my MSWL Pinterest board.

Client Books—If you’d like to see some of the books I’ve represented, head over to my Amazon list. (But don’t forget to support your local bookstore!)

Submission Guidelines—check out my submission guidelines on my agency’s website.

PICTURE BOOKS:

  1. Contemporary Families—I love books that reflect real-life families and their real life experiences, particularly families and characters who haven’t been represented as much as white families have in picture books. Examples: Hair Love, My Papi Has a Motorcycle, Honeysmoke, Under My Hijab, Alma, Julian is a Mermaid, Tell Me a Tattoo Story.
  2. Humor—I loved Maria the Matador, Dragons Love Tacos, The Bad Seed, When Unicorns Poop, Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, I Don’t Like Koala, Miss Hazeltime’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, Rot: the Cutest in the World.
  3. Magical books—I love anything by The Fan Brothers, David Litchfield, and Emily Winfield Martin. A few favorite magical books: The Night Gardener, The Antlered Ship, Ocean Meets Sky, The Bear and the Piano, Remarkables, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, Lights on Cotton Rock, The Traveler’s Gift.
  4. Mermaids—Send me all of your mermaids!
  5. Karaoke—I’d love a joyful picture book about karaoke, sort of like the karaoke equivalent of Hip-Hop Lollipop.
  6. Family + Cultural Traditions—I love picture books about family traditions, especially when there is food, cooking, baking, or recipes involved. (Think Fry Bread or Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao.) I’d also love to see other family traditions, like holiday traditions (loved Night Tree, Mooncakes), house-cleansing or blessing ceremonies/traditions, etc. I also love books like Home and A World of Cookies for Santa which shows how people around the world do the same kind of thing in different ways. Check out my client Tina Cho’s upcoming picture book My Breakfast with Jesus for another example of this.
  7. Atmospheric—I love a unique atmosphere/strong sense of place in books across the board. Because picture books are fully illustrated, they create the unique opportunity to create a really visually dazzling atmosphere, and I’d love to have more atmospheric picture books on my list. I loved Hello, Lighthouse, for example.
  8. Spooky—I love spooky stories! Ghosts, haunted houses, cobwebs. If it was somehow possible for an author/illustrator to do a spooky-yet-entirely-kid-friendly picture book about rusalka, I would die of happiness. See How to Make Friends with a Ghost for my spooky book crush, as well as an upcoming picture book called The Ugly Doodles by my client Valeria Wicker.
  9. Cats—My cats Maple and Mulberry take it extremely personally that I’ve sold seven books about dogs but have yet to work on a single book about a cat, despite the fact I am completely obsessed with cats. Please, somebody, remedy this!
  10. Raccoons—I know, I know, raccoons are vicious and terrifying. But they’re also adorable! I’d love to have a raccoon picture book on my list. Preferably a funny one!
  11. Creativity—I am very much a creative, so I love picture books about art and creativity, like the iconic The Dot, and Ish. I also loved The Wonder and Beautiful Oops.
  12. Funny Christian picture books—I would love to see more funny Christian picture books in my inbox!
  13. Historical Footnotes—I love lesser known stories from history, like Finding Winnie.

MIDDLE GRADE:

  1. Own Voices—I love slice of life stories with a strong voice, like Front Desk. I’m eager to have a diverse swath of identities and experiences represented on my list.
  2. Magical Realism—This is my favorite genre in any age group, so I’d love to have more of it on my list.
  3. Graphic Novels—Some recent faves of mine were Pashmina and Making Friends. I’d also like to put out into the universe: I would die for the next Brian Selznick type of creator.
  4. Mermaids—Note: I’m happy to look at any mermaid project, but I’m not looking for the girl-discovers-she’s-a-mermaid narrative here.
  5. Historical Fiction—I am a history nerd and love historical fiction that feels like it’s uncovering a fresh story, especially a narrative that has been glossed over in textbooks. I recently loved Ship of Dolls.
  6. Mystery—I’m hungry for a good mystery! I will never forget reading The Dollhouse Murders when I was in fifth grade and having to close the book because I was so scared. I want to work on books that inspire that same level of book-induced fright!
  7. Epistolary Novel—I’d love an epistolary novel between two pen pals, or some sort of unique format.

YOUNG ADULT:

  1. Graphic Novels—I am really eager to acquire more YA graphic novels. A recent fave of mine is Pumpkinheads. I’d love to find something equally as atmospheric and fun!
  2. Mermaids—Like I said up above, I’m looking for something very specific here! I’m not looking for an epic fantasy, or a story in which someone discovers they’re a mermaid or a mermaid falls in love with a human. I want a quiet mermaid novel that shows what life under the sea is like in a dreamy, magical way. Something that a non-genre reader could get into.
  3. Rom-Com—I’m dying for a rom-com with a high concept instant hook. I’d love a concept like When Dimple Met Rishi with the lyrical writing of Don’t Date Rosa Santos.
  4. Thriller/Suspense/Mystery—I am a sucker for a good whodunit. I loved One of Us Is Lying, and am currently loving the Truly Devious series. I also loved the mystery at the heart of Patron Saints of Nothing.
  5. Contemporary Realistic—In contemporary realistic YA, I’m looking for a distinctive, voice-y writer who writes in the same vein of Robyn Schneider/John Green/Angie Thomas.
  6. Magical Realism—I’m looking for the next The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. This is my all-time favorite book!
  7. Atmospheric—I love books with a very strong atmospheric setting—boarding school, lighthouse, forest, things like that. Pull me into your world! I love flowery descriptions.
  8. Unique Form—I love stories that are told in unique formats like letters, emails, texts, etc. I loved Technically, You Started It.

ADULT BOOKS:

  1. Quirky Gift Books—I represented The Compendium of Magical Beasts, which is all about the anatomy of magical creatures, and would love to represent more gift books. I’m open to different topics and styles, but here are a few topics I’m specifically interested in: linguistics, science, historical footnotes. I’m also open to interactive journals with a great concept—would love to find the next Steal Like an Artist series.
  2. Concept-Driven Photography Books—I’d love to do a drone photography book, for example. I’d also love to do something with a humor angle, like The Art of Clean Up.
  3. Lifestyle Books—I love books that toe the line between lifestyle, culture, and cookbook/craft book—like Scandinavian Gatherings, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, How to Hygge, The Year of Cozy, etc.
  4. Devotionals—I’d love to represent more concept-driven devotionals for the Christian market. I represented a knitting devotional called Knit, Pray, Share and loved the specificity of it. Would love to do more devotionals with unique hooks!

NOT QUITE MY CUP OF TEA:

  1. Memoirs
  2. Sports stories
  3. Erotica
  4. Space operas
  5. Amish Fiction
  6. Angel/Demon narratives
  7. High/Epic Fantasy
  8. Stories with a “dreamscape” element