Real Dreams Are Weirder

Urn yanked at the lever that lowered the screw into the water. His eyes glowed almost as brightly as the lightning.
"Now there's a power," he said. "Harnessing the lightning! The dream of mankind!" ...
"Is it? It's not my dream," said Didactylos. "I always dream of a giant carrot chasing me through a field of lobsters."

It can often be useful — or at least funny — to contrast the coherence of metaphorical or plot-driven dreams with "realistic" dreams that are far more bizarre.

When people actually dream, it doesn't make sense. Things happen in random orders, for no good reason. Nevertheless, "dream" is an incredibly potent metaphor. We use "dream" to mean "aspiration", and "nightmare" to mean "fear". Fictional characters are also likely to have meaningful dreams of some variety — either because they may have a supernatural ability that gives them these dreams, or just because, due to the Law of Conservation of Detail, only their meaningful dreams are reported in the story.

All this means that most of the time, when fictional dreams are described, they're considerably more coherent than real dreams ever are. A savvy author may point this out by throwing in some dream elements that are just as weird as non-fictional dreams, either to contrast with the plot-relevant stuff or to disguise that it's there at all.

In one common version of this, a character is put in a position where "their dreams will come true." Unfortunately, it's meant literally. So it means their life becomes strange and non-linear, not that all their deepest desires are suddenly satisfied. Similarly, some people may use this for Literalist Snarking when someone else says, "I'm Your Worst Nightmare."

This often involves Word Salad Humor or, if it's a Nightmare Sequence, Word Salad Horror. May also overlap with Surreal Humor or Surreal Horror. Other characters may dismiss a particularly trippy dream as an Acid Reflux Nightmare. May be the cause of a Waking Non Sequitur.

Examples

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    Fan Works 
  • A Shadow Of The Titans: Tarakudo uses this trope to keep Jade from realizing she's stumbled onto him messing around with her subconscious — he conjures multicolored mushrooms and ducks in top hats, then turns himself into a basketball with a mustache.
  • National Anthem : In Chapter 7, Link describes for the readers a highly lucid "sensitive" dream that he is having and proceeds to describe the difference between his important dreams and his regular, weird ones:
    "Most of my dreams are the standard weird stuff without any clear meaning, rhyme or reason. I had one about having conversations with telepathic meat, once. Then there was the one I had not long ago in which I had to barbeque a case of tube socks or dinosaurs would eat me."
  • In Digimon 02 The Story We Never Told, this is how the Emperor makes his debut to Davis in chapter 2.
    Davis: Who the hell are you?
    Emperor: I'm your worst nightmare come to life.
    Davis: Bullshit! You ain't a ten-foot-tall hydra with my sister's face on all of yer seven heads!
    Emperor: I concede; I'm not THAT nightmare.
  • In My Life Is A Goddamn Mess, Minato wishes he had the kind of "normal" dreams that don't make sense, instead of the plot-relevant ones he tends to actually have.

    Film — Live Action 
  • From Loaded Weapon 1:
    Mr. Jigsaw: I'm Your Worst Nightmare.
    Jack Colt: No, waking up without my penis is my worst nightmare.
    Mr. Jigsaw: Okay, alright, so I'm not actually your worst nightmare. But I am right up there.
  • Peewees Big Adventure - Waitress Simone confides her wishes to break free:
    Simone: Do you have a dream?
    Pee-wee: Yeah. I'm all alone. I'm rolling a big doughnut, and this snake with a vest...
  • The Golden Child. The Big Bad communicates with Eddie Murphy's character in a dream, lampshaded by him because of all the weird stuff happening such as the live Studio Audience, a unicorn trotting around inside the house, and the scantily-clad heroine being tied up with toilet paper.
  • In Canadian Bacon, when John Candy's character is threatening a mountie played by Stephen Wright (long story), one of Candy's friends says "We're your worst nightmare." The mountie then proceeds to ramble his actual worst nightmare, a dream where he was lost in the Yukon being chased by wolves, and there were these tall skinny rabbits...

    Literature 
  • This is a common joke in Discworld novels:
    • In Hogfather, Teatime announces, "I'm Your Worst Nightmare!" When he's taken too literally, he then has to clarify that he doesn't mean "The One with... the giant cabbage and the sort of whirring knife thing" or a bunch of equally improbable things, but rather "the one where this man comes out of nowhere and kills you stone dead." "Hey, that one isn't all that scary compared to the oth—"
    • In Small Gods, Urn says that harnessing the lightning is the dream of mankind, and Didactylos replies "Is it? I always dream of a giant carrot chasing me through a field of lobsters."
    • In Eric, the description of the demon guarding the gates of Hell says "it would be a lazy use of language to say that the thing that answered the door was a nightmare. Nightmares are usually rather daft things and it's very hard to explain to a listener what was so dreadful about your socks coming alive or giant carrots jumping out of hedgerows. This thing was the kind of terrifying thing that could only be created by someone sitting down and thinking horrible thoughts very clearly."
    • The Wee Free Men has a bit where Rob Anybody describes "normal things gone wrong" as one of the nightmarish threats in Elfland, and Tiffany recalls having surreal nightmares about being threatened by a sugar bowl, or a pair of her late grandmother's boots.
    • Played subtly for horror in Witches Abroad:
      Genua was a place where all dreams came true. Remember some of yours?
  • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the "island where dreams come true" is a horrifying place where nothing makes any sense.
    "This is the land where dreams — dreams, do you understand — come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams." There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armor, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before... For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had -- dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again -- and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Divination teacher expects her students to have significant dreams, so they lie about having these instead of the silly ones. Harry also has a number of rather bizarre and nonsensical dreams throughout the series as well as his more meaningful ones. It borders on a Running Gag at times.
  • In Aunt Dimity Goes West, Lori goes from the recurring nightmare of being shot and menaced by Abaddon (back home in Finch) to dreaming of blue-eyed cocker spaniels, who remind her of the Colorado cabin's young caretaker Toby.
  • In The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Richard Cook has several dreams he claims to be prophetic visions, but rather ruins the effect by concluding his description of one with "and then after a short further dream about getting into a bath full of Smarties wearing a Batman costume, I woke up".
  • G. K. Chesterton remarked in one of his essays that this is the reason many literary dream sequences just don't ring true. Real dreams aren't allegorical or artistic; they're weird. [1]
    When the hero tells us that “last night he dreamed a dream,” we are quite certain from the perfect and decorative character of the dream that he made it up at breakfast. The dream is so reasonable that it is quite impossible. [...] When the aged priest in a story narrates his dream, in which the imagery is dignified and the message plain, we are free to yield finally to a conviction that must have long been growing on us, and conclude that he is a somewhat distinguished liar.
  • In Chris van Allsburg's The Sweetest Fig, the protagonist gets a pair of magic figs that the giver says will make all his dreams come true. Unfortunately, that apparently includes dreams about him walking his dog in his underpants and the Eiffel Tower sagging over like a deflated balloon.
  • In Ender's Shadow, Bean has a dream where thousands of people are fighting, only for a giant shoe to stomp them all. Wearing the shoe is a laughing Bugger/Formic. The dream clearly seems to deliver An Aesop about "despite all the squabbles on Earth, we must remember that we face a greater enemy or we'll all die." However, Bean dismisses this, thinking dreams don't have morals, they're just random firings of our brain that we assume is a narrative. The only thing it can tell me is what I feel. He then decides the REAL moral of the dream is "Don't be one of the scurrying ants. Be the shoe."
  • In The Jennifer Morgue, Bob can tell his dream is really weird as it follows a linear structure (seeing through the eyes of Ramona Random via 'destiny entanglement") instead of featuring camel-headed spider gods trying to get him to sign a Microsoft User Agreement.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In season 2, Buffy has a dream about opening an office-supply warehouse in Las Vegas, mixed in with her more prophetic dreams about Drusilla and Angel.
    • Additionally and in reference to this, in the season 4 finale, the First Slayer comes into each of the main character's dreams to kill them. All the dreams are filled with metaphors and symbols which reflect the characters' histories (and even some foreshadowing), but each of them is at some point interrupted by the sudden appearance by a guy offering slices of cheese and Meaningless Meaningful Words-ridden advice. Afterwards, while they are debriefing over the experience, none of them have any idea what to make of this guy.
  • Angel. In "Soul Purpose" Angel has a number of Anxiety Dreams reflecting his current fears, but is rather puzzled by the presence in one dream of a man in a bear suit.
  • The Comic Strip Presents: Didn't You Kill My Brother?
    I had a dream, my friends, oh yes, I had a dream — then suddenly my dream changed, and I was standing in a swimming-pool full of small brown puppies — and each of the puppies had the face of a 19th-century politician — and then one of the puppies, that had the face of Lord Palmerston, suddenly started screaming at me, "Where's the spoons, where's the spoons, where's the bloody spoons?"
    ...Any questions?
  • In Blackadder 2, Walter Raleigh says he's brought Queen Elizabeth lands beyond her wildest dreams...her response is to ask if he's sure because she's had some pretty wild dreams, like the one where she was a sausage roll, or the one where there was this enormous tree and she was sitting right on top of it.
  • Obviously, given that the main character is a psychiatrist and a lot of episodes focus on psychological issues, dream sequences in Frasier usually are symbolic and meaningful. However, some dreams are totally nonsensical, like Daphne dreaming about Queen Elizabeth drinking cocktails with Martin on the latter's balcony. Also, in one episode Frasier has a recurring dream about being in bed with Gil, which he thinks means something and which he tries to analyze, but upon pondering the details, winds up realizing that the dream actually makes no sense and has nothing to do with anything in his life.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Doppelganger", the problem of the week is an alien entity making everyone have nightmares in which Sheppard is trying to kill them. The team meets for lunch, everyone compares their Sheppard-dreams... and then McKay, who hasn't been affected yet, talks about his nightmare about Carter inviting him to dinner, serving him lemon chicken (given his strong citrus allergy) and telling him she's promoting Zelenka over him, after which he gets eaten by a whale.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Phantasms", Data's new dreaming program gives him his first nightmares, including workmen breaking apart the ship, himself being unable to speak without making a high-pitched squealing noise, mouths appearing on strange parts of people's bodies, an old-fashioned telephone inside his own chest cavity and Troi turning into a "cellular peptide cake with mint frosting" which he cuts up, causing her to scream. The crew eventually hook Data up to the holodeck to experience these dreams in person. It turns out that his dream program is trying to warn him that interphasic organisms (the workmen) have infected both the ship and the crew and are feeding on their cellular peptides and he can destroy them by emitting an interphasic pulse (the squeal he makes). A highly surreal and disturbing episode.
  • On Joan of Arcadia, while God does occasionally talk to Joan through dreams, her normal dreams also include Adam as a dog and evil koala bears in hats.

    Music 
  • In the Flight of the Conchords song "Like In My Dreams" in which Mel wishes the world would be more like what she dreams it to be— including singing cookies, randomly getting pregnant, going to school naked, and having all her teeth fall out.

    Video Games 
  • One of Max's election speeches in Sam & Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die! plays on this.
    Max: I have a dream, America! It starts out where I'm in an all-nude production of Death of a Salesman on ice, but I haven't studied and I can't remember my lines. Suddenly, it begins to rain marshmallows, but that's okay, because trees are made of graham crackers, and chocolate bars are the official currency. I believe that by working together, we can make that dream a reality!
  • The third story in Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star takes place in a dream the heroine is sharing with Nageki. They take a train across the stars, hop off to explore one called the Holiday Star, meet an oddly animated forwards King who's very timid and has RPG quests and sometimes just appears... They find their other friends in various odd roles in the dream, like Okosan as the Divine Messenger of Pudding (of course) and Shuu as a chef who wishes to cut up and cook people. Then it turns out that this is a shared dream that does not have origins with any of the dreamers - it's an element of the afterlife, and the King will not let them leave now that they have visited.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, one of the messages randomly generated by a disco horoscope is "Your dreams will come true this week! Specifically, the dream in which twinkling lights surround you like fireflies while you're disemboweled by a rabid shark."

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • From The Onion:
    • Our Dumb Century has the headline: "MLK: 'I had a really weird dream last night.'" The article has King describing a really weird dream he had the other night, concluding that he has no idea what on Earth it meant.
    • Their horoscope section once had the prediction "You will soon meet the woman of your dreams, the one where every tooth in her mouth has its own screaming face."
  • Mervin lampoons the lack of dream-weirdness in Twilight in her own sporking of the series.
    Bella has just basically dreamed of a glowing, sparkling Edward. She doesn’t know he’s a sparklepire, so why is she dreaming about it? Not to mention that that is one specific dream she’s having. Man, last dream that I had that I can remember that could be construed as symbolic in any capacity was the one I had the night my period came to visit. I dreamed I was having a baby. And it was Kurt Russell’s. So, my body was craving babies, and since I find Kurt Russell hot (and because I’d caught the last twenty or so minutes of Overboard that day), it wanted me to go out and have Kurt Russell’s babies. So I dreamed it. But where are the weird parts that usually go with the dream? You know—like the fact that I was having the baby out in the middle of a hospital lobby? Dreams are usually very surreal and weird and just… Not Right. Not so with Bella, apparently.

    Of course, the majority of dreams aren’t even LIKE that. They are more like what I dreamed once while in college—I opened the door to Hyde’s and my dorm to discover the entire floor was covered in perfectly aligned, neatly stacked individually-wrapped blueberry muffins from Otis Spunkmeyer. And Hyde was at her desk, sitting like nothing was wrong, and had no feet—her ankle stumps were just sitting on the floor, surrounded by muffins. Sure, that’s disturbing. But the muffins, man…THE MUFFINS. DOZENS OF MUFFINS, JUST SITTING THERE. For some reason, that freaked me out in the dream, so I was spazzing seriously when I woke up.
  • In the Homestar Runner cartoon "Donut Unto Others", Homestar claims that his idea to open his own donut stand came to him in a dream... a dream in which he was "a French long-jump champion with eight wooden legs". Even sillier, the ensuing Imagine Spot shows Homestar as a one-legged, Mexican champion at the high-jump.
    Marzipan: (deadpan) And... that made you want to start a donut shop?
    Homestar: Yes sir! Like I said, it's a boyhood dream of mine.
  • This College Humor comic compares Dreams in Movies (which are always fairly coherent and obvious) vs. Dreams in Real Life (which range from mundane to completely nonsensical).

    Western Animation 
  • In the Adventures in Care-a-Lot TV series, all the Care Bears share a dreamspace where they tend to have rather mundane dreams (where they do the same things they tend to do in their waking lives), so it was rather refreshing to see the bears having more dream-like dreams in the Share Bear Shines movie.
    "We just met a lamppost, and it's our best friend!"
  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack makes note of this:
    Skymaid: "Keep wishing, and all your dreams will come true!"
    Flapjack: "Even the scary ones?"
    Skymaid: "Ahahahahahahahahahahaha!... (Nightmare Face) YES."
  • In the Phineas and Ferb special "Summer Belongs to You," Candace calls her Love Interest Jeremy while he's in Paris (where it's the middle of the night):
    Jeremy: Actually, it's funny you called, 'cause you were in my dream just now.
    Candace: (smitten) Really?
    Jeremy: Yeah, it was weird, you and I were in this Dixieland band, and there was an iguana playing the oboe...
  • Home Movies - the guys are confronted by the angry goalie Brendon got a goal off of (by the ball bouncing off his face):
    Jason: (snorts) That is so old! Huh? Let me wipe the cobwebs off that line! ...but technically my worst nightmare to date is: I'm sitting in a high chair, and I'm breast-feeding my own mother, and she suddenly opens her mouth and I see my father's head...
    Cho: Yeah yeah yeah, all right, I get it, shut up! You're giving me the creeps.
  • Justice League:
    • In contrast to the dreams of the rest of "Only a Dream", the Flash's dream (before Dr. Destiny turned it into an inescapable nightmare) was a surreal romp that included giant frogs in the fridge, cannibal children, and watching cartoons of himself while a small boy picked at the plot holes.
    • In another episode, Supergirl had a dream where she went out, chased, and murdered a guy. She went to Martian Manhunter, who wasn't sure what to make of it, since it was far more linear and logical than normal dreams. It wasn't a dream, it was a shared memory between Supergirl and her clone.
  • Ugly Americans had a twist on the phrase "a dream come true", with Callie bringing Mark's dreams into reality... including such sights as Doug (the Koala-man) riding a saddle on Frank's back, and Callie looking like his naked mother.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Chille Tid", Steven quickly realizes there might be something to his reoccurring dreams about Lapis Lazuli because they're relatively more coherent than his other dreams (which include imagining himself and the Crystal Gems as the stars of a cheesy sitcom, or flying with Dogcopter).