It was all a dream or It was a really realistic training scenario: Stuff I hate. And you do too.

It might be that I’m speaking out of hand about what you like or don’t like. There are millions of people with likes and dislikes. So, for now, unless you type “I agree” in a comment below, thus blowing up my ego, this is what I hate.  Some of you seven readers of mine may object to the term hate. It’s even in italics. Such a strong term, such a weak term: Hate is hackneyed. Let’s winnow this down to use the correct language.

Here’s what I see:
The Hero is plunged into the middle of a tremendous battle.  The odds are against him. There’s no way to win. Finally, his forces are overrun by the enemy and he is laying there dying, and then hears the words, “terminate exercise.”

Die, trope, die!  It is not a new idea. It’s been over-used in television, film, and fiction. Do not do this. Star Trek bloody loves this trope; holodecks, and the Kobayashi Maru thing spring to mind immediately, but it’s been done to death elsewhere. I have not looked at TV Tropes to see what they say about this, but I know they have a trope for it, and I know I hate it.

Why, Pontius, why? you ask.  It’s deceptive.  It’s not nice. It’s a weak way to try to introduce DANGER! and EXCITEMENT! into a dull portion of your story. Rip it out. Or, at the minimum, do not present it As If It Were Real Events.  It’s training. Make that clear. Then give your reader the real conflict of the scene/sequel.  It’s not that he’s going to die–it’s training, and they don’t usually kill you if you fail in training unless you’re with a sadistic organization, and then there’s a whole new source of conflict for you–it’s that there’s tension and conflict underlying the training that advances the plot somehow and permits us to emotionally identify with the protagonist.

Similarly, I loathe dream sequences presented as if the character is really there which are abominational devices because they are deception and give us false DANGER! and EXCITEMENT! that couldn’t be carried by the storyline normally.  If it’s a dream and the reader knows it’s a dream, why, we’re in on the gag and we can see it for what it is, a dream. That’s not to say you can’t have dreams, it’s presenting it as if it were not a dream that is pretty hinky on the things an author can do to you.

Both of these are prevalent enough in fiction that I sometimes discount a turn of events because there’s no context and think, bet this is just training of some kind. Wouldn’t make sense for them to be in this big ol’ battle at this point in the book. Which isn’t to say that I can’t be fooled, but I rarely am.