John Gardner, best known for his book Grendel, was also known for writing about writing. He wrote On Moral Fiction, The Art of Fiction, and On Becoming a Novelist. One of his main ideas was that fiction, if well-done, should create a sort of dream state for the reader. Everything in the story should contribute to maintaining and/or strengthening that dream.
I’ve always thought Gardner’s idea spot-on. A story should coax the reader into a dream and then float him along on a smooth current of other worlds, other times, grand adventures, sights and sounds woven directly into the imagination.
One of the main difficulties with the fictive dream is that you never know exactly what lulls people to sleep (and then into dreams) these days. Not that you should be writing things deliberately tailored to the audience. You should be simply writing a good story. However, our modern times is notorious for its splintered sensibilities. If you select any random dozen people off the street, you very well might end up with several nihilists, an evangelical christian, one dazed Occupy Wall Streeter, two Dutch tourists, and an IRS agent. What lulls one person into a dream will not necessarily work for the next person.
Our collective mind’s eye is splintered. The internal lens is shattered and each shard is looking at the universe from a different angle. The focal lengths do not match up. The really good stories, I think, somehow transcend that impediment. They are few and far a between.
There are, of course, those people who can never be lulled into the fictive dream, but that’s because they never dream at all. Rather, they have nightmares.