Question: I've been working on a story for about a year, a little bit here, a little there. This is my first attempt at a novel. I'm about 20,000 words in and up until today I wasn't sure where the story was ultimately going. My question is this: can my protagonist, who is also the narrator be a character who technically only exists in the dreams of another person? If the story teller doesn't actually exist in the real world, how can his story be told in first person? Please help!
So who's telling the story, the protagonist or the dreamer? Whoever it is will be the one the reader is most likely to identify with and see as the main character.
You have to choose whether you are writing a story about a man who discovers he is only someone else's dream, or about someone having a dream about a man. Whose inner conflict will the reader be privy to or relate to the most?
One clue: whichever of these two must make an important choice at the climax that determines the outcome of the story will be your main character.
If the protagonist is the main character who is telling the story to the reader, then he will be the "I." If the dreamer is narrating the story about the protagonist, he will use 3rd person most of the time, only using "I" on occasion when referring to himself.
Of course, the other possibility is to make both these characters point-of-view characters and change points of view now and then.
One thing is certain: you can't have "I" refer to more than one person at a time. Readers need to know whose head they are in at any given moment.
Regarding your question whether such an arrangement can be done, one similar example that springs to mind is the film The Neverending Story
, in which the main character reads a book about the protagonist and most of the film's action is the protagonist's story.