How Much is Too Much?

One of the best things about omniscient narration is that we can show anything thing we want, but this can be the worst thing too. The problem is that the ability to jump between time, space and characters means it can be tempting to show everything which can be far too much. Some things need to be held back or we won’t have a story because the reader won’t have to wait to find anything out. This is one of the reasons why I suggest that we don’t think of the omniscient narrator as the reliable narrator because they can tell us anything but obviously don’t.

Revealing too much in a first draft doesn’t matter, we can easily change it during editing, but when we’re editing we do need to be aware of how much we’re revealing. Do we want to show the antagonist plotting their dastardly plan to bring down the hero, including twist that the reader and hero would never see coming? Do we want the hero to lay out how they will defeat the villain or have that moment where there doesn’t seem to be a plan right before they win? Do we want to flashback to the character’s past and reveal everything or is this just taking up pages with unnecessary information?

While these are all questions we must consider for any type of narration they’re important to omniscient narration in a different way because we can enact them all. In first-person/subjective we’re limited to the character who is speaking to us, therefore only what they saw. In limited omniscient narration we need a clear break between narrators and will likely only have a selection of point of view characters who can’t see everything. In omniscient narration we can have one character’s thoughts on an event and then in the following paragraph another character’s thoughts, or we can move place altogether to another collection of characters in a different time. This flexibility makes it all too easy to forget that we don’t need to show everything.

When we’re writing omniscient narration it’s important to remember that what we leave out is as important as what we leave in, either because it slows the story too much or reveals too much of the story. For example, in the Star Wars films would the story have been improved in Vader had been revealed as Luke’s father earlier? The camera could go anywhere so why not drop in on a conversation between The Emperor and Vader where The Emperor suggests being Luke’s father would cloud Vader’s objectivity? However, if we did this the impact of the famous moment would be lost because the audience would already know and Luke could look overdramatic as the audience might think he should’ve figured it out. As the film stands the moment has impact because Vader has been built up as Luke’s nemesis, the evil Sith Lord. By the reveal Vader is the worst person we could possibly imagine being Luke’s father, though we may or may not suspect this, and we’re right there with Luke going, ‘Noooo! This is terrible.’

So while we can show everything as an omniscient narrator it doesn’t mean we should. We need to carefully consider the type of story we’re telling and how best to achieve the impact that we want. As with many things sometimes less is more.


Article Archive 1

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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