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Novels Aren’t Movies – Book Editing for Dramatic Omniscience

Omniscience for writers.

Writers sometimes understand omniscience only as it is shown in television and movies, which is dramatic omniscience. It is not narrative omniscience. Dramatic omniscience really, really sucks when applied to narrative. 

That’s because dramatic omniscience lingers on the surface of things. It cannot penetrate below the surface unless some clunky device like a voiceover is used. It must, by its nature, focus on what the characters are doing and saying, on what their reactions look like.

book editing for dramatic omniscience

Dramatic Omniscience vs Narrative Omniscience

Narrative omniscience allows the author to go below this surface, to play with text, to create an interplay between words, narrator, and character, to widen our psychic distance from the character or dive deep into their heart. Narrative omniscience can do things dramatic omniscience can only dream about. 

But sometimes novelists end up using this dramatic omniscience where they are the awkward camera recording the story world without, it seems, even being aware they’re using words to do it. They seem to think they are filming a movie:

Natalie, a tall blonde about thirty years old, looked out the window. The storm clouds were piling up and the palm trees were starting to bend and creak in the wind. She moved to her bed where her suitcase was open and started piling clothes in it. She was nervous, so she moved quickly. She closed the suitcase and grabbed her shoulder bag and checked to make sure her keys were there. She held them in her hands. They were. She grabbed her suitcase and ran for the door. Little did she know that she’d left her insulin behind, the kit sitting on the vanity in the bathroom where she had forgotten to pack it.

You can see the screenplay, can’t you? 


INT. BEDROOM: Natalie, a tall blonde about thirty years old, looks out the window. 

EXT. SKY AND TREES: The storm clouds are piling up and the palm trees are starting to bend and creak in the wind. 

INT. BEDROOM: Natalie moves to her bed where her suitcase is open and starts piling clothes in it. She looks nervous, and moves quickly. She closes the suitcase and grabs her shoulder bag and checks to make sure her keys were there. 

CLOSE UP: Keys in the palm of Natalie’s hand. 

INT. BEDROOM: Natalie grabs her suitcase and runs for the door. 


ZOOM IN: on the insulin kit sitting on the vanity in the bathroom 

In a movie, there’s an actor to give life to the actions, a musical score to emphasize the drama of what’s happening, and brilliant pictures that show us exactly what’s going on. But as a narrative, where’s the spark?

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