Thursday, September 20, 2012
Nonviewpoint Character Scenes
Most writers know the viewpoint character stars in her own scene. Her Goal, Motivation and Conflict followed by Disaster are the critical elements that make up a scene. If we remember these points, we’ll write successful and hopefully, riveting scenes. GMC.
But sometimes an author has to break the rules. Once in a while the agenda (GMC) of a nonviewpoint character takes center stage and the hero/heroine is acted upon instead of the person controlling the action.
The important point is: At the end of the scene, Disaster still befalls the heroine. She seldom wins her struggle until the end of the story since she must suffer before she triumphs. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In most scenes the viewpoint character has a GMC. She’s in the spotlight. That’s the classical structure.
But occasionally the nonviewpoint character arrives with a stated goal and initiates the scene. The nonviewpoint character has the Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, but the reader still experiences the action through the eyes of the viewpoint character. Does this make sense?
For example, Mary is a bank teller. While she’s depositing money for a customer, her mind is in neutral because this is a routine task. Then a man shoves a gun in her face and demands lots of cash. With no other option in sight, Mary complies and hands over all the funds in her cash drawer. So the rat has stolen both Mary’s $ (really the bank’s) and Mary’s scene as well.
This is Disastrous for Mary but a great success for the robber. He attains his scene goal while Mary is acted upon.
In Love on a Dime, Lilly Westbrook’s goal at the beginning of the story is to keep her identify as a dime novelist hidden. But then her new publisher and former love arrives at Summerhill with the intention of finding the real person behind the pen name of Fannie Cole. Jack Grail’s goal is Disastrous for Lilly. She’s being acted upon and now she has to respond in some way, not just hide.
In most books the heroine is pro-active with a GMC. It’s tricky to write a story where the heroine is being acted upon because she can seem too passive.
Below is a part of a scene from A Path toward Love where the widowed Katherine has just returned to her parents’ summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains. Right from the beginning her mother tries to take charge of her life, the last thing Katherine wants.
Her mother continued, “I’ve arranged all sorts of activities for you. It’ll take your mind off your sadness. You’ll have a busy summer ahead. I know you’ll enjoy every moment.”
Katherine kept her voice steady and steeled herself for a protest. “I need some time to readjust before I step back into society.” Holding her breath, she glanced sideways at Mama and hoped she’d let her comment pass. Perhaps she’d mellowed with age.
Her mother’s eyebrow arched. “Readjust? To your own home? That seems quite unnecessary. Ludicrous, in fact.” A scowl slid across her face. She wasn’t used to having her plans questioned.
Katherine cleared her throat, clogged with fear. She might eventually have to concede defeat, but not yet. “Losing Charles and then running the groves for two years on my own – it was an ordeal. I’m hoping my time here can help me recover, in part.”
Mama looked askance for several long moments. “You can’t mourn forever, dear.” Then she grasped Katherine’s hand in an unexpected gesture of love and understanding. “I don’t mean to sound harsh. You’ve been through a dreadful time. But you must get on with your life. The sooner the better.”
Katherine’s mother is trying to impose her own agenda on Katherine. In her own genteel way Mama is shoving a gun in her face just like the bank robber.
Another variation to the normal scene occurs when bad news for the hero comes by way of good scene news for the antagonist. Whatever method the author uses, the scene should end in Disaster for the hero because this moves the story forward.
Can you think of any examples of a nonviewpoint character barging into a scene and taking over with her own agenda?
If you’re interested in winning a copy of A Path toward Love, please leave a comment and your e-mail address.