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.


  1. Hi, Cara.

    Thank you for the post. I wrote two scenes yesterday where my heroine's father tries to impose his will upon her. Today I hope to write a scene where the town imposes its will onto my hero.

  2. Good morning, Christina! You're up late and I'm up early. I think we're among the few who aren't going to the ACFW conference. Next year.

    I like writing nonviewpoint character scenes because they remind me of my own life. I'm just living my life minding my own business when someone usually a friend comes along with something for me to do that I don't want to do!

  3. Cara, a great reminder for me this morning. I want to look at all my scenes and honestly evaluate who's running the show.

    But for now, I'm starting the coffee pot. Darn, why didn't I have HELEN show me how this new one works...

    I made scones - almond scones, and currant scones, and a nice cheesy egg bake that is just about to come out of the oven. Not sure how many will be here today and not in Dallas...

    May God bless our fellowship and our families and our desire to write for Him as we remember He is the author of our own stories --and he's NYT bestseller good.

  4. Hi, Debra! Thanks for the coffee. I'm already on my second cup. I love anything almond! Beats a piece of toast.

    I hope everyone at conference learns a lot and comes home to give the rest of us a report. I've gone to 6 or 7 ACFW conferences and got so much out of each one. I'm glad I'm here at home for this one though because I have a cold and an awful sore throat. So sometimes things work out for the best.

  5. I love those scenes of unexpected peril or risk at another's hands!!!

    Cara, I've never seen this explained better. You rock.

    How's your cold, honey??? I'm sending you hot lemonade and Ruthy biscuits to get you strong for our upcoming we have to run Seekerville and therefore the world weekend extravaganza!!!!


  6. Love this explanation. It is something I use regularly in writing but never had defined for me.


  7. Can you think of any examples of a nonviewpoint character barging into a scene and taking over with her own agenda?

    I would be a perfect example of that.

    Hi from Dallas, Texas where sleep is optional but fun is mandatory.

  8. Hi Cara, Great lessons here. I have a secondary character in the book I'm working on now. Must go over these points to make sure he's doing what he is supposed to. smile

    Debra the scones and egg bake hit the spot. You did super on the coffee.

    Tina-sounds like you're having fun.

  9. Gotta love those outside forces that jump start our characters into action.

    Great post this morning, Cara.

  10. Cara, I was up late because of my cold. Actually, I think it's allergies. The farmers cut the fields last night. I'm so grateful they had something to cut with the drought, but boy howdy, I could do without the sniffling and constant sneezing. *g*

    Debra, love this morning's blessing.

  11. Excellent post, Cara! This is a great reminder for me as I write! Thanks.

  12. Oh, I'm back now and thanking Deb for coffee... Oh, I love you!!!!

    Cara, that's so stinkin' true!!! We get thrown off the path by those inadvertent side swipes....

    Oh, I love your brain!!!!

  13. Thanks ladies. I guess I figured out the coffee maker. Restaurant sized - I feel like a Barista!

    And I'm getting plenty of editing done.

    I hear WIFI is free at the conference, so no excuses, people!

  14. Oh - this is so VERY helpful, Cara! I'm going to have to use this on occasion - never even considered it!

    PLease enter me :)

  15. Ooooo, interesting subject, Cara, and gosh, you made me think this early in the morning, which is not easy to do!!

    I think I may have done this in my upcoming release, A Love Surrendered, when I have a tense kitchen scene with the O'Connors in the mother's POV. The father experiences heart pains because of an argument that ensues when the tomboy foster child is suspended from school for breaking a boy's jaw with a bat. So it's a serious scene that SHOULD focus on the mother's angst, but I do believe it's actually the ragamuffin foster child who steals the show with her wild-eyed belligerence, which shocks me now, because I didn't realize it!!

    VERY interesting topic, Cara!!


  16. Ruthy, thanks for the bisquits, but I'm not sure about HOT lemonade. Is that a non-alcoholic toddy?

    Hi, Natasha!

    Tina, do the mandatory and forget the sleep. Do that on the plane going home.

  17. Cara, what a great and interesting post! Thank you for sharing.
    Campbellamyd at gmail dot com

  18. Julie, your scene sounds wonderful! It's fun to let the reader know how the pov character feels about her 'scene' being stolen from her. It shows her character!

    Sandra, so you're not at conference either? Three years ago Sandra and I were roomies at the ACRW in Denver. She was my tour guide to the Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park. Did I get that right???

  19. Christina, I hope you feel better soon! I sure commiserate. At first I thought I might have an allergy, but it's lasting so long, I must have a cold.

    Hi Bridgett, Jessica, Joanne and Amy! Anyone posting from conference?

  20. Christina, I hope you feel better soon! I sure commiserate. At first I thought I might have an allergy, but it's lasting so long, I must have a cold.

    Hi Bridgett, Jessica, Joanne and Amy! Anyone posting from conference?

  21. Great explanation, Cara, even if you did get my blood boiling all over again remembering 'dear' Mama! Grrrrrr. This is an interesting angle to think about re. secondary characters. I haven't approached them that way before.

    I'm reading a suspense by Margaret Daley -- thinking suspense is full of 'imposing' characters -- all those bad guys forcing their will on unsuspecting heroes and heroines everywhere!

  22. So, SO sorry I didn't make it back yesterday, guys and gals! I did just leave a comment on Ruthy's post if anyone is interested..

    Cara Lynn, I find this a very interesting post. On one hand, I'm a very organized person. On the other hand, I'm very unorganized. That is, I don't care too much for formulaic type writing. When I attended a conference class on writing the romance genre, I was disheartened. I didn't want my books to be formulaic. I wanted them to be fresh and raw and true to life.

    I think I know what you mean about a nonviewpoint character scene, but I'm not sure. I don't know... this might be a bit of a spoiler, but its the only example I can think of that might fit which I have at my fingertips (from my unpubbed book, Finding Beth):

    And Mom and Dad… She sucked in a deep breath. She could have so easily lost her daddy before making things right. Thank you, Father, for giving me another chance to heal the rift between us.

    She pulled away from the tree. Time to head home and spend some time with them before going to bed. If Adam didn’t call tonight, she would call him tomorrow to make sure everything’s alright.

    A strong odor wafted through the air. A stick snapped behind her. Her heart froze. She jumped as a strong arm lassoed her waist. A cloth clamped over her mouth and nose. Panic ping-ponged off the walls of her mind. She sucked in fumes and coughed as she struggled to pull away. Her chest started to spasm. Her hands and feet tingled.

    No! Not now! Oh, God! Not a panic attack now!

    Her head swam and she fought to keep from passing out. She twisted, turning her head left and then right. She needed to scream, but he held her too tight. Her vision tunneled and her limbs grew weak.

    God help me!


    O couldn't get the html tags to work on my italics. Sorry. But, is this what you mean by a nonviewpoint character scene?

  23. I just read Ruth Axtell's Her Good Name (which I won in a giveaway and thoroughly enjoyed).

    She has a character named Christina who has major designs on the hero. Christina tries to hi-jack every scene she's in. We get to experience that helpless "What do I do now?" feeling from both hero and heroine's perspectives. It's very nicely done.

    Lovely and useful post, Cara.

  24. Hi Kav, Linnette and Andrea!

    In real life you'll find you may be trying to say something in a group and someone comes in or interrupts and the whole discussion gets switched around. Your point or comment is lost. Your goal was to get something across and you couldn't. I think this happens a lot. Sometimes men hijack conversations without even realizing it! Just my personal opinion. Sometimes it's a woman who likes to be the center of attention. I think it happens in life more than in books.

  25. I think you have it, Linnette. The scene comes to the reader through the viewpointcharacter's eyes--we see her reactions etc. But someone hijacks the scene and imposes his goal on the viewpoint character.

  26. i find this post interesting, even though i am so not a writer, but a reader. i never thought of scenes in quite this way before. Thanks for sharing with me.

  27. Hi Cara:

    I’ve read your post several times and I see many variables that seem worth investigating.

    There are many types of GMC. There can be the GMC for the overall plot. This should provide the ARC for the plot. Then there can be GMCs for individual scenes. Even in one scene there can be multiple GMCs. Consider the bank robbery scene. There is one GMC for the heroine -- not to be killed in the bank robbery. There is a GMC for the bank robber – to get the money and get away free. The scene’s GMC is to advance the plot line. (The heroine’s is going to be accused of complicity in the robbery.)

    There are also many cases where a story has multiple POV characters. In “A Love Surrendered” there are probably ten POV characters. While it is a romance between hero, Steven, and heroine, Anne, their story line only seems to take up half the book.

    I’ve read the kitchen scene where the father has a heart attack and there are several major characters in it. All of which may have been POV characters. It is very hard to determine who’s head the reader is in. In fact, I would say that the scene is in omniscient POV because so much is described as external – that is, what’s happening that can be seen by anyone in the room (and not through anyone’s specific eyes). I could find only one thought (internal) expression in the long scene. (Please, God, no, not again . . . )

    From, “A Love Surrendered”

    Dark curls quivered on Gabe’s shoulders as she shook her head, her short, jerky motion betraying her guilt.

    “Well, suppose I enlighten you,” Patrick said, the gray eyes mere slits of charcoal, “and tell you all about my visit with Sister Mary Veronica tonight—”

    “She hates me,” Gabe shouted with a sudden pool of tears, “and she lies.”

    “Something you have in common, apparently,”
    Patrick said with a clamp of his lips.
    “Did you break Victor Kincaid’s jaw?”
    “Don’t lie to me, Gabe,” Patrick said, latching on to her arm, “I want the truth!”

    Marcy took a step forward, hand to her throat. “Patrick, please . . .”

    Marcy gasped. “Gabe, no . . .”

    “It was an accident,” she whimpered, squirming away from his touch.

    “You will pay for this, Gabriella Dawn, you mark my words. I will—” He stopped. The air seized in Marcy’s throat when he winced, hand clutching his chest.

    “Patrick?” She touched his arm, hysteria rising in her voice.

    “Patrick, what’s wrong?” Please, God, no, not again . . .

    He staggered back, his breathing shallow and rough.

    “Pop!” In one violent surge of Marcy’s pulse, Steven was at his father’s side.


    This is a great scene. It might be the most powerful scene in the book. (And it’s not even between hero and heroine). Even with all the many viewpoint characters in Julie’s multibook series, I never once had to reread a passage because of confusion over POVs. (That’s about 3,000 pages!)

    I’m not sure how Julie does this but it works. Perhaps you can comment on the above passage (which I shortened a little to save space).


    P.S. Please put me in for a copy of your new book. Vmres (at) swbell (dot) net.

    P.P.S. I wish I could be in Dallas but I just don’t have the energy back yet to go. I’m going to have a novena said for Tina to win. (God may not pick favorites – but I do.)

  28. Hot lemonade is like the world's most soothing tonic...

    You just take lemonade... Country time is fine...

    And heat it in the microwave.

    Seriously, Cara. I know things about lemonade. Trust me.

  29. Awesome! Thanks!

    Wow, it's quiet.

    Ruthy, I'll take a glass of lemonade! :D

  30. RUTHY:
    I left a belated comment on your post yesterday. :)

  31. It is really quiet today!

    Ruthy, I'll try hot lemonade. I hadn't heard of that before. I love lemonade.

    Hi, Vince! I'm going to read your post carefully after dinner.

  32. I can't wait to read this book!


  33. Hi Cara:

    That’s a great idea. That way it won’t spoil your appetite! : )


    P.S. I wonder if Ruth has a Hot Toddy in her tote? : )

  34. Would love to be entered for this book. It has been on my wishlist for awhile. Thanks.

    arsmelser6 at gmail dot com

  35. Cara, thank you for this post. It is something I have never thought about before. I think it's a great way to have more variation in a MS.
    I'd love a chance to win your book.

    I hope all of you that are under the weather feels better soon!

  36. Um... are we supposed to leave our emails? I always get confused as to when we do and don't. Here it is, just in case. :D
    lr dot mullin at live dot come

    Thanks! :D

  37. Vince, I agree with you when you say there can be more than 1 GMC in 1 scene. You're right -- as soon as the bank robber demands $ Mary now has a goal: to stay alive. She might possibly be conflicted about the best way to go about it -- just hand over the $ or try to talk him into surrendering. But the robber gets her into gear so she has to act to protect herself.

    My point is: somebody besides the viewpoint character forces his goal upon her and suddenly her GMC is a reaction to his.

    I wrote this post because this type of scene used to confuse me. I didn't realize the viewpoint character can be hijacked in her own scene.

    Julie's scene seems to be omnicient except for 'Please God, not again." I've never had a problem with omnicient POV (just with spelling it!) as long as it's done well. Obviously, Julie does it well!

  38. Cars, i'm all for GMC I like their cars older ones. ;-). Actually it's good for GMC to get hijacked sometimes that makes the story more true to life. Our GMC gets highjacked frequently, why not our characters?

    BTW I'm reading a Path Toward Love right now.

    Tina Pinson

  39. Enjoyed the post and I need to review some of my scenes. I would love to be entered to win your book Cara. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  40. A fascinating post thank you.

    So much to learn.

    I'd love to read A PATH TOWARD LOVE thank you.


  41. love to win your book!

  42. Thanks for the post Cara.

    Jodie Wolfe

  43. Cara, I'm late to the party, but wanted to tell you I loved A Path Toward Love. Beautifully written and the characters are staying with me. Thanks for the great post.

  44. I would love to win a copy of this book,Enter me!
    Sarah Richmond

  45. I would love to win, read and review
    "A Path Towards Love.

  46. Cara, thank you for the explanation. I've never read this in writing craft books. Thank you for showing it to me.