I have a scenario where my main character, who has considerable training and situational awareness has been captured. He has faith that his people will rescue him when the time is right.

He learns that his former instructor, who is also a psychiatrist, is coming to see him. Two scenarios occur to him - either he will be assessed as a potential security risk and dealt with or he is coming to confirm proper treatment. While he is running the probabilities of one scenario over the other and how best to try to skew things in the direction of the latter, a conversation takes place.

This conversation reveals that one of the agents holding him - a very annoying fellow - is the nephew of this psychiatrist. The issue is the MC must not learn this yet but would start paying attention once he realized they were discussing the person he was thinking about.

The relationship is revealed. The others in the room attach no significance to this.

How best to have the MC remain oblivious of this without him being oblivious?

How best to have him remain unaware of that relationship?

What I envision is a situation where the mentor reveals in passing the relationship of which the others are already aware, so MC is only unaware for a while.

It is third person omniscient.


The main character doesn't hear something, but the supporting characters do. In omniscient third person, how would this best be handled?

  • 3
    I lost you halfway through. Any chance of a tl;dr? If you could explain your question briefly in a more general way, it would also potentially make it more useful to other users, I think. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 20:58
  • Still confused. Agent Y is the MC's annoying instructor, Viennese psychiatrist is agent Y's great uncle, and the MC isn't supposed to know about it? Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 22:04
  • It would be useful for us to know whether you're telling the story in first person, third person limited, third person omniscient, or something else? Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 22:05
  • Sorry about that. This edit should fix most of those issues.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 22:41
  • Also confused. Is the main character the same character being held at the beginning of the question?
    – SFWriter
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 23:26

5 Answers 5


You're already on the right track in that you recognize that you can't make your character bend to fit the more convenient plot.

When a character's natural decisions would take the story in a direction you don't want it to go, add external influences that change the choices they make

In your case, your character's natural reaction to this conversation is to listen to it in its entirety. Rather than trying to justify a deviation from that, instead add an external force which prevents the character from listening in as they naturally would.

Maybe there's a guard in the room who is fond of tazing your protagonist whenever they are distracted. Or the protagonist's allies are breaking in, and the protagonist needs to make noise to cover for their invasion. Or they're drugged up to the gills and can only focus for brief periods at a time.

Brainstorm for a while, and write down every ridiculous idea you come up with (and I do mean every idea). After 5-10 minutes, go over your list to see if anything you've written down is salvageable into an actual plot point.


Possibility A: You can have several chapters from another perspective. Give this some thought. Really imagine how it might add to your story, especially if you don't yet have a compelling subplot.

You don't need more than a few chapters from this other perspective--one early on, showing the normal world/goal of that character, one before this scene probably, so the reader is used to the second point of view, and then one in which this conversation happens. I think this is easiest, and best, because you can do it from the uncle's perspective or the nephew's--and each of them definitely have their own arc in this story. It could enrich your story to add this POV.

Possibility B: You can world-build in an amnesiac of some sort. Your character hears the conversation, and then is rendered unknowing to the information by his captors. You can play with this so that the amnesiac they give him is partial and he is able to piece the information together over a time frame of your choosing.

Possibility C: He hears it and refutes it out of hand. Couch the information in lies, lies, and more damn lies. We know they are lies, the character knows they are lies, and so this particular truth is not accepted by us or the MC. He listens anyway, because clearly the conversation involves the psychiatrist.

That's all i got right now.

  • 2
    My MC thinks the nephew is a smarmy self aggrandizing bastard so C might fit the relationship between them.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 0:25
  • 2
    A might be fun. I could introduce the good doctor in his office at the university he teaches at - he is an eminent psychiatrist.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 2:25

He simply doesn't hear them for whatever reason.

This is more of a scenario from my real life that happens all the time. My wife and I live in a tiny apartment and have two toddlers. Despite the fact that the apartment is so small, sound passing between the living room and any other room in the apartment is greatly diminished simply because of the layout. If My wife says something from the living room and I am in the kitchen, bathroom, or our girls bedroom, I have to literally go to the doorway for it to sound intelligible. This gets worse if we have the air on because the intake is in the living room and very loud. Mix in a screaming toddler and we have to regularly ask each other to repeat whatever we just said.

The fact that it actually takes effort to have conversation in this space means that someone not directly listening is likely to completely miss large parts of what is said. You could just as easily create just a scenario. I imagine you already have an idea of where your MC is being held, but you can add something to the environment to cause exactly this. A loud fan, someone yelling in the hall, room acoustics are all valid reasons he simply didn't hear the whole conversation.


I use a trick with one character, in which she tunes out whatever is going on around her.

"When you engage the clutch," Brett added, "the gears are released. They spin freely. That's why you can shift into a new gear ratio."

She nodded. It's like he thought adding jargon would help. There had to be a better way to learn stick. Hell, there were probably videos online that would show her how to get the damn thing moving.

He was still talking. Blah, blah, blah. She nodded every time he paused. Maybe she could ask Christie to drive. Screw whatever Brett was going on about, something to do with starting on a hill.

Christie might even let her borrow that pick cashmere sweater. God, that sweater made her look so hot.

"...never engage the clutch over a thousand rpm..."

How much longer was this lecture going to last? Her black leather miniskirt would be bitchin' sick with that sweater. Fishnets, hella yeah. Stilettos.

"...and he's Guido's uncle, by the way. So if you wreck the car, we'll pay big time. Do you want to try?"

"What? Hell yeah I want to try." She grabbed the keys and got in behind the wheel.

Then it's plausible that she didn't hear the bits in the middle.

  • 1
    My character is rather introspective at times, but the rub is the situational awareness. That would snap him out of his reverie as soon as the name was spoken.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 23:49
  • 1
    @Rasdashan OK, I will try again. :) but you might be able to work in a drug or injury that causes him to hallucinate/be groggy/not his normal self/etc.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 23:50

It depends on your real problem. Does it hurt for the guard to just know him?

If it doesn't hurt for the guard to know the psychiatrist, then in third person omniscient, you can have the guard refer to the psychiatrist and his father by their first names, and the other guard knows this is his habit.

Cast: Roger and Sam are guards, Bill is the psychiatrist, Mike is Roger's father and Bill's brother. But Roger refers to both of them by their first name.

setup: The MC is not watching the guards, he is distracted by his thoughts and looking out the window.

Bill looked at the photograph of the psychiatrist, and gestured with it to Sam. "I haven't seen Bill in eight years; It will be great to see him again."

Sam said, "How do you know this guy? You got a little history I should know about?"

"Idiot. But yeah, he's Mike's brother!"

Mike was Roger's father. Sam knew that and his eyebrows rose in surprise, and Roger laughed a bit. "Maybe I should have led with that."

"What? You never told me Mike had a brother! Why so long between visits?"

"Just the distance factor. He'll be all business on the clock, but maybe we can get some beers later."

"Count me in if you want company. I've got a few stories for him!"

I think this is the kind of conversation that might slip by your MC. First, doctors would usually be referred to by their last name; not a nickname. Bill is a nickname for William; and the MC knows the psychiatrist as "Dr. William Goldman". "Bill" doesn't register.

Second, the word "uncle" is not used. MC cannot be sure the guards are even talking about the psychiatrist, "Bill" could be anybody the guard knows and is going to see later.

Fourth, we depend on 'secret' knowledge shared by the two guards; they are friends and know "Mike" means Roger's father, but the MC doesn't know that or suspect it, and being distracted the MC doesn't see the start where they are clearly talking about the psychiatrist. So the idle conversation between Roger and Sam, including the fact they aren't trying to hide anything, raises no attentional flags and the MC doesn't try to understand it.

  • It doesn’t hurt the guard to know him - that he is aware of. Said uncle has led a double life and the nephew only knows him as the good doctor that his relatives are wary of for some reason.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 16:29
  • 1
    I wasn't clear. My question is if it hurt your plot if the MC is aware that the guard happens to know the psychiatrist (but does not know they are related). However, as I have written it above, the MC may not even be aware that the guard knows the psychiatrist, the MC could be thinking introspectively as this is revealed to the reader but not explicitly enough to ring any bells for the MC that require attention or interrogation of the guard.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 20:59
  • It would force the MC to come to terms with that guard peacefully and let all hatred go as he would be off limits. The MC knowing would remove an element of tension between the two characters.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 21:33
  • What is "IT"? The MC knowing what, exactly? Is it knowing that the guard happens to know the psychiatrist? Or is it knowing that the guard is also related to the psychiatrist? Anyway, regardless, the way I wrote it, the MC doesn't have to know; at most he is aware that the guards know people with names. That should not force him into any action, everybody the MC meets knows other people.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 22:07
  • It is learning the guard he detests is related to the psychiatrist
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 3:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.