Can I have 2 protagonists?

by Audrey

Question: I've been toying with the idea of writing a story(not sure I can call it a book yet:) for years, but have only lately begun to view "story" as a specific set of dynamics working together, thanks in part to this website. Major breakthough!

The difficulty I'm running into presently is finding my Point-of-view/narrator voice. I'm thinking girl protagonist/POV character, following her closely through the story, but she is not actually narrating. Sounds simple enough, right? But as I'm writing my outline, I'm feeling a little limited by the small scope of what she can see and experience at one time, and having all these great ideas of what could be going on in scenes that she is not involved in at all. So I'm thinking, maybe, I could switch back and forth between her and this other character(Eventual love interest?), like maybe trading-off every other chapter. So my question then is, would he also become a Protagonist? Would he have an entirely separate set of influencing characters, a goal, a plot entirely his own? Or would he remain just a main character in the girl protagonist's plot? I'm a little lost here, and I don't think I can go further in my outline until I know who exactly I'm writing about. Can anyone help?

Answer: It's actually a staple of romance literature to tell the story from two points of view - the heroine and her love interest. In the case of romance, each of these characters is often the impact character to the other. Each of them offers the other a different approach or way of looking at things. And each of them challenges the other to change.

Okay, that's
the easy part.

Two main characters (that is, two point-of-view characters) implies two stories within the one novel. However, you do not have to develop both stories fully.

One way to keep it simple is for them to share an overall story throughline.

Keeping in mind that the main character does not have to be the protagonist, it is possible to make either of these two characters the protagonist in the overall throughline - that is, the person leading the pursuit of the story goal. An alternative would be for each of them to be the protagonist when in their own point of view, and have them pursue the same goal, but for different reasons.

Having one overall throughline that involves all the characters helps your book hang together better. The primary main character will be the person who connects all the throughlines.

Of course, there are plenty of variations you can play with. For instance, I just finished reading a YA steampunk book called The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress. This novel has three POV characters, all of them teenage girls. Each girl has a love interest who functions (more or less well) as her impact character. There is an overall throughline that unites them all, however one girl has a very different reason for pursuing the villain than the primary main character, and the third girl's story is less well developed.

As you may guess, with the love interests as the impact characters, the book's weakness is that there is little room left to really develop the relationship between the girls. Nonetheless, it's a good story for girls of that age group who are keen on the steampunk genre.

But I digress.

Comments for Can I have 2 protagonists?

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Jun 15, 2017
How may main characters can a book have?
by: Elvis Bray

I am confused? Who is the main character in the first three books in the Lonesome Dove series, McCabe or Call? Who is the main character in Gone With the Wind? Who is the main character in, No Peace For Old Men? I don't know much about writing but it seems to me that if you write a story or novel where two people are the main characters, it is all right. When I read the book, The Burning Shore by Wilber Smith, I was sure the main character was the WW1 pilot until he got killed and then the main character became his pregnant girlfriend. But I loved that book. I think writing rules are a good guideline, but I see very successful authors breaking the rules all the time and laugh all the way to the bank. Just my 2 cents worth.

Jun 16, 2017
To Ellvis:
by: Glen

Yes, you can have more than one point-of-view (or main) character, you just don't need more than one.

Many books are written with multiple POV characters. Sometimes one of these will be the "main" main character or primary POV character because more of the book is devoted to them and they play a more crucial role in determining the outcome. Some POV characters are fairly minor.

The trade-off you have to consider is that the more POV characters you have, the less connection the reader feels to any one character. Sometimes that's okay. Sometimes it's not what you want.

However, bear in mind that a POV/main character is not necessarily the protagonist (the pursuer of the Story Goal). Often they are, but not always.

You should only have one protagonist at a time, though their role can be passed to another character (for instance, if they die).

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