Can there be multiple protagonists?

In this post, we discuss ideas surrounding a reader's question: Can there be multiple protagonists?

What is a Protagonist?

The protagonist is the story's main character. She is the story's main protagonist and goes through the most significant physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual transformation. The story's universe is made clear through the protagonist's point of view. The audience becomes more invested in the protagonist as there are more challenges and conflicts to overcome.

How Can There Be Multiple Protagonists?

If you want to introduce more protagonists, here is one very important question to consider:

Will the narrative be better with a single protagonist or with more protagonists?

This usually comes down to a storyteller's stylistic preference. For example, some writers use different protagonists for a symbolic purpose without making the plot needlessly complicated.

To pull this off, you need to be able to smoothly switch between points of view without any hiccups in consistency. The stories ought to seamlessly merge if done right. There should be a point where the audience is pleasantly surprised by how all the puzzle pieces fall into place.

A good example of this would be a mystery story where one protagonist is actively solving the crime, while the other protagonist is enduring the impacts of that same crime

Regarding the theme, it's crucial to consider how the protagonists interact and relate. For example, are they traveling together or separately, and how? In either case, the transformation of one character must meaningfully correspond to that of the other.

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What is the difference between dual protagonists and co-protagonists?

Screenwriter Scott Myers defends the distinction between co-protagonists and dual protagonists.

Co-protagonists: Two equal characters share a journey.

Dual Protagonists: Two identical characters have their unique transformations.

The use of multiple protagonists occurs mostly on television shows that feeds the audience episodic stories in the form of arcs. In these arcs, the major characters each get a chance to share a journey and, if the story is well-written, undergo an inner journey.

3 Major Factors of Parallel Narratives

Here are three major factors of parallel narratives:

1. Parallel narratives

These stories are frequently told through distinct plots given across multiple individual characters (micro-plots).

The different protagonists' stories collectively serve the macro plot; the overarching plot that unites them all. Even though they are directly thematically related, stories are frequently truncated, which means they are divided into distinct intervals of separate acts or parts.

The films Amores Brutos, 21 Grams, and Babel by Alejandro González Iárritu and Guillermo Arriaga, and Pulp Fiction: A Time for Violence and Simply Love, to name a few, are examples of parallel narratives.

2. Multiple protagonists

A group of characters works together to complete a quest or objective. The party's most common number of characters is four, but larger or smaller sets can team up for some epic battles.

3. Double journeys

Double Journeys are when two equally important protagonists grow closer together, farther apart, or find parallels physically, emotionally, or both. These double journeys usually have a set of A, B, and C stories.

  • A - Character 1
  • B - Character 2
  • C - Shared Journey

An example of this is Ennis and Jack's double journey in "Brokeback Mountain".

  • A: Ennis Del Mar - marries Alma and has two daughters.
  • B: Jack Twist - moves to Texas and marries Lureen.
  • C: Repressed love. The love they share for each other always brings them back, if only for a brief painful moment.

“The Suspects," written by Aaron Guzikowski, is another great example of dual protagonism. Approaching the case of a missing child from different angles of this central theme: the two sides of justice. (A) Dover turns to vigilante justice, taking justice into his own hands, while (B) Loki walks the fine line of legality.

Internal Goals vs. External Goals

In dual narratives with co-protagonists, one character often has an external goal, while the other has an internal one.

In "Toy Story", Woody's jealousy of being replaced by Andy's new toy Buzz Lightyear causes conflict between the two, despite needing each other for their shared adventure. (A) Woody's goal is not to be replaced. (B) Buzz must realize he's a toy, not a real space cadet. (C) Their common goal is to get back to their owner.

Using dual protagonists allows screenwriters to explore a more detailed and nuanced view of the story from different perspectives. This opens up many narrative possibilities.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.

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