Can I have two protagonists?

by Randy

Two protagonists

Two protagonists

Does my writing group know what they're talking about? Is it wrong to have two protagonists?

I hope it's okay that I don't use my real name. I need to complain about my writing group, and I'd prefer they not know about it.

Okay, I'm a new writer, I admit it, but I wrote this short book about two boys who discover a hidden treasure. They find out that the person who hid it is still alive and that he was in lots of trouble that wasn't his fault when he hid it.

So they'd like to return it to him, but now they have some criminals and the crooked police all after them, and their lives are in danger, and they don't even know the guy's name.

But the plot isn't really the point. The point is that all the other writers in the group totally criticized the story for having two protagonists.

They say it can't.

Now if that's true, fine, but when I asked everyone to explain, all anyone could tell me was having two heroes made it "amateurish."

Well, maybe that's true - and maybe it isn't - but I'm totally blocked about rewriting the book when I don't even know why I'm doing it.

How can you "fix" something when you don't know why you're fixing it?

So what'd really help me get unblocked is either someone telling me WHY you can't have two protagonists, or telling me that my writing group doesn't know what they're talking about!

Comments for Can I have two protagonists?

Click here to add your own comments

Multiple protagonists: writing group right (for the most part), explanation non-existent
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

"Randy," I can understand your frustration. It's like your group collectively said, "Because we said so." I wouldn't want to be their kids!

I also wouldn't want to read their writing. If they don't know why that rule is a rule, their writing probably reflects it.

Fiction's ability to transport us to another place is closely tied to its being able to put us into another person's (the protagonist's) head.

Although that "person" is fictional, if the writer does a masterful job conveying that character's inner workings, we feel we know what it's like to be the character, and our emotions go up and down in tandem with his/her triumphs and setbacks.

We all know what it's like inside our own minds, and so we can imagine what it's like to be in someone else's, especially when an author takes us there competently.

But none of us knows what it's like to think the thoughts of TWO people! Or to be so in sync with another person that we completely echo each other's thoughts and desires.

Even in the cursory way in which you described your story here, I could see you depicting your protagonists as being of the same mind. In a book, that would prevent us from identifying with them as individuals. Also...

The thing that keeps fiction interesting is conflict. Here again, your two "of the same mind" protagonists will come up lacking. If they always want the same thing...yawn.

Is it starting to make sense? I would hate to think this explanation is no better than the one your writing group gave you!

protagonists vs. protagonist
by: "Randy"

Steve, thanks, it is starting to make sense. But here's the problem I'm still having...

I KNOW that there are plenty of stories that have two people on a shared adventure. I mean, take The Hardy Boys, or any buddy movie. I'm not imagining this, right?

buddy stories: two protagonists?
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Randy, I'm glad you asked that. You've reminded me of some points I should have covered but didn't. Before I get to your buddy story question...

I have read lots of manuscripts with dual protagonists. These were never published works. I almost always find that when the author presents two protagonists he's overly focused on the action, neglecting the inner life of the characters. This of course prevents us from empathizing with them, from walking in their shoes.

Okay, the buddy story/buddy movie question. Yes, these stories DO exist. What you're missing (and what your writing group failed to point out) is that these stories are rife with conflict between the two characters.

Yes, they usually pull together in the end, but, during the all important middle of the book or movie, I think you'll find that they were either often or constantly in conflict!

I haven't read The Hardy Boys in some time, but I'd be willing to bet that Frank and Joe differed a lot on what clue to follow up on next or how to interpret it.

Lord knows that in buddy movies, the two lead characters are often on the brink of killing each other! Oftentimes, it's either circumstance that has pulled them together - we've seen movies with people handcuffed involuntarily together - or it's their shared goal. If they share a goal, though, you can bet they have vastly differing ideas on how to achieve it.

One other point. It is possible in a longer piece of fiction to have two protagonists. In fact, there are many novels in which you'll find multiple viewpoints, and oftentimes different protagonists for each subplot.

The way this is generally handled is, for lack of a better word, in "chunks." In other words, there will be a chapter in one protagonist's viewpoint, followed by a chapter in another protagonist's viewpoint.

In my experience, novels in which viewpoint is offered simultaneously in multiple characters' heads don't work.

I hope that helps.

Wish you were in the writing group
by: Randy

You know what, Steve? It does. Thanks for taking the time.

protagonist vs. antagonist
by: Steve B. webmaster

And remember: protagonists have antagonists! Maybe that's what your two characters are.

Click here to add your own comments

Click here to write your own.

Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.