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After some time outlining quite a complex story, I came to the conclusion I need more than one point of view to tell it all. However, I need to have one of those points of view's character as the protagonist, to make him stand out among the others, to make the reader feel this is his story.

I am aware of the traits a main character has to have in order to make for a good protagonist: Induce empathy, have bravery to try, have flaws, make him fail because of them, have a purpose, make him evolve... But I think all of those should apply as well for any well designed POV character, if one is to hold reader's interest at its best. What are the traits that would make a main character the important one?

Some things I think can influence this feeling are the order of appearence, the ambitiousness or importance of his task to the world, the amount of backstory, and how much the reader is induced to care for each one, but I am sure there is more than that.

I will use Game of Thrones as a reference here, trying to avoid spoilers though: In Game of Thrones book, where each chapter is written from a different POV and none seems more important than the rest, the story led me to feel as if Ned Stark was the main character, even when he appeared with much less frequency than others did. And, considering the ending, I think this was done on purpose.

How can that difference between him and the others be spotlighted? I know having the narrator switch between 1st and 3rd person would help, but I'm looking for more subtle ways, as I'm trying to keep everything in a 3rd person view.

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3 Answers

Everything is about him.

The other characters talk about him, plot about him, worry about him, try to contact him. Everything is about what he's doing or where he's going and with whom. Scenes where he isn't there detail the effect his actions or words had on the other characters.

If it's his story, then tell his story. The TV show Person of Interest is primarily about Mr. Finch and Mr. Reese. The other characters have lives and families, but we don't see those lives and families every episode. We primarily see them working with the two main characters, doing work for them, protecting them, talking to them, carrying out orders, etc.

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I also have multiple POVs in the story I'm currently working on, each mini-chapter switching between main characters and supporting ones, and the way I try to convey who the protagonist is is by making her related to all the conflicts that take place, whether her role in each conflict is central or minor. Of course the main story-line is hers, but when I switch to another character's POV there will at least be a mentioning of her, or the actions that happen on the POV character's side of story affect her story, directly or indirectly.

I also read from a writing guide that it's possible to have many POV characters, a huge cast, multiple subplots and still manage to show whose story is the book mainly about by giving the protagonist the most pages or chapters. So for example, if there are twenty chapters, then you can have like ten chapters dedicated to the protagonist, while you split the rest among the other major (or minor) characters. A good example of how this is done is Shōgun by James Clavell.

I hope this helps you in someway.

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A classic method of uniting multiple POVs is to have characters tell what happened to them (in first person) for a whole chapter. Usually they are telling their story to the main character. Example: Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein, Arabian Nights.

However, a complex story can have more than one protagonist, and might not have one MAIN protagonist. (Or if there is ONE, it might require some insight to realize that.) Examples: The Silmarillion, Lord of the Rings, War and Peace, the Foundation series, the Bible. [everyone feel free to edit and add others]

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I like the technique you are describing, although it doesn't fit my situation: I'm using several POVs not just to explain others' stories, but also to integrate in the story characters, events, and plot lines that otherwise would appear way too late. This way, they can evolve with the main character as a whole. –  Marc Wolvesheir Jan 10 at 23:46
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Ah, well, then you want my second suggestion. For instance, you could argue that LotR (yeah, I use that too much) is primarily from Frodo's POV, even though large parts are about his friends' "adventures" that occur simultaneously with his "adventure." But everything ties into Frodo's quest. Everyone else's toils, sufferings, and even victories will be for naught unless Frodo's quest succeeds. The trilogy starts (almost) with Frodo and ends (almost) with Frodo. –  dmm Jan 11 at 5:28
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When I read your question I thought "More than one protagonist? That's what I'm trying to avoid". However, now I think I get what you mean. +1 for "victories will be for naught unless his quest succeeds". Thank you :) –  Marc Wolvesheir Jan 12 at 15:22
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