Switching main characters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Black Dragon, Aug 4, 2011.

  1. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    Have you ever tried writing a novel in which the main character changes halfway through?

    An example of this in film would be The Village, in which Joaquin Phoenix's character gets sidelined and the blind girl becomes the central character.

    Have you seen an author do this successfully?
     
  2. Map the Dragon

    Map the Dragon Mystagogue

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    In Sanderson's newest novel, The Way of Kings, the author hops characters quite a bit. This is done all the time in 3rd Person, but not so much in 4th.

    Even in my own novel, I leave main characters to return to them after focusing on someone else far way for many chapters.

    If you mean specifically in 1st Person POV, that would indeed be more rare and I would like to hear other ideas as well. In 3rd, one might argue that there is or isn't more than one protagonist, thus yeilding POV switches, but when this happens in 1st, I am sure this could be more challenging for bot the author and reader.

    Some have falsely called this technique the 1st Person POV Plural, but that actually refers to the use of "we", "us", and so on.

    The only example I can remember from my studies would be the peice "Beloved" by Morrison. I'll have to give this some thought or research to come up with more.
     
  3. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    Hey Map,

    Actually, I'm thinking of something different than switching POV. It's hard to explain, but it comes down to the main character essentially dropping out of the story to be replaced by someone else, who becomes the new main player.

    In The Village, for example, Joaquin Phoenix's character becomes injured midway through the film. Up to this point he was the "hero" of the story, so to speak. Once he is unable to continue, Brice Howard takes his place as the film's central character.
     
  4. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    *shudder*

    The Village blew.

    Anyway, I haven't written one of these yet, but I've always wanted to try it. My current idea is that the main character will actually be killed very suddenly about mid-way through the book. For the sake of experiment, his replacement won't be anyone obvious to the reader from the first half, but rather a sort of admirer who we've met only a couple times.

    Plenty of problems with this (why would we want to trade a character who we liked for one we barely know?), but I think I could work them out.
     
  5. Dante Sawyer

    Dante Sawyer Lore Master

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    Haha! That's an understatement. Worst movie I've ever seen.

    Getting back to the main point, however, I don't think I've ever seen an author really do that in the way you mean, Black Dragon. The closest thing in literature I've seen is the 1st chapter of The Sword of Shannara where you're led to believe Flick is the main character, when it is actually his brother Shea. Other than that... I can only think of POV changes.

    Another movie that does this though (and is actually a good film), No Country for Old Men.
     
  6. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    Yeah, The Village was a bomb. Unfortunately it's the best example of this that comes to mind.

    No Country for Old Men is terrific. Although if my memory serves me right the central character isn't replaced until near the end.
     
  7. Donny Bruso

    Donny Bruso Mystagogue

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    I actually am in the process of doing this in one of my many, many, incomplete projects. I posted a couple months back about the fact that I was killing one of my main characters and replacing him with another, formerly supporting character. Whether or not it will be successful depends on me actually finishing it and begging someone to publish it.
     
  8. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Dark Lord

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    As long as the supporting character is equally if not easier to sympathise (in the sense of the relationship between character and reader) by the time you switch then I don't see any reason why a switch like this should be a problem. Sure people may get a bit pissed off/sad at there favourite character being killed off but maybe thats the kind of feeling you need to get across to your readership.

    I say it could definitely work, as long as you put in some hard work in all the right places.
     
  9. Dante Sawyer

    Dante Sawyer Lore Master

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    It's a long movie, but I could've sworn Tommy Lee Jones becomes the main character with a little over an hour in the film.
     
  10. CicadaGrrl

    CicadaGrrl Lore Master

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    Bookwise--not fantasy but totally Secret Garden, and even as a kid it pissed me off. Collin was so less interesting. In general, when you are writing and you have a supporting character take over your book halfway through if you are on your first draft just roll with it, like everything else. But when you go back, take a hard look at your story. Your hijacker quite possibly was your main character all along, and you just didn't know it. In general, for my books at least, I have two protagonists and occassionally the pov of a few other characters, but I always know who the book BELONGS to. This one character owns the heart of the book. When people do a bait and switch on me (more in books than movies) I tend to get pissed, and often feel the author has taken the easy way out.
     
  11. Leuco

    Leuco Lore Master

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    How about Ray Bradbury? I think two very good examples of switching main characters in his short stories are "The Dragon" and "Kaleidoscope." Probably wouldn't work well for longer works.

    I found this video online. It doesn't do the story justice, but it gives you an idea of how the main character shift can work for an intriguing twist.

    You can skip the first 30 seconds by the way. Sorry it's kinda slow, but you've probably already read this story anyway.

     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017
  12. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Mystagogue

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    I'd argue G R R Martin does this in Game of Thrones. Yes, there are lots of POV characters, but the action is so centred around Ned (its his actions that drive the story, he is the important guy politically, and he is related to all but two of other point of view characters) that you have to peg him as the hero. And then he dies. At the end of the novel yes, but the first novel in a long series, so it has the same effect.

    Now you could argue he doesn't get replaced, since there is no single main character after that (I'd argue the troika of Jon, Dany and Tyrion share main character status) but it comes to the same thing.
     
  13. Benjamin Clayborne

    Benjamin Clayborne Dark Lord

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    I actually can't remember a specific example, but I know I've read at least one or two books that are split into two parts, and the two parts have different POV characters. So, yes, it can be done.
     
  14. Fnord

    Fnord Lore Master

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    I was going to make mention of this, but I figured maybe I was kind of missing the point a little because it seemed kind of obvious. I think the case of Ned is so jarring at the end of the first book that it he *has* be considered the main character up until that point.

    With the other books (I'm not yet done with Feast for Crows), I've occasionally gotten annoyed because the action will center around a character I'm not as interested in (or is introduced completely). Actually, I always hated the Catelyn chapters because she wasn't a very compelling character for me.

    But I've wondered about this whole topic myself on a more scattered level. I have region of my "world" I want to set a story around but it has many characters instead of a central character. The best I can come up with thus far is to actually break the story down into a handful of character-centric short stories and have a "sequel" to them later on? I'm probably biting off way more than I can chew. But I actually haven't "put pen to paper" yet because I haven't really nailed now an approach.
     
  15. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Scribal Lord

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    I am actually writing another story, science fiction, set on a multi generation space ship. So far I have three main characters, each from a different generation. I will have five, maybe six once the story is done.


    I may epublish this one in parts as each person occupies about 20 thousand words.
     
  16. Queengilda

    Queengilda Apprentice

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    I can see you are definitely looking for a challenge Black Dragon! The reader would have to almost immediately find the new central character even more sympathetic than the original central character. Unless you have a very loyal readership, I would think some readers might become very frustrated and put the book down. In the movie No Country for Old Men, we had Tommy Lee Jones who is a fantastic actor and a great script to carry the movie through.
     
  17. mythique890

    mythique890 Mystagogue

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    I was also going to mention Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Every time I think I know who the hero is, they die. Actually, that's kind of why I never bothered to finish A Feast for Crows. I got a bit frustrated with it.
     
  18. Hëradïn

    Hëradïn Mystagogue

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    Mythique, I know what you mean, but I decided to power through it because I only have 150 pages left. When the red wedding occurred I was so mad at you know who for killing you know who. I even considered not reading the rest of the series because of that alone, but then I also loved dany, arya, sensa and tyrion and wanted to know what happens with them... with the way things are shaping up, I may have made the wrong choice.
     
  19. mythique890

    mythique890 Mystagogue

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    I loved those characters, too, and part of the reason I put it down was to avoid seeing bad things happen to them. :) Was it the wrong choice when you wanted to quit or when you decided to keep reading? I've been thinking of picking those books back up lately, but might I regret it?
     
  20. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Scribal Lord

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    Yeah you might not want to pick it up, especially if you haven't gotten to the wedding. Can't remember the exact sequence of events and I hope I deleted my last post before you saw the spoiler, but after certain events I had to stop reading the series for a long time because of how pissed I was.
     
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