I'm currently working on a visual novel project with the help of my friends. There are actually five protagonists, however, instead of one. They each have their own chapter, which then culminates in a group chapter.

In developing plotlines and such, I've noticed it can be pretty hard to write a story with multiple protagonists! It's going to take a lot of planning.

How can I effectively plan this novel so that I'm focusing equally on all the protagonists and developing them all well?

  • 2
    Try reading The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and then ask yourself if you think having multiple protagonists is still a good idea. It will take you months, but we'll wait.
    – Robusto
    Sep 24, 2015 at 11:14
  • Welcome to writers, and thanks for an interesting question. Multiple protagonist books can easily confuse the reader, but when they're done well they can give the reader great insight into characters. I've done some editing on your question to make it clearer what you're asking, instead of just asking for tips. Sep 24, 2015 at 16:02
  • @Robusto I have too long of a to-read list already, haha! I've heard that story is very confusing, though. However, I think if you do it in a very specific way, it can be done properly without too much confusion. For example, this story is very long and there is little focus on the side characters so there is lots of opportunity to get to know the protagonists properly and distinguish them in a clear way. Sep 24, 2015 at 17:10
  • @NeilFein Thanks for the edit! It's quite helpful. c: I tend to have trouble getting to the point sometimes when I talk, though I'm actively trying to get better with that. Sep 24, 2015 at 17:11

1 Answer 1

  1. Each character needs to be easily distinguishable. If the narrative is in first-person, make it so each character's monologue is different in noticeable ways (vocabulary, punctuation, sentence style, frequency of metaphors and other literary techniques, etc). Even if it's in third-person, slightly alter the narrator so that, again, each chapter is distinguishable. In other words, make them stylistically different.

Example. In Beloved, by Toni Morrison, there is a sequence of 4 chapter that focus on the protagonists. The entire novel is narrated on the third person by an omniscient narrator, so these chapters are so jarring that they serve as a landmark in the book. And each character has peculiarities. One is psychologically undeveloped, so her chapter has no punctuation and is written as if by someone whose mind is a complete mess, random ideas everywhere. This makes her so easily distinguishable that the author doesn't even need to label each chapter as "Bob's Chapter" or "Mary's Chapter".

  1. How does each character perceive the world, and how does the world perceive each one of them? Let's say Character A is very friendly towards a certain faction, and in return is welcomed by them and treated very well. But, maybe, this same faction is hostile towards all the other characters. So, here, you would be establishing each character in how they relate to the world. This tells a lot about them, and since you are working in a visual novel this actually gives you many interesting "gameplay" opportunities.

Example. Let's return to Beloved. In this book there is this mother and daughter. The mother is openly hostile towards pretty much everyone in the town, and is very hated. She raised her daughter without socializing her, so when the girl's an adult she's terribly afraid of going out.

The thing is, one day the mother get's "sick", and the daughter is the one who asks for outside help. She has to brave her fears and communicate with the community, and in that she discovers that she isn't hated. The community takes a week or two time to warm up to her, but once they understand her situation they promptly support her in many ways.

The community still dislikes her mother, but now they have some sympathy and actively like the daughter. So, you see, this is an interesting way to differentiate each character.

  1. So, you said you are working on a visual novel. So, why don't you try to incorporate what I said in the decisions each character has to take? Maybe John's storyline is somewhat focused in solving a family issue, and, accordingly, his decisions revolve around his family and how they improve or worsen his condition. Maybe Mary wants to save the world and doesn't really care about the impact of her decisions in John's family, and that should reflect in her choices. Maybe Thomas is torn between saving the world and staying with his family, etc.

  2. Map each character. Describe them, then compare them to each other character. Maybe they are complimentary to each other, maybe they are similar... Maybe they are friends, or enemies. Map everything, so that you always have in mind their possible interactions. Try to make each bond between them as unique as possible.

  3. How is the structure of your plot? Does your visual novel have a linear narrative (the player necessarily goes through all storylines in a single playthrough?) Or does it have a fragmented one (you have a chapter select menu?) If it's the latter, are all chapters available from the start or do you unlock each one?

Think about this. The order you present each character can have a great impact in the story. Often, the first character the player gets to spend a lot of time with will become the "standard" protagonist. You can use that to great effect. Maybe you play first as the villain without knowing that person is the bad guy. Maybe you play as someone who thinks Bob is the worst person ever, but Bob might be actually a pretty nice guy. Toy with the player's expectations and impressions.

  • 1
    Welcome to Writers, and thanks for this comprehensive answer. Sep 24, 2015 at 16:03
  • 1
    That's all really good advice! Thanks so much! You've given me a lot to think about! I'll take it to heart! c: Sep 24, 2015 at 17:05

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