So I'm pretty much about to start a new story, which I plan to be a big process. I have several fleshed-out characters in mind, but I'm really not sure how exactly to determine if they're all fit to present their own point of view. They're fully fleshed out and could easily be dueteragonists and supporting characters, but it s Right now I'm juggling between three and four equally-important protagonists.

What are some ways to determine if a protagonist character belongs and will aid the piece as a whole?

In your question, it sounds like you've fleshed out several characters. However, it's unclear whether you are using the word "protagonist" in its traditional sense.

Most stories usually have one protagonist. Less frequently, a story has two protagonists. And then, their goals must be closely related. The story revolves around the struggle of the protagonist(s) to achieve her aim. I would avoid tackling stories with multiple protagonists until I was confident of my ability to write great stories with only one.

The other characters in the story should serve only as supporting cast. Their actions help or frustrate the protagonist's progress. Their personalities contrast with that of the protagonist. Their storylines intersect with and sometimes serve as a counterpoint to that of the protagonist.

One "methodology" is to use archetypal characters for your genre. They're archetypal because they possess a nearly ideal set of qualities for a given type of story. Readers may also have an easier time "stepping into" a story that relies on archetypal characters. Your job, as the storyteller, is to use those characters interesting and novel ways.

If you're not sure that a character in one of your stories doing a good job of helping or frustrating the protagonist, consider enhancing the character or removing them from the story. You can reassign their useful qualities/actions/dialog to another character.

  • I agree with this answer, with the addition that occasionally an 'epic' story will have more than one plot and so more than one protangonist. However, these are few and far between. – S. Mitchell Jan 1 '16 at 20:35
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    But there are plenty of Five-Man Band stories (and various numbered versions) with multiple protagonists. WARNING: TV TROPES LINK: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FiveManBand – Lauren Ipsum Jan 2 '16 at 18:35
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    @LaurenIpsum Thanks for sharing that topic. What an excellent resource! The FMB is a perfect example of using archetypal characters who complement each other. The article doesn't say that every member of the FMB is the protagonist. In an FMB story, the protagonist is most likely "The Leader" ("often also the Hero"). By definition, the success or failure of the band depends on The Leader. A classic example of this is the film, This is Spinal Tap, whose plot revolves around the band leader, Nigel Tufnel. – rolfedh Jan 2 '16 at 20:18
  • The OP's question was whether to use several protagonists of uncertain value. I think this reflects a common misuse of that term as a substitute for "characters." By definition, 'The protagonist [...] or main character is a narrative's central or primary personal figure, who comes into conflict with an opposing major character or force (called the antagonist). The audience is intended to identify mostly with the protagonist.' – rolfedh Jan 2 '16 at 20:19
  • Although stories with multiple protagonists (Romeo and Juliet) exist, they are rare. The best answer to the OP's question is to build a story around a protagonist. – rolfedh Jan 2 '16 at 20:20

The question also asks for point of view (POV). It is difficult to tell a story from multiple perspectives--but not impossible.

Maybe a decade ago, there was this neat cop drama on network television that told the same story in spurts from different perspectives. I thought it was brilliant, but very few people agreed with me because it didn't last very long on American TV.

Now, David Eddings, after multiple #1 bestsellers with the Belgariad and Mallorean series, went back and retold the story from the perspective of different protagonists. Awesome!

However, changing POV will confuse the average reader under most circumstances. James Michener is successful at it because he develops his characters individually and then throws them all together at some point with third person omniscient narrative.

Just some thoughts. Good luck!

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