Disclaimer: I am not intending on doing this. It is just a question I thought was fascinating and might be useful to other writers.

Here's the scenario. You're writing a series of novels. After the first book, you decide to change to a new protagonist. The reason isn't important. What's important is that if you've developed the protagonist correctly, the reader is invested in him. He wants him to win. Now he must suddenly shift to a new protagonist.

This presents a problem. The reader will want to stay with the old protagonist. That's the one he likes. He spent a whole novel with that person, learning deep truths about his character as they went through harrowing journeys together. Now he's suddenly forced to work with this new person, when he is only interested in reading about the old one. The reader puts the book down and leaves.

So here's my question: is there some tried-and-tested method for dealing with this? Suppose you write one novel, and then shift to the protagonist's best friend for the next novel. You could theoretically lessen the impact by making the friend a strong secondary protagonist in the first novel, so let's make it worse. What if you're telling a genealogy story, and the next novel picks up with the protagonist's kids? You can't exactly make a one-year-old a secondary protagonist before-hand.

How can you shift to a new protagonist in the next novel?

Note: Ignore killing off the protagonist. This is for if he's still alive and well.

Additional Note: I develop my characters so that the reader cares about them. To me, every protagonist needs a reason for the reader to want him to win. I call this quality Strength. He also needs inner conflict, something unresolved inside of him that makes him endlessly interesting to read about. Inner conflict is usually resolved at the end of the book, but you still have Strength, drawing the reader back to the old protagonist.

The opening pages are very important, because if the reader likes the old protagonist (now a side character) more than the new one, he could easily turn against the new protagonist, which would completely skew your novel.

Do note that this method of character development is my own personal method. It is not part of the question (nor should it be part of the answer), and I only include it to show you where I'm coming from.

I have marked what's reply as the answer, mainly for the excellent outline it provides which I consider very useful. I wanted to note however, that I found part of Lew's answer also incredibly insightful. I wanted to note it here for anyone else who might have this question:

If your story is character-driven, switching protagonist probably makes little or no sense, unless the person is killed and someone else has to carry the torch (but it is not the case, I understand).

If your story is plot-driven, you can pick a new protagonist every time the story requires it. It is your story and you can tell it any way you desire.

  • 1
    I do not feel this is fit for an answer, however look up (read?) Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive. He doesn't abandon the characters but he does utterly ignore many of his main characters for chapters on end to flesh out other characters in different parts of the world and I don't mind it at all because I can see that it is slowly building up to some epic conclusion involving all of them. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 20:38
  • 2
    Remember, you can always form a bond between character and audience through shared experience. If the reader is going to be bummed that the old protagonist is gone, starting the new book with the new protagonist being bummed that the old protagonist is gone, too.
    – Devsman
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 20:38
  • @Devsman That is some ingeniously insightful advice right there. Would you consider making that an answer? Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 20:50
  • Garth Nix did it for The Old Kingdom books. First book's protagonist was Sabriel, then Lirael took over for the next two books. Sabriel was still around, and the third book switched back to her POV a bit, but Lirael was the protagonist. Just don't do what the second book did and take too long to show how the new protagonist fits into your existing story. That's a big turnoff.
    – JamesENL
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 4:28
  • 1
    You might consider reading the Deptford Trilogy. (Not F&SF, unlike most of the examples in answers.) Three novels, three different protagonists, three different styles, all about the far-reaching consequences of a trivial act: a young boy throws a snowball in small-town Canada. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 21:03

14 Answers 14


I deeply resent a shift to a new protagonist. There is nothing you can do to make me like it.

Nethertheless it is often done. George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire even does it every chapter. When I read his books, I read all chapters with one protagonist in sequence, and then those of the others, because I couldn't bring myself to care about the new protagonist.

What I dislike about protagonist shift is exactly what you describe: that I have begun to indentify with and care for the protagonist, and I am torn from living that story and forced into another one that I don't currently care about. Maybe you too have experienced the sadness at having to leave a book and its characters at the end of a novel. It often takes a couple of days for me to grieve that loss and fully return to my own life, before I can begin another book. A series that changes protagonists is one of the most hateful things I can think of.

There is only one kind of book where switches in viewpoints work for me: love stories. Because they don't switch protagonists. Two-viewpoint love stories actually don't have one protagonist, they have two. And switching viewpoints, the story does not switch protagonists at all. The focus remains on the developing relationship between the two – and the reader is never forced to leave any protagonist and can always stay with both, no matter which viewpoint the story takes on.

So the solution to your question is simple. If you don't want to traumatize the reader by tearing him away from a protagonist, what you need to do is

switch viewpoints but keep the former protagonist central to the story.

If the reader has begun to care about the new protagonist in the first volume, because that second-volume protagonist was part of the life of the old protagonist, central to the plot, and well developed; and if the old protagonist remains an essential part of the reader's reading experience of the second volume; then the reader will experience the change in protagonist, or rather viewpoint, as part of that character's development, and not as a loved one torn from his life.

Here is a decision tree for the problem:

  1. If the same story can be told without a switch in protagonist, then that is the story most people will prefer to read.
  2. If you must switch protagonists, make each protagonist a central part of the other protagonist's narrative. This is not a protagonist switch but a switch in viewpoint.
  3. If a protagonist must disappear completely, prepare the reader for that loss by letting them know well in advance, perhaps even from the outset (blurb). If possible, have other characters remember that person and show the continuing influence of his actions on the ongoing story.
  4. If the story demands that the switch must be abrupt and total, then – but only then – will an abrupt and total switch be an enjoyable read.
  5. When a series is not narrative but thematic (like Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias), then no switch can be intentionally irritating (as in Michael Moorcocks Jerry Cornelius).

In reply to an argument in comments with @Graham, who claims that readers like to read protagonist switches, I have created a statistic of protagonist shifts in the best-selling fiction series listed in Wikipedia's List of Best-Selling Books. This list contains every kind of series, from children's books to adult erotica, and from 1896 to the present, that has sold at least 15 million copies. I have only counted series published in English or a European language, and only fiction. Any further exclusions are noted below.

Frequency of Protagonist Shifts between Sequels in Bestselling Fiction Series

Barplot of

Not counted (with reason):

  • Choose Your Own Adventure (the reader is the protagonist in different stories)
  • Star Wars (based on a movie series)
  • American Girl (based on a series of dolls)
  • Where's Wally (not a story in the ordinary sense)
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad (autobiographical, non-fiction)


  • Multi-series series, such as Dragonlance and Riftwar, have been counted according to the first published sub-series.

While these are only extreme bestsellers, and the distribution might be somewhat different if we counted everything on the New York Times bestseller list and only contemporary adult fiction – which you are welcome to either do or stop arguing –, I think the sample is representative enough to refute the claim that readers love to read protagonist switches. Only about a seventh of all mega-bestsellers contain protagonist switches.

So while protagonist switches certainly do not prevent a book from becoming a bestseller, not switching protagonists makes it six times more likely that your book will become a bestseller.

It might be notable that protagonist shifts happen more often with group protagonists, that is, a change from one group of characters in the first book to another group of characters in the sequel. When the protagonist is an individual character, he usually remains the protagonist: the ratio is 1:11.5 as opposed to 1:3.3 for group protagonists. This means that in every fourth best-selling series with an ensemble cast the cast changes between sequels, but only in every twelfth series with a single protagonist. Probably this is due to the fact that identification with characters is weaker with a group of protagonists, and shifts between them have been happening throughout the book already.

  • 2
    I do not enjoy books where a major character dies. I love happy ends. If you wanted to appease a gentle soul like me, you would not tell the story of a single man, kill him, and then switch to the – surprise! – kids, but tell a story of a father and his children, if possible have it known long before that he will die, so I can come to terms with it, and then have the memory of him be a part of the continuing life of the children.
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:07
  • 1
    Think of the movie Love Story. That was heartwrenching. But it worked because the woman's death was foreshadowed and she lived on in the mind of the man and because her death reconciled him with his father. The story could have continued (in "volume two") with the man finding a new love after realizing that his dead wife would have wanted that for him (so she would even be a part of his new love). Oh, wait, that sequel has been made! So there you have your model.
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:07
  • 1
    I haven't read the whole series, but it sounds like you might enjoy The Wizard in Spite of Himself, which is about a man, then a couple, and then their kids, each person adding to the story. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 19:06
  • 2
    Based on your comment that "there is nothing you can do to make me like it", a further solution to the OP's problem is to decide that people who don't like it don't matter. Not being rude - just accepting that tastes differ. If enough people like it that it's worth continuing the series, it doesn't matter how many people didn't like it.
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 22:20
  • 4
    @what If the OP's goal is to write a major bestseller, then they can follow Pratchett, Gaiman, Martin, LeGuin, Stross, Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre or every major bestselling author ever, and change protagonists as required to tell the story. Failing to switch viewpoints when the story demands it will result in a badly-told story, and literally everyone resents that. If the OP is writing for adults, they should assume adult-level reading skills. Not everything has to be a simplistic narrative or a happy ending.
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 14:07

...you decide to change to a new protagonist. The reason isn't important...

I cannot let this pass. The reason is paramount.

If your story is character-driven, switching protagonist probably makes little or no sense, unless the person is killed and someone else has to carry the torch (but it is not the case, I understand).

If your story is plot-driven, you can pick a new protagonist every time the story requires it. It is your story and you can tell it any way you desire.

...George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire even does it every chapter...

Not entirely correct. George R. R. Martin changes to a different character's point of view with every chapter, the number of his protagonists (Jon Snow, Tyrion, Daenerys, Davos) is nowhere near the number of his characters. Yet he does have quite a few and does switch them promptly.

Robin Hobb has over a dozen novels set in the same world with characters, antagonists and protagonists traveling from one story to another, all set over an epic storyline, spanning several decades.

Make all your protagonists worthy of being admired and trust that the reader can keep up.

Absolutely true. Besides that--there are no rules, only the author and the story.

  • 1
    As always though, there's exceptions to the last rule you quoted. Stuff like Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, or even some bits of Song of Ice and Fire have non-admirable protagonists. Stories of fall and redemption, and dark and gritty genres in general won't always have admirable protagonists.
    – Ethan
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:13
  • 2
    @Ethan this is more or less terminology disagreement--even the darkest characters can have admirable qualities, that is what makes them interesting--the worst kind of protagonist is a boring one :-)
    – Lew
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:21
  • Yeah, I was thinking of admirable in the sense of someone the reader can look up to. I suppose that whole overcoming challenges thing that protagonists tend to do (or at least try to do) is ultimately admirable of itself.
    – Ethan
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:48
  • Note this turns on its being a multi-volume story. Self-contained novels do not have this problem.
    – Mary
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 2:48

I think the question really boils down to: what/whose story are you trying to tell? And is it a single story? Look at Jim Butcher's Dresden Files stories, for example. Those are almost all centered around the titular Harry Dresden, and he is the POV character for most of the books. The story is his story. Eventually, there are some peripheral characters who get stories, and become the narrator for a time, but it's all in service of telling Harry Dresden's story. And most of the books end with threads left unfinished, so as a reader, I'd be exceptionally annoyed if, when I picked up the next book, I didn't get some amount of closure to the outstanding threads. David Weber's Honor Harrington novels work in the same way. Once the universe is large enough, and some of the peripheral characters have been flushed out enough that the reader starts caring about them as well, switching protagonists is less jarring.

You can compare this to Terry Pratchett's books, which all take place in the same setting, but have many different protagonists. But in his case, when you finish a book, the story is complete. It doesn't mean that everyone is dead, but there aren't outstanding threads to the story. He hasn't introduced a villain who escaped, or some pending disaster that the hero has to solve. The same thing is true of Lois McMaster Bujold's books; again, a shared universe, but each book is a story in itself. While I'm happy to spend more time with a given character, I don't feel like something is incomplete if I don't get to do so. With the next book I read, the story is richer because I've read the other books, but I don't feel I'm missing something if I haven't read the other books.

  • 3
    One of the things about Pratchett is that the protagonists of some books can become recurring characters in others. Granny Weatherwax, Death, Rincewind - can be mentioned in passing in other books. This helps tie together the continuity, even while allowing the focus to remain on the story arc and character progression of the current protagonist. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 5:06

Ursula K. Le Guin uses a fairly well-tried technique in Earthsea:

  1. Write book 1 about protagonist A
  2. Write book 2 about protagonist B
  3. At some point in book 2, establish how it relates to protagonist A's story.

The essence is that some combination of the world, the story of book 2, and the character of protagonist B, must be strong enough to make book 2 worth reading. It can't survive solely on waiting to find out how it relates to protagonist A, although I suppose you could in theory use B as a false protagonist and return to A.

Le Guin is good at her job, so protagonist A seen through B's POV isn't the same as A from his own POV. It's quite striking that A is not permitted by the author to become the protagonist of B's story.

The protagonist of a novel is not necessarily "the character we like most" or even "the character whose POV we have", it's the character who is questioned and tested, and whose decisions and development are the subject of the novel. So at risk of reducing this too far, you switch protagonists by writing a story in which a new person decides and develops, and the protagonist of the previous novel plays a role in which their decisions and development are not so important for the time being. A's in it, but it's not about A. I would suggest that if you try to make it be about both A and B simultaneously then you risk either muddying the whole thing, or else (like George R.R. Martin) writing several thousand pages more than you intended.

If you skip step 3, so it doesn't relate to protagonist A's story at all, then arguably it's not a series of novels, it's a separate novel in the same setting. Which is also fine.

Now he's suddenly forced to work with this new person, when he is only interested in reading about the old one.

There are always going to be readers who wish their favourite authors would write about something different from what the author has decided to write about, no matter how compelling the new subject. Live with it. Just don't bait-and-switch them by advertising a series as being about protagonist A when actually it isn't!

  • 1
    That's a wonderful example. For the first few pages I was disappointed that The Tombs of Atuan seemed not to be about Ged. But LeGuin writes Tenar so well, that my interest in that character almost made me forgive the author for switching away from Ged – and then she actually brings him back, revealing the switch to be such an intriguing twist, that I immediately fell in love with the loss I had to go through at the beginning. Because: That switch was only temporary!
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:12
  • 1
    If you only have one plot line to follow, then your formula works OK. If you have a more complex plot line though, it's essential to have those multiple threads running concurrently. In reality events do happen concurrently, and a key characteristic of many writers (GRRM for example) is a feeling of immersion in their world. If everything's happening around the protagonist then OK, but the weakest part of Deathly Hallows is where Harry goes on a camping trip whilst everything happens off-stage, because Rowling was stuck with the protagonist's point of view.
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 10:03
  • For a counter-example on Earthsea, I didn't find Tehanu satisfying, because forcing Ged, Tenar, Aspen and Therru/Tehanu together felt like too many coincidences. If you're going to make it about multiple protagonists/antagonists, whoever's PoV it's written in, there needs to be a plot-driven reason for those multiple protagonists/antagonists to be in the same place. I didn't feel LeGuin managed that, even though she wrote the characters brilliantly
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 10:15
  • Very interesting. This is pretty much exactly how I'm approaching my current series, but, to my shame, I've never read Earthsea. Guess I have some catching up to do :) Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 12:20

I've seen it more than once. It can be a bit jarring, but it can also work fine. It depends on the plot and the writer.

  • Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising pentology: the first book is about three siblings, and then the second book is about another young man entirely in a different country who has nothing to do with them. They eventually meet in the third book and books 3 to 5 alternate between their viewpoints. It was confusing at first, but smoothed out eventually.
  • Anne McCaffrey's YA Harper Hall trilogy does something similar: Books 1 and 2 are about Menolly, a young girl who has to escape her abusive home to become a musician, and Piemur is a younger boy who is a singer whom she meets and befriends. Book 3 is about Piemur's adventures and Menolly plays little to no role. It works better because McCaffrey set many books in this universe and frequently switches protagonists. Robinton, the Master Harper, is a secondary character in several stories and then eventually got his own origin novel.
  • Another McCaffrey example in the same universe: Moreta is about a queen dragon rider, while Nerilka's Story is set starting about two-thirds of the way through Moreta and follows someone else's experiences. Each woman is a tertiary character in the other's story.
  • The Rama series by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee: Book 1 is almost a "history of the future," and books 2 to 4 are more traditional novels about a family (and are set some years later, IIRC).

So yes, you can do it. Make all your protagonists worthy of being admired and trust that the reader can keep up.

  • 4
    I like the McCaffey example. What may conciliate the reader in a long running series is the reappearance of characters in later books. But that doesn't help when the series is just in its second volume. I clearly remember reading volumes one and two of Dragonriders of Pern and deeply caring for Menolly, and then buying the newly released third book and being deeply dissappointed that it wasn't about Menolly. I was a serious let down, and I never loved any of the other books in the series as I loved the first two.
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 17:47
  • @what I had some of that reaction to The Dark Is Rising. Took me a while into book 2 to absorb that we weren't going back to those other kids for a while. Then the remaining books never quite gelled because the POVs kept switching back and forth. OTOH, McCaffrey's changes never bothered me. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 19:08
  • 2
    I really must reread Pern soon. It has been thirty years!
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 19:26
  • @what there are a few spots where its age shows, and later spots where hers does, but for the most part it's still a great universe. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 20:25
  • 1
    Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series is does this quite well in the last book. The entire series focusses on Alex, but it switches to to POV of an enemy assassin. When you first start reading, it is a bit confusing (I expected the book to be from Alex's POV, like in the other books), but by the end of the book it makes complete sense and the payoff is worthwhile. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 21:02

To make it work you should distinguish between:

  • what the story is about (mostly constant, can evolve, but only gradually),
  • the most relevant person or group (change is plot-driven),
  • point of view and narrator (unless plot/genere forbids it, you can change any time you want).

To give some examples:

  • If the story is about how X and Y meet, then you can, in the middle of the book jump to the other character (e.g. The Master and Margarita).
  • You can also keep the focus of the book constant, but switch points of view even every chapter, if you can make sure the reader knows what happens.
  • If the book is about some group, then you can focus on a different members (and the group could change over time too).
  • If the book is about a specific role, then you can change the protagonist every time somebody new takes that role.
  • Sometimes you can use lead-in character (that is, an extended introduction, but a whole book seems to be way too long for this).

To give an example of evolution:

  • You start with some character X and the book is about X.
  • After a few more books you realize that X is not awesome enough by himself or herself, so you make X a leader of some group.
  • Then some other member Y takes over (esp. if Y was nurtured to be the next leader) and the book is now about the person who leads that group, whoever that is.
  • The cycle repeats, but now you focus on how the group maintains its identity despite change of leadership. The book is about the group and its dynamics.
  • Then you introduce more groups and describe their iteractions (e.g., the respective leaders might unite against one common foe) and consequences, similarities and differences, how they mix with outside world. The book is about the community/society in which those groups exist.
  • And so on...
  • ...all the way to philosophy ;-)

You can always form a bond between character and audience through shared experience. In this case, if the reader is going to be bummed that the old protagonist is gone, starting the new book with the new protagonist also being bummed that the old protagonist is gone can form a bond between the reader and the new protagonist.

There are a lot of ways you can spin this, depending on how you want your audience to feel. You can have the two protagonists be close friends, rivals, or bitter enemies, or you can even just have the former protagonist be a celebrity or remembered hero that the new protagonist admires but doesn't know personally; any kind of relationship that would imply some kind of emotional investment, which suits the tone you're trying to accomplish.


The readers must not be surprised by it. The marketing for the second book must make it clear what is going on.

If you just say "The long-awaited sequel to Book 1", people will buy Book 2, but feel cheated and will never buy Books 3 and 4. (And your other books outside this series)

If you say "The adventures for Y, set in the same world as Book 1", people will know what is going on. Somewhat fewer people will buy Book 2, but they will not feel cheated and will probably continue to buy Books 3 and 4.

Of course, people will want to know what happened to the original protagonist after the end of Book 1. You should cover some of that between the action of the new book.

It helps a lot if the new protagonist has a significant role in the first book, to make readers care about their story. That way you can drop the "Set in the same world" part since everybody understands that.

You gave an example of a family saga, where the new protagonist is just a baby in the first book.

In that particular case, you can prime the readers to be interested in the next book by having the parents think about "How is the world going to be when Junior grows up?" Having them worry about this, you also make the readers worry about it... and then there is a new book just about that, how nice!


Mark Twain did this with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

In "Tom Sawyer," Huckleberry Finn was the number two character after Tom. After they discovered $12,000 of gold together (a quarter of a million in today's money), Huck became "equal" to Tom. So it made sense for Huck to have his own novel, with Tom as his number two.

I once considered doing this for a hero and heroine series (a his and her series if you will).

  • @ThomasMyron One last thought: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were published eight years after The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Eight years between sequels, that is, eight years of a reader being outside a fictional universe, will take out the edge of any protagonist shift. Think of Tehanu published eighteen years after its preceding volume. I mean, everyone was so happy there was a sequel, no one was unahppy that Ged had been assigned such a minor role, and only a brief appearance. Same goes for Rama. After 16 years, and with another author, no one expected the same protagonists.
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:01
  • @what: But even without the eight year gap, "Huck" was a much more logical choice for "new protagonist" than say, Aunt Polly. It's much more plausible if one can say, "Huck could have been the protagonist in Tom Sawyer, he just wasn't." In my series, I finally decided to go with the heroine as the protagonist for both, but the hero was a plausible protagonist for the first play.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:17
  • This answer consists almost entirely of a single example from literature. I would find it a lot more valuable if it broke down some of the reasons why Mark Twain's strategy worked, and compared it to other authors who did similar or different things.
    – Jerenda
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 15:54

Ender's Game is a famous book by Orson Scott Card, that spawned a number of sequels. One of them, Ender's Shadow, isn't exactly a sequel, it takes place at the same time as Ender's Game. The book describes a lot of the same events but is viewed through the eyes of Bean, a supporting character in the original book.

The way it is done is by telling the story of the new protagonist. His story is interesting in its own right, and happens to start elsewhere.

When the same scenes are later shown from a new viewpoint, they're told differently. Actions taken by the original protagonist (Ender) suddenly don't seem as good or obvious as they did when viewed through Ender's eyes, because Bean has his own concerns and different information.

That's the one he likes. He spent a whole novel with that person, learning deep truths about his character as they went through harrowing journeys together. Now he's suddenly forced to work with this new person, when he is only interested in reading about the old one. The reader puts the book down and leaves.

Well, make him like the new one too! And the new protagonist probably has his own views about some of those harrowing journeys.

Anyway, nobody reads a new book just to read more of the same.

  • And there was then a spin-off series of books that focused on Bean, Petra and the group that stayed back on Earth: "Shadow of the Hegemon", "Shadow Puppets", "Shadow of the Giant", etc.
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 17:29

In the classic model of a story, the protagonist pursues their desire to the limits of their endurance, concluding in some profound change or revelation (depending on whether you think people can change). In some sense, this drains the character of story potential. They have either achieved their desire or been defeated in their attempt. If they have achieved their desire, there is no basis for another story arc. (Or it must be a lesser arc with a lesser objective.) If they have failed, there is no logical trying again, because they have already tried to the limits of their endurance.

If the classic character arc has been accomplished, therefore, and you want to tell another story in the same world, it makes sense that you should change protagonist. New protagonist equals new arc. The previous protagonist can play a new role in the new story: wise man instead of hero, perhaps.

The alternative is that you are telling one story across multiple books. LOTR consists of six books in three volumes, but it is one story arc. A change of protagonist would be out of the question here because the original arc is not complete.

Another pattern we see in serials is that each episode is a different person's story arc in which the recurring hero plays a role. The hero's story potential is never exhausted because they are never actually the protagonist of the story arc. Or, there is a story arc for the hero but it is told very slowly through their participation in the story arcs of a new secondary character each time.

Yet another alternative is the maturation angle. In a maturation plot, the protagonist grows up as a result of the story arc. But there are multiple stage of growing up. Each arc can achieve push them to the limit of their endurance for their current level of maturity, forcing them to accomplish the next stage of growing up. But there is still more growing up to do, so there is still story potential remaining even after they are pushed to the limit of endurance in the last round of maturation. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a classic example of this. It also shows its limits. There is only so much growing up that a person can do, after which there is no maturation stories left to tell. Lewis has to switch protagonists in the Narnia chronicles as his characters grow up.


Episodic series. If each book has its own story, changing protagonists is even wiser than forcing the main character to have endless adventures (barring a certain type of character who would seek out such adventures.)

Romance novels do this all the time. In the first book, Alex and Alice marry after much trouble, including Alex mistakenly thinking that Alice wanted to marry Bob. In the second book, Bob meets Beth and her sister Charlotte and marries Beth. In the third book, Conrad appears to meet Charlotte.


Consider Almanzo in the Laura Ingalls Wilder classic children's novels. He is a member of the cast of characters in most of the books. But somewhere along the line he got a book of his own, that tells the story of his childhood.

We are predisposed to like him because we know he will marry our primary protagonist when he's grown. And then we get to know him and get invested in him for his own sake.

If the new protagonist has a story worth telling you will be fine.

  • This answer consists almost entirely of a single example from literature. I would find it a lot more valuable if it broke down some of the reasons why Laura Ingalls Wilder's strategy worked, and compared it to other authors who did similar or different things.
    – Jerenda
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 15:55
  • @Jerenda - Sorry, I can't think of any books that did something similar, but which didn't work. // Why it worked -- I suppose for the same reasons Wilder's books worked in general. Which have been effectively analyzed by much better analysts than me. // But thank you for explaining why you didn't find my answer helpful. Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 19:12
  • Yes; I don't mean to be discouraging, but I do wish to justify my downvote and encourage you to write an answer that can be useful to a number of other writers. :)
    – Jerenda
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 22:23
  • 1
    @Jerenda - I don't take it personally -- in fact I saw you gave the same constructive criticism to someone else on this page -- but there's always a learning curve when getting started on a new SE site. I wrote another answer recently that had two specific author examples and a whole genre. I would delete this answer, since it's not a strong answer, and I don't think I could do much to improve it (as explained above), but I'm a big Wilder fan and would therefore like to leave it here (unless it reaches, say, -3, and then I'll have to bite the bullet and take it down). Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 22:27

Have a look at Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive.

He doesn't introduce a new protagonist, but rather shifts the primary focus from one protagonist to the next.

By doing so he retains the reader's interest, because the original protagonist is still present, and the reader can see how the new protagonist relates to the old one.

  • This answer consists almost entirely of a single example from literature. I would find it a lot more valuable if it broke down some of the reasons why Brandon Sanderson's strategy worked, and compared it to other authors who did similar or different things.
    – Jerenda
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 15:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.