Im writing a fictional dieselpunk story based on the WW2 era in a world of my own. The protagonists are two squads (one from the "Axis" and the other from the "Allies") with the characters within the squads. Those are Spec Ops squads.

Some doubts have emerged when I finished some of the first 4 chapters where I write the path of the captain of the Axis Squad until he gets in the mission and the squad. It shows that he losts his previous squad and is somewhat traumatized by it, and then he is used by the governement for a super-soldier experiment where he will get his squad.

Then next, my script was telling me to write about a recruit and how he lost a friend of his earlier days. He is supposed to meet with the squad that enters his village with a secret mission which he will get into by accident and bad luck and will eventually join the squad.

But then, I saw that I was focusing these chapters on individuals rather than the squads. The recruit and the captain are the "stars" of these two squads in which I've prepeared more things on.

I could not ignore this doubt so I came here to ask:

How can I balance the individual x the protagonists? (the two squads)

I've already thought of some solutions like a third-person narrator outside to the squads (somebody related to the secret mission I've told about) and treat these chapters focused on individuals something like as "interludes" and doing some edits on the chapter's organization, but I think that I dont know exactly what I'm doing and what would be the impact of my decisions to solve this.

After all, I cant make all the chapters with the squads all complete. They are made by people. Sometimes their members will split out to do their own things and conflicts.

In short, I ask this because I want the reader to feel that the squads are the protagonists. Such an abstract concept, but I came here to ask if anyone here has any suggestions about what can I do and/or what I should not.

  • 1
    I suggest that (using thrid person narration) you let the individuals talk, but never get inside their heads. All you know about them is what you hear, from ten feet away. So, if Corporal John Smith is from Oklahoma, you don't know that unless he (or another character) says so, out loud. Alternatively, the character may display something (such as "Go Soomers") that gives it away. Consider LOTR, in which we never get inside the head of an Orc, even though one of them speaks from time to time.
    – user23046
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 22:46
  • I'm tired, and not phrasing it correctly, but you may want to see how beekeepers talk about their hives. Technically the Queen is most important and longest-lived, but we humans see the worker bees most of all, though their roles change with age. Bees are a great way to play with alien POVs. They're a collective, but also sort of individuals. Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 21:07

5 Answers 5


Short answer: you can't. Stories are about emotions and they are about choices. Groups don't have emotions and they don't make choices. Only individuals do.

Stories about groups of friends are, of course, very common. But in such stories, each person in the group has their individual story arc. Those arcs all share a common history -- their arcs are punctuated by the same set of events, more or less -- but they are different arcs because each person has their own particular issues, desires, and goals.

You will notice that it is not uncommon in group stories for one member of the group to get separated from the group at critical junctures. (How often does Bilbo get separated from the dwarfs in The Hobbit? Consider how the group containing Sam and Frodo changes and splits over the course of LOTR. All this is because there own particular story arcs require different events to animate them, and therefore they must split from the group.)

Not every member of a group necessarily has a fully developed and resolved arc, but they should at least have an implicit arc so we know why they are there and what motivates their actions.

Our lives are worked out in concert with other people, and so stories often feature groups working together. But the groups are not characters, and only characters -- individuals -- can be protagonists, at least in a classical western story.

  • 1
    You got some very good answers, Mr. Baker. Much apreciated. By reading your answer, I have discovered that I might having some vanity about the importance of the squad's entity. It is not the the squad itself that makes it as a protagonist but the union of people and what they do for and with this union. The enterprise would not be the enterprise if not from its crew.
    – Hanilucas
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 11:50
  • 1
    That is very true of the Enterprise, but we should note that in any given episode there is always one crew member who is the focus of the story, and the other crew members are just supporting cast to whoever the lead is this week. Sometimes there will be subplot featuring another character, but that is usually only tangentially connected to the main story. Of course, in a series like this there is a huge dependence on memory of prior episodes. In some sense the larger series is the story of the crew, but each episode it still the story on one principal character.
    – user16226
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 12:16

I have the very same issue on a comic series I'm writing: I want a band of rascals to stand as the main core of the story, instead of a single hero. My teacher told me that this can't be achieved. Partly for the reasons stated in other answers: only individuals have emotions, motivations, and choices, not entities, and that is what brings the story forward.

My teacher told me that even the most coral stories (The Wire, or Sense8) have what it's called a "technical protagonist", a character who may not have the most screen time (or pages time) yet it's the one who embodies the main theme or main question of the story.

So even in a very original series like Sense8 (which, by the way, is a fantasy), where 8 distinct characters actually form a single psychological entity, their individual lives emerge distinctly, and it's only in their interaction that the overall group is shown.

  • 1
    Very good answer. Technical protagonist, you say, this sounds interesting. You sound very direct and clear. "I cant have a main core instead of a single hero. I can use something as a techinical protagonist. And I shall make the group grow by the interactions of its characters." I think this last one is the most important. When I look at my script now, I see that the characters of the squad dont have a satisfactory interaction. Thanks for the answer!
    – Hanilucas
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 10:46

I agree with Mark in principle, but I would expand to add that I think by trying to revolve your story around two squads and trying to have them both as sets of protagonists, you're doing too much? With each individual within each group you have the entire structure of their personal arc, and to have that for two squads seems a mountain to climb. I don't know what your plan is (and I have a screenplay rather than novel background so I'm not sure how helpful I can be to you) but I would perhaps suggest splitting the squads into separate works. This would help you with being able to flesh out each squad, having more time/room to focus on individuals and the core group as a whole. That said if your story demands both are present at the same time, maybe make the squads smaller?

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. The main purporse of having these two squads is to expand the pesperctive of the world. Im not worried about how I would develop the characters but how could I balance them in order for the story not have a clear individual as protagonist.
    – Hanilucas
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 11:38

You might want to read some works that have multiple characters that are fully developed, with no one the "star" and see how those authors were able to balance them. Currently, I am reading Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina". Although the title suggests she is the star of the book, there are many characters who are just as developed as Anna. Tolstoy seems to do this by dedicating some chapters to Anna's story, and then dedicating chapters to his other characters story, and continuing this process multiple times throughout the story. All the while the stories are intertwined and from reading it the flow of the story is not interrupted. He was able to accomplish this through a very lengthy story (8 parts with most having 30+ chapters) and very talented writing, that is too complex to fully describe for this post.

  • I gonna search for more about this book. Thanks for the example
    – Hanilucas
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 10:43
  • 1
    This book is slow-paced due to the length and rich descriptions given. So if you are trying to write a fast-paced novel it may not give you the insight you need.
    – Virginia
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 14:21

If you write about two different people, the two separate lines of action should converge at one point. Although it's fine to have a group protagonist, there should still be one central character who makes most of the decisions that drive the action of the play. Remember, if you start with a group protagonist in Act One (the exposition movement) you must extend that action in Act Two (confrontation) and the original forces (group) that were present in the beginning MUST be present in the climax.

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