On my research I stumbled upon this question and it matches somehow with my question, that lingers in my head for a long time.

In the mentioned question I read the common thinking is: Switching protagonists between books can be annoying, frustrating or discouraging to read about new characters in every new book.

Now I come to my question. In my novel I developed a very complex background story. Part of the background story is a being with a simple mission. But the difficult part is: This being is not the main character of my novels. The novels center around people, who are "used" by this being for the success of her mission. The person has small appearances in the books and remains mysterious and acts behind the curtains, until the final act/novel.

My question is: Is it okay to switch between multiple protagonists between books, if the true main character stays hidden behind the curtains?

  • 2
    I have to note that it would be very difficult to keep the main character (and more so, the protagonist) behind the scenes. The reader needs some connection to the character, and being a non-personified mystery being does not provide much of a connection. An example from fiction that comes to my mind is Keyser Söze - but even here we do have a personal connection through the hapless Roger "Verbal" Kint.
    – Alexander
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 16:51
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    See also: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/25819/…
    – user29032
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 18:21
  • @Alexander I know it is difficult to keep the main character behind the scenes, but the character himself leafes hints and everything for the reader, so that he can figure it out over the course of books, until it is finally revealed at the end of the series.
    – Pawana
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 6:08
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    It's interesting --normally I would be against this, but I'm planning on doing the exact same thing in my new series. :o My strategy is to make sure each book stands on its own, with its own complete story arc. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 14:38

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't say that the premise that you shouldn't switch protagonists between novels is an absolute truth in the first place.

What's so frustrating about reading about new characters? Doesn't one do that every time one picks a new book? Isn't that what one picks a new book for? So two books happen to be in the same setting. Why should they necessarily also follow the same characters?

Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld series, switches protagonists between books a lot. Sometimes the old protagonists later have another book all their own, sometimes they appear in the background, sometimes they walk out of the story entirely. I wouldn't want to read 40 books all about the same protagonist - that would be extremely tiresome. But I greatly enjoyed reading 40 books set in the same world, following different characters in different situations.

Ged is not the protagonist of all Earthsea books. Cat is not the protagonist of all Chrestomancy books. Old Man's War switches protagonists between books. Foundation gives you a new protagonist for every period - more than once in the same book. Different protagonists allow for different stories to be told, different POVs, different understandings.

So it seems to me that if your overarching story demands a switch of protagonist, then it would be served best by a switch of protagonist.

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    Right. The only case I'd suggest worrying about is if you have a series that already has multiple books with the same protagonist, new readers may expect to see the next book having the same protagonist, and may be disappointed if that doesn't happen. But if you're switching all the time, that won't be a problem. And even if you're not you can get away with it - Charles Stross's Laundry series had the first 5 books with the same protagonist, Bob, but then the 6th (The Apocalypse Score) switched to having his wife Mo as the protagonist, and that worked just fine.
    – Jules
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 16:03
  • Madeleine L’Engles books are another example. Two or three different groups that have connections but aren’t in every book.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 15:16

Once we love a world we want to explore it and its people. But we need to love the world first, and the pacing needs to be right.

I'm currently reading a book by an author I've read since i was small. This series is set on a world that's easy enough to fall in love with, and we've seen different parts of this world (different classes, characters, etc.) Usually there's a trilogy following each class on the planet. All good. The protagonist sometimes switches between books but major characters are brought along.

That's all fine, because what is constant is the world and the struggles in the world. Most importantly, enough threads are brought through, characters are still maintained, just not as PoV, and new information is brought in at an appropriate pace.

But, in this new book, the author goes way too far, for me as a reader. There is serious head hopping between characters, and every few pages is set in a new part of the world with different characters. I suspect the author is showing a global dynamic in play - a global crisis - In the streets of the city, in the countryside, in the palace, in the craft halls, in the farm fields, on the seas, in the universities ...

It's so annoying. I invest in a farm scene and read for three pages and begin to root for the characters and then boom I'm on a boat in the middle of the ocean. OK, I can handle the switch, we'll get back to the farm boy, right? No not yet, we have to go to the opera hall next. Or the gas station.

So, pace your stories and make me love your world, and I'm happy to explore more of it. And keep some characters riding through, because we probably fell in love with them as well. Don't push it too hard or too fast. Don't yank me around. Think of your storytelling like a courtship with the readers. Think about pleasing and enticing and satisfying, while introducing the new angle, and the readers will be happy to come along for the ride.


I disagree that the protagonist can be a true man-behind-the-curtain, only giving orders to other characters. Yes, this character knows more than the the other characters, but is this character undergoing tension and growth?

It seems that the characters that are being given the orders are the real protagonists. An example from fiction is James Bond. M gives him orders, but James is the protagonist.

In the Laundry Files books, especially the early ones, Bob Howard (the protagonist) is constantly being given orders and mentoring by people/beings that work behind the scenes, but he is still the protagonists.

The protagonist is a fictional creation. He isn't necessarily the hero, nor is he necessarily the character giving the orders. He is the character that is undergoing dramatic tension and (hopefully) growth. He is the character that the reader (again, hopefully) cares about. By this definition, he must be visible to the reader.

Even giving hints, it is rare that a character working behind the scenes will be developed enough for me to care about. The only one that I can think about is Mike from Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress."

As for changing protagonists, there are many ways to do this. Some writers do this every book, some do this when the original protagonist has become too powerful (in some way) to fit the role the author wants. Some do this when they want to explore a new part of a world.

One of the later Miles Vorkosigan stories jumps to Miles' mother as a character and you learn more about her marriage to her father than you ever expected. By doing this it explores things that could not be explored if the writer had still used Miles or his brother as protagonists.

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