I saw this question posted in another forum, and it didn't have any responses, so naturally I decided to bring it over here. :)

I realized, 80% of the way through my first draft, that I don't have a dominant, lead character in this book. I believe that I can pull it off, managing carefully to not head-hop or change characters mid-scene, but I just wanted to get some feedback on that. Is it a problem for a book to lack a specific dominant character? How do other writers feel about not letting one character take the reins? When you're reading, does it turn you off a novel to not have a dominant lead?

EDIT: To make this a more SE friendly question: Could you please give me some examples of books that did not have one specific, dominant character? Please provide information on what those books did to make the story and characters compelling without being overwhelming.

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    Then We Came to the End is a great book written in first person plural that follows the co-workers in an office, managing to focus in on a variety of them in turn without any single one being a lead.
    – justkt
    Sep 7, 2011 at 0:04
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    This question could use some tweaking; it's an explicit call for subjective opinions. "I'm doing X, is that OK?" is not a good question. What problem are you trying to deal with?
    – Standback
    Sep 7, 2011 at 8:46
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    (Beyond which, it's no trouble to pick out plenty of ensemble casts, particularly in the fantasy genre - you don't need to seek any further than Dragonlance or Song of Ice and Fire to be assured this type of story exists.)
    – Standback
    Sep 7, 2011 at 8:49

6 Answers 6


Movies and television shows can have ensemble casts; why not books? I've seen this in SF/fantasy books where the ensemble is the members of an adventuring party, the crew of a ship, etc; often there are 3-6 core characters.

The novel 1632 (and successors) has many more important characters than I'm used to. There are a few core characters and one who may be the most important in the story, but I don't think of him as the lead character because he spends a lot of time off-stage. So it can work, though too many key characters can be hard to manage.


The recent Pulitzer winner A Visit from the Goon Squad is another example of a book like that. It is a sweeping look at the lives of inter-related characters over time.

Are books like these a turn off? A big 'no' to that. In fact, they can provide a fresh and exciting experience to the readers. If your narrative is not dominated by a lead character, it could be that you are exploring themes more general than what can be seen through the main character's perspective. Or you could have a complex central plot that is the centerpiece in itself. In short, you can do a lot more with a book that is not ostensibly 'about' a lead/dominant character, as compared to the more conventional books with protagonists. So do not be daunted by it.


I once read a Tom Clancy book, "Red Storm Rising", in which he introduced a character, and a few pages into the book, killed him off. So I was thinking, ok that wasn't the main character. Then he did it again. And again. I swear to you, 200 pages into the book he introduced the lead character.

I never actually finished that book because it was about naval war in the north atlantic and there were a bunch of military terms I couldn't really get into.

But I digress.

If your book has some common thread, like a certain theme, it may not need a main character. Sometimes in science fiction, the main character isn't necessarily a human, but something mechanical, like a space ship.

I would have to say if you've written an entertaining book without identifying a main character, don't let anyone tell you it has to be otherwise.


I would say it's perfectly possible to have an ensemble cast. It's a lot harder to plot and weave the narratives together elegantly, but if pulled off, it can be pretty amazing.

I can't think of any (English) books off the top of my head, but I would highly recommend having a look at an anime called Baccano!, which was actually based off a series of short novels. It has a cast of 17 or so, with many different storylines that all come together in the end to complete the main story. I absolutely love it, and from seeing it, I believe that it can definitely work.

Just keep in mind that with an ensemble cast, it will be very hard to keep the viewer from putting down the book in frustration or confusion early on, so you will need a very engaging central plot to keep their interest.


It is not uncommon and it is not a problem at all.

One fine example is a great novel by Jonathan Coe, What a carve up!, where there's no lead character, but a number of figures (the Winshaw family) the novel focuses on.

Another great book where you would be hard-pressed to find a lead character, despite its title, is Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Actually I would consider the castle as the real protagonist here. (On the other hand, the latter two books in the remarkable Gormenghast trilogy have more recognizable plotline/roles)


It is possible but I will suggest that those who do it are very accomplished and if a publishing house buys it it will have other redeeming values.

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