Too Many Protagonists

Several beta readers of my The Road to Environmental Armageddon manuscript felt I had too many protagonists. They suggested a novel of this type should have a single protagonist and a single antagonist. The antagonist remains an issue because I lack a personification of my real antagonist – the world’s inertia, an unwillingness to take climate change seriously. And the protagonist problem is also difficult because I’m trying to develop a reasonably realistic story about scientists concerned with climate change. It is inherently a slowly developing story that is unlikely to have a single protagonist taking central stage from beginning to end. I developed a story with three parts, distinct in space and time, that built on each as they approached a fourth part that finally comes to a what I hope readers will consider a dramatic conclusion.

I thought about throwing the whole damn thing on Marjory the Fraggle Rock trash heap and starting again with a time condensed story with a single protagonist before I developed my current plan. It avoids this protagonist problem by having a pair of protagonists for the each of the short novels that will build up to the fourth larger more dramatic grand finale.

Book one, The Souring Seas, has two protagonists, Tony Atherton, a graduate student in oceanography who you will have met in Chapter One if you’ve been following these blog posts, and Beth Manville, actress and environmental activist, Tony’s significant other, who you met in Chapter Two. There’s a supporting cast of a dozen characters about half of them reappearing in later books.

Book two, An Industrial Solution, begins about five years later and focuses on another pair of protagonists, Dan Delacour, another graduate student in oceanography, and Elena Llewellyn, an enigmatic character whose role I don’t wish to reveal. The third book, Future Imperfect, jumps another decade into the future and focuses on a third pair, undergraduate students Tomas Matthews and Luna Grange. The supporting characters in these two books include new and recurring characters.

The final book, Environmental Armageddon, is placed in the 2040s and brings the main characters of the three shorter novels together. The story ends in 2049 after the fools managing human activity on Planet Earth start a war they cannot stop.

I hope this works, generates a story that meets the ‘requirement’ for stories with single protagonist. If not, I’ll be visiting Marjory’s trash heap. Does anyone have her address?

4 thoughts on “Too Many Protagonists

  1. I struggle with the “too many protagonist” problem too, but I’m not sure it’s something you need to “fix”- if it helps deliver the message / story you want your reader to receive, I think any given decision can be the correct one, even if it goes against “conventional” wisdom. Your story is about a team, and really it’s only through collective action we’re likely to get ourselves back on course. Climate crisis isn’t something James Bond is going to be able to fix. It’s not a one-hero problem; it takes many heroes, figuring out how to work together, past differences in opinion and approach. I like that your hero is a team of people- that to me seems like an insightful choice.

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  2. Thanks Mike for the comment. It reflects my thinking on this issue quite closely. I like your idea of my protagonist being a team of scientists from three different generations of university students fighting the same enemy. Gives me a slightly different take on my problem. One I think will help.

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    1. It’s a brave thing to put your writing out there for feedback, with the sincere intent of taking advice and feedback, even to the point of major rewrites. Not everybody would do that. I think it’s probably a balancing act to do this while also still holding true to the core of your own vision, as the creator of the story. You put so much into this project, I know you will produce the books you want to, and they will be the right ones 🙂

      I would like to add my two cents that I think it could be called “The Road *From* Environmental Armageddon” though! Haha… that is the just the dreamer in me wanting to pick the book up for a shot of Hope, even amidst all the sobering science…

      Those two cents though are just that – small change in a big bucket!

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  3. I don’t know, Mike. You think I should change that one word in the title for the overall project from ‘to’ to ‘from’. Then on the last page of a 200000 word story that builds up to an inevitable disaster when the characters reach Armageddon I could have a miracle that solves the whole problem, Climate change simply disappears and everyone lives happily ever after. Do you think readers would buy that? I hae ma doots!
    I think you’ll have to write that one. I’ll stick with my original plan that has me writing a followup story where survivors of the disaster that ends our civilization pick up the pieces and start a new one.

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