Can There Be More Than One Protagonist In A Story?

A writer recently asked:

I write Western genre screenplays. And I love to use Dramatica Pro. In Western Genre sometime I will run into more than one  protagonist more than one antagonist . I name my antagonist in Dramatica Pro and then when I try to name another antagonist it will not allow me to go any further down the road in story. Will there be another advanced software in Dramatica Pro that will allow me to name more than one antagonist and let me go on with my story and continue to use Dramatica Pro?

Here’s my reply:

There is only one protagonist and antagonist in a story, but there may be more than one story in a single book or movie.

The protagonist is defined as the character who is leading the effort to achieve the Story Goal, and the antagonist is trying to prevent him from doing that.

The protagonist and antagonist represent initiative and reticence in our own minds – the force to effect change and the force to prevent change or to embrace or return to the status quo.

There can be a protagonistic group where, as an assembly they all function as a single protagonist, but if there were just two protagonists, they would both have to be the prime mover of the quest to the goal and they both can’t be, by definition. Or, each could have a separate Story Goal that affected everyone, but then you really have two stories.

In a nut shell, here’s why narrative works that way. Narratives reflect how people interact in real life. As individuals, we all have a sense of initiative, reason, emotion, skepticism and so on. And in solving personal problems we use all of these to try and find the solution.

But when we come together as a group toward a common purpose, we quickly self-organize into specialities, where one person becomes the Voice of Reason, another as the resident Skeptic and another as the Prime Operative who pushes everyone else forward toward completion of the group’s goal.

The “specialists” are represented in narrative as the archetypes, and each is just one facet of all the traits an individual has, yet each function just as we do in groups, focusing on just one aspect of the problem solving so that, collectively, the group can go into more detail and thought than if we were all general practitioners, each trying to be a jack of all trades (as we have to do for our personal issues.

Now the protagonist in the group – the one leading the effort – does not have to also be the main character. The main character is the group’s identity – the character who represents the spirit of the group – its personality in a sense. Sometimes the leader of the effort is also heart and soul of the group, in which case you have a typical hero who not only does the job, but also has to grapple with a personal issue – a decision about his own value standards that can make or break the overall effort depending on how he decides to see things, often in a leap of faith, as when Scrooge changes in A Christmas Carol.

So, only one protagonist or antagonist or reason archetype or emotion archetype, etc. per narrative.

BUT, often stories have sub-narratives built around some of the archetypes. Everyone has a story of their own. And so does every character in an overall story. We just don’t always choose to sell those “sub-stories” because we want to focus on the principals and not clutter things up.

But, you can take any character and create a sub-story around a personal goal in which he is the protagonist and main character in his own personal narrative that is not at all the issue the whole group is dealing with. This sub-story might be completely independent of the main story, or it might be hinged so that events in a character’s personal narrative are so potent than it causes the character to step out of his function in the overall story in a surprising way.

After all, our own personal narratives tend to be more important to us than the narrative of the overall group with whom we are associated.

So, with sub-stories, it can seem as if there are two protagonists in the story and even two antagonists, but they aren’t really in the same story but in a sub-story in the same overall “world” you’ve created in your story telling – your story universe.

I hope this helps provide some new ways in which to think about your characters and plot.

Let me know if you have any additional questions and may the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

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