Questionable: What’s the difference between “Protagonist” and “Point of View Character”?

CarolC wrote:
So many romances show the story from two points of view (and many readers complain when there is only one) that I was under the impression that romances at least were better with two protagonists. Obviously, I was mistaken in assuming two points of view, even if given equal time, meant two protagonists, but I was curious why you felt the story should belong to one protagonist, even if some scenes were in the other point of view.

Let’s start with the first question (the one I put. in the title) which is what’s the difference between a protagonist and a point of view character?

The protagonist is the character who owns the story.

A point of view character is the character through whose eyes we see a scene played out. Therefore you can have several PoV characters in a story (only one per scene if you PoV is third limited; if it’s third omniscient, the PoV is Narrator as God, and that’s a different post).

So why only one protagonist? Because if you have more than one protagonist, you have more than one story. That’s fine as long as one story is dominant, the main story of the book, and the other is subordinate and supports that main story, a subplot. (The protagonist of a subplot does not have to be the protagonist of the main plot.)

Why can’t both plots be equal? Because you have to pick a lane, Sparky. Let’s assume your contract is for 100,000 words. In that 100,000 words, you have to introduce the protagonist, introduce her conflict, foreshadow or introduce her antagonist, establish setting, mood, tone, and community, and then tell the story of her struggle through turning points and setbacks. Suddenly 100,000 words ain’t that damn many. But you want a subplot to deepen the layers of the book and support the main plot. Now you don’t have 100,000 words, you have about 80,000. If you want two subplots, you’ve got maybe 70,000. If you have three subplots in a 100,000 word book, you’re nuts; don’t do that. (Yes, I have done that. It was dumb. I regretted it.)

Now let’s look. at 100,000 word book with two main plots. That’s 50,000 words each. You know those short little Harlequin romances I wrote? They were all 75,000 to 80,000 words. A 50,000 word story is SHORT. You had all that lovely real. estate and you subdivided it into two tiny parcels. And for why? Because you wanted to show both PoVs? You can do that, just knock the less important story down to a subplot and give the rest of the real estate back to the big story so that you have enough room to actually develop it.

Okay, but suppose you don’t want to limit yourself to 100,000 words. You want both stories to be equal, so you’re going to write a 200,000 word book. Two things here. One, you better be a genius writer because that’s a helluva long time to sustain. reader interest. Two, you better be a super-genius writer because you’re trying to sustain reader interest in two different stories at the same time. I mean, I think I’m good, but I’m not that good. There are people who write those huge tomes and more power to them, but they’re almost always sweeping sagas with casts of thousands, okay dozens, that span years.

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