Sometimes, writers don't know what they're doing. I'm guilty enough of that, and today I'd like to talk (in a mercifully brief manner for once) about a common mistake writers make: Wrong Protagonist Syndrome.
Wrong Protagonist Syndrome is exactly what it sounds like. You have told your story, written your book, but the focus is on the wrong character. In my most recent book, for example, the first draft was allegedly about a character who wasn't the narrator. The narrator was telling the other character's story, sort of like the Gospels being the story of Jesus as told by his pals. Unfortunately for me, I was actually intending to tell a story about the narrator but somehow had forgotten that along the way, getting caught up in the action of the other characters. A serious rewrite (first of many) was necessary.
It can go the other way, too. The narrator in a first-person story isn't necessarily the protagonist. To stick with the New Testament (best example I can think of at this moment of coffee-deprivation), suppose Matthew Mark Luke and John had written their own stories instead of the story of Jesus. Whole different set of books. Same events, but not the same story.
I recently read an unpublished book where the protagonist from the first 2/3 of the book more-or-less disappears and the last 1/3 is given over to the antagonist, who is then shown as a sympathetic character. The climax of the book is his, is about him. The book, really, should have been all his story; it's like parts of two novels were shoved together.
Even in novels where there is a huge cast ("Lord of the Rings," for example), there should still be--I think--a single focus character. You should be able to say, "This is the story of Person X." Lord of the Rings is the story of Frodo Baggins. Lots of other stuff goes on, but every other character in the book can drop dead halfway through the narrative and the central storyline remains.
My current work-in-progress has two main characters. I need to choose one of them as the protagonist of the book. This choice will make a great deal of difference to the way the book is written. If I go with Nathaniel, the story will be about a man who sees that there's more to the world than he imagined; a story about being surprised. If I go with Daisy, the story will be about a woman who's suspicions are confirmed; a story about being right. These are different stories. The events will be the same in either version, but the meaning will be different.
In Other News: I will not be blogging next week. Why? I'll be moving house and won't have internet access. Behave yourselves while I'm away.