Created By: Euodiachloris on August 28, 2012 Last Edited By: Euodiachloris on October 21, 2012

Protagonist Carpooling

For when you have choice over who the protagonist driving the plot at the moment is.

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This is for when you can't always say for sure who The Protagonist is, as there are several POV-character choices, depending on where you are in the story.

What you can say is that a pool of main (or mainish) characters are likely to be driving the plot at some point. They form a mini-Cast Herd of what, in shorter, less convoluted stories, would be full-time protagonists if their arcs were taken separately. They are not simply a Spotlight-Stealing Squad that thinks it's all grown up[[note]]Although, they can be that, too: it's a free story![[/note]]. And, certainly shouldn't be confused with Day in the Limelight minor characters, although you could argue that what we have is a cast of major characters doing just that.

It is the main preserve of Doorstoppers, Long-Runners and stories following a sprawling Kudzu Plot with a Cast of Snowflakes. Or, just Loads and Loads of Characters with heavy emphasis on such things as Rotating Arcs, Simultaneous Arcs, Two Lines, No Waiting, Four Lines, All Waiting, Breaking the Fellowship, and/or generalised Let's Split Up, Gang highjinks going on.

One character may be the Designated Hero[[note]]or, heck, the Designated Villain, too[[/note]] or the Chosen One of the whole overarching story, and, thus is the theoretical “leader” of the protagonist pool and the others' actions will almost always feed into this main story in some way.

Yet, at many points, all fulfil main-character, point-of-view duty for lengthy and vital segments of the plot-focus where the "leader" is either not there at all, or only there in support. Sometimes, these "other protagonists" can even be said to overshadow the supposed main one or two[[note]]Spotlight stealing for the win![[/note]], in many people's eyes.

In short, although there may be a traditional main character (or even two or three), they can easily be accused of having bouts of Designated Protagonist Syndrome, rather, while others deal with the actual plot.

When a character has suddenly become struck with the Main label for any given section of the plot-arc route, they can be said to be driving the car (a.k.a. the plot focus) the whole pool shares. They might then pull over, get out and let somebody else get in and take the wheel for a bit. Most often, this means they take the bus to somewhere else, while the car continues away. They may then get back in and take the wheel over at some later stage, when the car next pulls up near them.

Alternatively, you have several characters in the car who either shuffle back, forth or sideways to become supporting, back-seat kind of characters or even changing roles to become co-drivers or navigators[[note]]in cases of Deuteragonists or more[[/note]] as they spell the wheel together without actually leaving the car at all. When you have cases like this, all are likely to leave the car together, when the next section of road means they have to pull up and let a new lot (or singleton) take over and they hit the bus services together. Or, they may totally rearrange the group, with some staying, and others leaving.

Protagonist Carpooling may get confusing, as the characters can run the whole gamut of protagonist tropes, or just by dint of the complex pattern of who gets in and out the car when. The Poolers can include various flavours of Heroes, Villains and Others[[note]]See the Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes and Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains for when lines get blurred.[[/note]]. It all adds to the fun if done well, a headache if not.

For a fun list of things to be on the lookout for in Carpooling Protagonists, look no further than these tropes in a plot: Cast of Snowflakes, Rotating Arcs, Simultaneous Arcs, Let's Split Up, Gang, You ALL Share My Story, Deuteragonist, Designated Protagonist Syndrome, Supporting Leader, Supporting Protagonist, Decoy Protagonist, Hero of Another Story, Pinball Protagonist, First-Person Peripheral Narrator, Useless Protagonist, Villain Protagonist, a lot of A Day in the Limelight mixed with Put on a Bus and, last, but not least, the Spotlight-Stealing Squad.


Anime and Manga:

Point and theme of Baccano!, which deals with storytelling while presenting glorious fun and ass-kickage. The stories are told from the perspectives of several funky individuals, such as Jacuzzi, Dallas Genoard, Isaac and Miria, Eve Genoard, Firo Prochainezo, Luck Gandor, Chane Laforet, Ladd Russo, Czeslaw Meyer and Clair Stanfield, every single one the main character of his story, which is presented as such. All these characters interact with each other, too.

In similar vein, the sister series Durarara!! focuses on the interactions and adventures of several residents of the Tokyo district Ikebukuro, with out having a clear protagonist.

Naruto: Each and every time you get a party split for whatever reason, you get this. And, boy, do we get party-splitting (although it's more pronounced in the Anime where minor-major characters get more focus, but can still plot-drive to limited extents, even while being Filler). A slightly debatable example: Naruto is the main driver (although Sasuke, for all his faults, is one definite co-driver).

Tower of God: Although the star of the story is quite arguably one person (Baam), he's not the only one driving the plot-focus mobile by any stretch of the imagination. At times, we get doses of Agero Agnis Koon (and whichever team of well developed characters he's currently with). Then, there's... uh... the controversial Rachel, Wangnan and those around them who may (or may not) get focus of their own. Baam is the intersecting point who isn't always in the driving seat, not just of the plot-focus, but the plot itself. And, beyond all those, are The Other Stories going on around them all, as well. It's fun!

Kubera: A large cast? Check. Many points of focus? Check: we get to see a fair bit of characters without the main one's title name[[note]]pun intended[[/note]] doing their thing. Brillith and Agni (the whole City arc) spring to mind, as well as what can be dubbed "The Sura Sections". Not to mention Yuta (and whatever he's going to get up to next), Ran (ditto) and last, but by no means least, Asha.


The Lord of the Rings: From the splitting of the Fellowship onwards, we get this trope to a T. Roughly two-thirds of a defining Doorstopper devoted to this? Yes. Also the Film(s)... for obvious reasons.

Wheel of Time: Ye gads: do you get carpooling or what? What with three main "protagonists" officially whacked into that role via an in-world phenomenon known as ta'veren, you've got the vast herd of others who yank focus out of their graspy little hands at any given minute to go charging down the plot road on their own or even with others. Heck, the Villains get a lot of screen time during which they do some driving!

Game of Thrones:OK... tell us (please, do!)... who the main Hero (or, heck, Villain) actually is. Cake for anybody who can. The number of characters with focus is unbelievable and even the nasty ones have redeeming qualities that are essential to the plot direction. And, when you add the plot-strands together, it just gets worse. The TV Series gets this as well, even if it does try for some Adaptation Distillation.


Homestuck. Full stop.

Order Of The Stick: With the Order themselves clocking in at six, add all of Team Evil for Villain Protagonist slots at any time, stir in with lesser, but no less plot-driving main-like characters in almost every major arc. Oh, and the Linear Guild.
Community Feedback Replies: 18
  • August 28, 2012
    The description may need a trim. And, I'm not in a red-pen mood. Any takers? :)
  • August 28, 2012
    Et tu, Euo? Even you misunderstand the Designated Hero trope? Side-stepping all pretend-drama here however I think that the bit featuring the designated protag should be cut, as it describes unheroic heroes who are intended to be heroic.

    Also, for examples, I believe we should think about a proper amount of MC's needed for this trope. Let's take Naoki Urasawa's Pluto. The main characters are obviously Astroboy and Kommissar Gesicht, so would this count? How about Uran's endeavors and professor Ochanimizu's bits in the story?

    This trope is in heavy danger to be over-run by examples of series with Omniscient Narrators who switch from setting to setting because they can, especially to give us a bigger picture of the plot.

    Should a team of heroes be viewed as one entity, like the strawhat pirates or section 9 from Ghost in the Shell? There we have The Major, Aramaki, Batou and Togusa with a whole lot of focus, doing their part of the investigations? In One Piece, they often split up and fight different battle, but it is kinda clear that Luffy is the main character and the crew are very well rounded supporting characters.

    I guess if a character has several days in the limelight and these episodes contribute to the plot, it would count…

    So once again, this is about a plot where the main character is not so obvious as it first seems and where many characters get a lot of focus and a lot plot-driving to do, right? I think the impact on the plot and the frequency should be well emphasized.
  • August 28, 2012
    Eh, no, actually. Designated Hero: my version... "When the one you're supposed to cheer for, according to all in-world sources, is hardly one you'd currently find heroic, or, sometimes, even the main character." Reverse for villain. Both are distinct Anti- tropes. <shrugs> The problem comes in when Designated Protagonist Syndrome is attached due to the shift/ dissonance between description and actuality. <yet another shrug>

    Something I've noticed with Protagonist Pools... this happens, sometimes at points, often for full arcs with the person who was, at one point, a full on whatever... <shrugs> Character Derailment or not, it's sometimes hard to tell until you hit the end of whichever arc hands you answers. :D It's why I put it in. I kind of hope people follow the link to see why... although, I could make it clearer... How? Open to suggestions (and, outright direct editing, you know). Edit wars! Heee! (Now's the time to have 'em, rather than store it up for later. ;) )

    I'm not familiar enough with Pluto to make a judgement :(... a little help, here!

    Omniscient Narrators are a kind of First Person Peripheral Narrator, though... and you'll get arcs in many stories where this occurs. Hmmm... How did I forget The Sandman? World's End, specifically... part of that's all told as a flashback from a guy telling a bartender his story, so it's a Framing Device wherein a one-off "protagonist" tells a tale that shows what the real main characters are getting up to (and a lot of mainish ones) that still moves a significant chunk of plot. A very spoilerific one.

    I don't see how you can weed that out, without losing the useful ones. <shrugs>

    And, no: this is about the protagonists you get in complex plots where you just can't label a single person (or the standard three or four) as "main", but start having to draw up lists for the occasion, depending on where in the plot you are (some of whom might actually be major plot-movers, but not actually shown focus -- hence my bringing up "The Other Car": that comes into play here when you do suddenly get them driving the plot in focus).

    Did I over-egg the pudding?

    EDIT: OMG -- How did I also forget Dune?!? Progressive Protagonists, in the main, true... but, it's still a carpool. :P
  • September 1, 2012
    From elsewhere... I've been given the example of Lost. Problem is, I could only bluff my way past the first series to describe the example, as I bailed at the end of that. Some help would be nice to write that up. :)

    And, I've caught up on Pluto: OK, OK... I prejudged that, and I shouldn't have. <blushes> It fits. Who bagsies the example write up? :) Kenjiken, as you raised it, maybe it's your ball, mate? :)
  • September 2, 2012
    I think The Wire qualifies, given how each season focuses on completely different characters, unless it's required that the same characters be present throughout, with the narrative shifting in focus without abandoning any of them. In which case, I feel that Breaking Bad, while holding Walt as the protagonist by and large, often shifts to Jesse-centric arcs that at times are more prevalent , citing the late season 2 romance with Jane and the mid to late season 4 Jesse/Mike apprenticeship as the most obvious examples.
  • September 2, 2012
    Homestuck. Full stop.

    Where do videogames that allow you to choose what character to play as at the moment, and videogames that shuffle you from character to character without you being able to control them, fit in regarding this trope?
  • September 3, 2012
    From your giant list of related tropes, you missed Loads And Loads Of Characters, since the bigger a cast you have to choose from, the easier it is to write stories for them.

    • From live action TV, soap operas. All of them. With rotating cast members and long runners, there are many characters that appear in these series. And they usually have Black And Gray Morality (or white and gray, or gray and gray; I try not to watch these things) so that the villain this week can become the hero next week, and vice versa.
  • September 12, 2012
    I'm a just go ahead and add good ol' Baccano! and DRRR! You could say for Baccano that it even ties into the whole theme of stories being just tales from a certain perspective. When the perspective changes, so does the story, so there is no real main character and the story never ends anyway.
  • September 12, 2012
    I think we should keep video games out of this, as far as possible. Surely there are a few games that do have plots that have no defined main characters, and they should be added, but I think there should be more to it than just changeable player characters.
  • September 12, 2012
    Also, please note that I accidentally edited (and unedited) the first comment about video games). As far as I know, I am not talking to myself ^^
  • September 12, 2012
    And about adding examples: I can only add what I know. And after thinking about it, I do not think that Pluto counts. Astroboy was Gesicht's Deuteragonist at best, until he took up the sword after Gesicht got killed. Matters were pretty clear. Ochanimizu and Uran had their own scenes where they did major contributions to the plot, but it was never really about their characters.
  • September 13, 2012
    • The Dreamstone seemed to start off this way, while Rufus was the main hero, the Urpneys had a rather large amount of Sympathetic POV and opened and closed each episode. Their spotlight stealing and the heroes' increased blandness led it to becoming more of a Villain Protagonist show however.
  • September 18, 2012
    I restored my name to my comment.
  • October 19, 2012
    Question, how is this different from Rotating Protagonist?
  • October 20, 2012
    Would movies that invoke The Rashomon trope fall under this? Such as Vantage Point and of course the Trope Namer Rashomon?
  • October 20, 2012
    Also the film 11:14 shows the story's events around that time of night, in Anachronic Order with each piece centering around one of the characters involved in it.
  • October 21, 2012
    The film Crash also centers around different characters in telling pieces of the overall story from their respective points of view.

    (11:14 and Crash aren't exactly Rashomons however, in that we don't see the entirety of the story from each POV, just different parts of it.)
  • October 21, 2012
    • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, being a Ensemble Cast series, often ends up as this. While Twilight Sparkle is often played as the main character, more than three quarters of the series have another of the six main ponies (or even another more minor character) as the lead of an episode. This is especially prominent in the second season, where Twilight has no larger a number of spotlight episodes as the other main characters and is absent altogether in some others.