Who places first, the swordsman or the archer?


There is no doubt that 17-year old David Heiland, archery champion, is the main character in my novel, IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING. From the appearance of inexplicable runes to mysterious letters to the discovery of a parallel world on the brink of war, the story is 100% his.

Or is it?

My second main character is Eric Hamden, an 18-year old squire and expert swordsman, determined to find the solution promised by the seers to keep the realm from war.

For years agents, publishers and editors have stressed the importance of introducing your main character in the first chapter. The reader needs to know who your book is about and why they should be invested in reading it. But what happens if you have two main characters, each with their own goals, each with equal importance? Both characters share POV in the novel. Whose POV do you start with?

After several beta reads and critiques, the overwhelming consensus was that Dragon King needed to begin in Eric’s POV. Even though the story is David’s, the logical flow begins with Eric. I debated it back and forth, thinking of novels where the first chapter didn’t include the main protagonist (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is one), and after much deliberation, I changed the order of my novel to put Eric’s POV first. Then I read a couple of articles by agents stressing the importance, especially in YA, of introducing your main character in the first chapter and I changed my opening back to David’s. I threw it back out to different betas and again it came back with suggestions to put Eric’s POV first.

Now, if I’ve learned anything in the beta/critique process it’s this: if one person makes a suggestion, it’s up to the author to decide if the change is valid. If an overwhelming majority suggest the same change…odds are they’re right. In this case, their suggestion coincided with my gut instinct so I changed it back to Eric’s POV first, and there it will stay.

In this case, the swordsman beat out the archer in order of appearance. It’s the only logical decision I could make as Eric’s POV leads directly into David’s story without the need for a Prologue. Let’s hope the publishers and editors agree with all the betas and my gut instinct.

Have you ever had two main characters in your story? Did you ever have to make a decision like this? How did you decide and did your gut instincts pay off?

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19 thoughts on “Who places first, the swordsman or the archer?

  1. That sounds like a hard decision…but I’d always go with your gut (especially if several betas verified it). It sounds like an exciting read with a swordsman and an archer for the main characters. Action!

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  2. The monomanicale middle grade reviewer and I are STOKED that Eric’s chapter is coming first. He agreed.

    Also, You may not realize it, but in this particular novel, Eric and David SHARE main character billing. The overall story is driven by David’s quest, but remember, they entertwine… closely.

    You’ve made the right decision. Feel good about it and don’t second-guess yor “gut”.

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  3. I’ve seen so much agent and editor advice about this and other topics. What strikes me is that when you look at their “favorites” or “good writing examples,” so many of them DON’T fit those molds. I’d trust your betas and your instincts.

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  4. Yes! My novel’s protags are 2 siblings, both have POV. For a long time I started with the brother’s POV to kick off chapter one, because he had the more “active/progressive” story.

    What I found wasn’t that I started with the wrong character (necessarily), but that I wasn’t opening with the right scene for the book. When I figured out what scene I should really start with, it suddenly dawned on me that I have to open with the sister’s POV. Chapter 2 introduces the brother.

    You probably made the right choice if that’s what the majority of your readers think.

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  5. I started with a character who wasn’t my MC, and I realised I didn’t need her there, so I wrote her out of the first chapter. Then I realised I didn’t need her at all so I wrote her out completely (even though I loved her.) I just listened to my gut, and my gut told me she had to go πŸ™‚ You’ve probably made the best decision!

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      1. Ha! Look how happy Jennifer got! πŸ˜€ I’ve still got it saved (heck, that wasn’t even my FIRST first chapter. More like my fifth. I have them all saved.) Maybe one day I will post it! I never thought about doing that before.

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  6. I will face this in my new WIP. I’m still in the outlining phase, but I’ll have to make a decision. Of course, I haven’t worked on it in weeks as I’ve been so busy with the current one, but hopefully soon I’ll get back to it. πŸ™‚

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  7. Trinity originally started with Nidan’s point of view (actually, first first drafted started with Marcus’ POV but it got changed pretty quickly). I changed it when I was asked by an editor to decide who stood the most to lose in that opening scene. It was Kiana. Hands down. I then changed the POV balance in the whole novel as a result. I think the right decision was coaxed out of me!

    I’d say trust your betas. If the two characters have a fairly equal number of POV scenes, then they are joint main characters anyway and readers will decide which one they prefer.

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