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#1 redwood

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 10:01 AM

I keep getting this question: "Who exactly is your main character?" from people reading my synopsis and query.

I've tried to write the synopsis and query from the viewpoint of only one character and make the two males complimentary characters, because overwhelming advice in query writing is to concentrate on ONE character and use as few names as possible, preferably no more than ONE.

Yet this question keeps popping up anyway, forcing me to search more deeply for answers. Lately I've found a plethora of websites discussing the "problems" trying to synopsize and query multiple main characters, and I've finally admitted (like an addict) that yes, I have multiple main characters. Three of them. No matter how I try to deny it, all three are equally important. Consequently my query and synopsis are NIGHTMARES to construct. No easy "Twenty-year-old So and So finds out that Such and Such is keeping her from doing This and That."

I'm interested in seeing how others deal with this in their queries and synopses, if in fact there is anyone else out there with this problem.

Here's one comment I read recently: "Kristin Nelson has been doing one of her workshops on her blog. Her thoughts are a book's blurb should about the first 30 or so pages, as that is what hooks you into the story."

If that is true, then it narrows my problem down to two main characters. But then I feel weird leaving out a MAIN CHARACTER completely. :huh:
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#2 Cat Woods

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 10:17 AM

I have an entire boat load of charactes--literally. My MC, if you will, is one whole family, their annoying parrot and a three-legged dog.

I addressed this in my query by writing them as a unit.

"When Mama smacks the piggies of King Grumpalot, the Wackentoes family is..."

Don't know if that helps.

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#3 Litgal

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 11:00 AM

The MS that I just sent switches viewpoints between two sisters (and each of them present their own first-person POV). So under no circumstances could I ever say I have 1 main character.
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#4 redwood

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 11:21 AM

The MS that I just sent switches viewpoints between two sisters (and each of them present their own first-person POV). So under no circumstances could I ever say I have 1 main character.



How did you query this? (if you did query)


Just finished reading http://www.annemini.com/?cat=57 "Author! Author! Multiple Main Character Synopsis." She advises to "Tell the story of the BOOK, not the individual protagonists" in a multiple MC synopsis, which is interesting, and is what I did in the past, until I received this advice from an editor more recently:

"The main weakness with the synopsis is lack of focus. It makes the novel seem more like an historical account than a riveting story. It recounts, as if from a remote distance, what’s happening in all the different camps. Whose story is it? In whose footsteps will readers travel this novel, sharing in his or her travails and triumphs? The difference is that an historical account tells us what happens, while a story gets us emotionally involved with the characters and their struggles. That emotional involvement is what readers of novels are looking for—and hence, so are agents and acquisitions editors."

I rewrote the synopsis after this to lean toward the characters' and their motivations, feelings, conflicts, etc.

I must say that personally I like my newer version better. It does resonate with me that queries and synopses would be more successful if they show a person or people the agent can identify or sympathize with, rather than just relating "This happens, then this."

But it's hard to keep the length down to one page when you have multiple main characters to bring to life.

Don't mean to veer off toward synopses, but all this applies to queries too, I think. Even harder in a query, under 200 words!
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#5 S.K. Keogh

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 11:36 AM

I have, on average, three POV characters in my stories and though each of those characters are equally important to the story I still have what I would refer to as one main character. Without that MC the others' "stories" aren't complete. For example, look at your various "main characters" and ask yourself, "OK, if I removed MC #1 would the story of MC #2 and MC #3 fall apart or be irrelevant without MC #1's story?" If so, than MC #1 is your actual MC. Does that make sense?

In my query for The Prodigal I mention three characters (there are 4 POV characters in the story): MC #1 (Jack), MC #2 (Maria), and the antagonist (Logan), but the focus is on Jack's story. In my one-page synopsis, Logan and Maria each get one paragraph about their "story" while the rest is devoted to Jack.

Does this help? I'm certainly no expert but so far the query and synopsis have gotten me a number of requests for fulls.

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#6 redwood

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 11:55 AM

I have, on average, three POV characters in my stories and though each of those characters are equally important to the story I still have what I would refer to as one main character. Without that MC the others' "stories" aren't complete. For example, look at your various "main characters" and ask yourself, "OK, if I removed MC #1 would the story of MC #2 and MC #3 fall apart or be irrelevant without MC #1's story?" If so, than MC #1 is your actual MC. Does that make sense?

In my query for The Prodigal I mention three characters (there are 4 POV characters in the story): MC #1 (Jack), MC #2 (Maria), and the antagonist (Logan), but the focus is on Jack's story. In my one-page synopsis, Logan and Maria each get one paragraph about their "story" while the rest is devoted to Jack.

Does this help? I'm certainly no expert but so far the query and synopsis have gotten me a number of requests for fulls.



Totally helps! I remember reading your query. Didn't leave a comment because I couldn't think of a single thing that could use tweaking or changing. Yeah, without the girl, the guys wouldn't have a story at all (at least not a particularly interesting one.) I have leaned heavily on her and I think maybe I should continue to do so.

Someday, I hope to write that line: "have gotten me a number of requests for fulls." :laugh: Congrats on that!
“There’s no such thing as tough. There’s trained, and there’s untrained. Now which one are you?”
The Year-god's Daughter, book one in The Child of the Erinyes Series, will be published in November, 2011

#7 redwood

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 12:00 PM

I have an entire boat load of charactes--literally. My MC, if you will, is one whole family, their annoying parrot and a three-legged dog.

I addressed this in my query by writing them as a unit.

"When Mama smacks the piggies of King Grumpalot, the Wackentoes family is..."

Don't know if that helps.



Dang, that's a good one! It sends my mind down new trails.
“There’s no such thing as tough. There’s trained, and there’s untrained. Now which one are you?”
The Year-god's Daughter, book one in The Child of the Erinyes Series, will be published in November, 2011

#8 Jean Oram

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 12:11 PM

I figured follow the story as they are an integral part of it. But hearing from that editor, maybe not. Unless the events are conveyed in terms of how they are spurred into action based on the characters. For a synopsis, something like: Joe, angry at Bob for accidentally burning down his barn while showing off to Mabel, the new girl in town, he walks into town and orders the sheriff to arrest Bob. Bob, doped up on pain meds arrests Mabel, sending her father, the minister, into a tizzy, locking the town down in what he calls "Spiritual Rehab." Rehab is tough. Nobody is allowed out of their houses, and blah, blah, blah. And you keep coming back to those main players and how, together, they are the MC and create change and move the story forward. In a query, I'd say, find the crux of the story and relate the characters in, making them real and definite elements of motivated change.

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#9 Robin Breyer

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Posted 03 November 2010 - 12:23 PM

I ended up with three MC's in my Fantasy novel. One makes the story move and is probably the pivotal MC so my Query focused a little more on her. In the novel, the second MC is the one we start with and end with and is equally important, but isn't as pivotal so he gets less time in the Query. The third one acts as guide and his part of the story is crucial in the beginning and we stick with him from Chapter 2 until near the end (when the other 2 MC's go home). He gets a couple of mentions in my query, but his story would just bloat the query. In the synopsis he gets a more representative share of his tale.

My Science Fiction has been easier. They all are really about one person and the people and events around him.

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#10 Taurean Watkins

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 06:39 AM

I don't have any answers for you, but I know how you feel, even though in my novel, I do have a main viewpoint MC, but also have two secondary characters, my MC's best friend turned enemy, and his new elderly friend are equally important.

I've rewritten my query letter dozens of times trying to show how these three characters are connected, while still making it clear that we're only inside Gabriel's head, and still be short. Can you say, "Help!"?

#11 Hungry Like A Wolf

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 10:04 AM

I have three MC in my storey; I gave Mr. Wolf, his own chapters, Little Red and Jake the lumber jack shared their chapters with each other,with their on going coversations through out the book. I showed how they were all related to each other in the book in the first and last sentince of each chapter. like this "as Little Red walks on a path with Jack by her side; mr wolf is remembering the good old days." But when I am writing my query, I have a hard time putting the idea of the book in a small version with out giving yup to much of the book.
I hope I helped
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#12 Cat Woods

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 10:55 AM

Condensing a novel into a compact query can be one of the most difficult things we do as writers.

The best advice I can give is to make everything crystal clear. Confusion in a query makes an agent believe the entire novel may follow suit. Your Mc is central to the body of work and should be the focus.

I know, easier said than done.

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#13 Eli Ashpence

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 03:04 PM

My novel has two main characters--but my query only has one. It wasn't easy to get there. I went through a LOT of revisions until I managed to cut the second MC out. The result leaves out a LOT of the plot, but it still works.

I think the key to remember is that the query isn't really a mini-synopsis at all. It's fishing.

You write a good hook to snag an agent's attention.
You lure them in with unique bait and curious movements.
In conclusion, you reel them in with a solid plot-line and a strong voice.

You only NEED one MC to catch an agent's attention. Once they take the bait, they can be surprised by what you've cooked up. Agents KNOW it's impossible to condense an entire book in a couple of paragraphs. That's not what they're looking for in a query--that's for the synopsis and full requests. A query is only intended to tell them that you've got potential and you're worth the time it takes to read a partial or a full.

For my query--written for a novel which follows both MCs from third-person limited during separate chapters, then weaves the two POVs together--I wrote as if only one MC existed. Was it easy? No. Over half the story is about a completely different character. However, each character has their own story. Be more decisive and just pick one. Once you decide who you're going to write your query about, remember that the query is focusing on their role, their perspective in the novel--not the overall plotline. Cut out his interaction with other MCs and focus on what he/she gains from the interaction.

Gah. I'm probably making this confusing, so here's an example:

Alice and the Mad Hatter goes to a Tea Party, but the White Rabbit's sudden insanity turns it into a party celebrating the Red Queen's dark revival. The Mad Hatter must search for the White Rabbit's lost pocket-watch to return him to normal while Alice distracts the Red Queen with the help of a dozen Spades and two Clubs. Only with perfect timing can the Mad Hatter and Alice stop the revival--assuming they don't die first.

Edited to focus on Alice:

Alice goes to a Tea Party, but the Red Queen's dark revival leaves her seeing red. After being isolated from her friends, her only choice is to distract the Red Queen from her bloodlust with frivolous games. Unfortunately, Alice realizes a little too late that the Red Queen has become harder to amuse. Alice might just lose her head if she loses the game--assuming the game itself doesn't kill her first.

Pardon the quality since I wrote it on the fly, but I hope that helps you understand what I'm trying to say. The second version doesn't mention the Mad Hatter or the White Rabbit at all, even though the conclusion to Alice's story relies on him.

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#14 Robin Breyer

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 04:43 PM

Interesting, Eli. Very interesting. Makes me think.......

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#15 hubiestubert

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 05:38 PM

My first novel--which I submitted a query critique for--has an ensemble cast.

Tomas No Shadow is very much the focal point for all the characters, but it's told from the POV of five characters

My second follows a traditional MC and more traditional narrative structure. The follow up to Shadow of Doubt as well as the follow up to Chippie both have ensemble casts to build the story. I like the ensemble cast to build up a narrative from multiple POVs. It also creates a structure that forces me to keep the story on strict rails.

In the pitch for Shadow of Doubt I focused on the pivotal character that all the others are chasing after--the villain/anti-hero of the piece.

I suspect I'm going to have a harder time with that for the follow up, which has four characters' POV to follow. And the follow up to Chippie is going to be harder to narrow down since there is a larger ensemble cast. I suspect that I'll focus simply on the first character that the reader is introduced to, since he is sort of the lattice that the rest of the characters form around.

#16 Jean Oram

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Posted 16 November 2010 - 12:34 PM

Eli, actually I did the same thing for one of my queries. The story has two MCs and they both have POVs. But in my case, the one character was a little more headliner than the other, so the query is solely about her and her issues. The other MC is not even mentioned. In the synopsis it revolves around the headliner again, but with more of the effects created by the secondary MC and how it changes the MC's motivations, alters her story, etc.

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#17 w.jan

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Posted 16 November 2010 - 11:23 PM

I think the key to remember is that the query isn't really a mini-synopsis at all. It's fishing.

You only NEED one MC to catch an agent's attention. Once they take the bait, they can be surprised by what you've cooked up. Agents KNOW it's impossible to condense an entire book in a couple of paragraphs. That's not what they're looking for in a query--that's for the synopsis and full requests. A query is only intended to tell them that you've got potential and you're worth the time it takes to read a partial or a full.


This advice should be pinned to the top of the query forum! It would have saved me weeks.

#18 Eli Ashpence

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 12:48 AM

This advice should be pinned to the top of the query forum! It would have saved me weeks.


If a query was intended to tell everything, then there would be no need for novels. Learning that was the hardest part for me.

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#19 Brendacarre

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 11:55 PM

I think the key to remember is that the query isn't really a mini-synopsis at all. It's fishing.


Absolutely. A query isn't what happens in the story its what the story is about. The Harry Potter books have complex plots and complex characters but its fairly easy to say what they're about in one hundred words or less.

#20 bkeats

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Posted 28 December 2010 - 10:56 AM

My novel has two main characters--but my query only has one. It wasn't easy to get there. I went through a LOT of revisions until I managed to cut the second MC out. The result leaves out a LOT of the plot, but it still works.

I think the key to remember is that the query isn't really a mini-synopsis at all. It's fishing.

You write a good hook to snag an agent's attention.
You lure them in with unique bait and curious movements.
In conclusion, you reel them in with a solid plot-line and a strong voice.


Amen, Eli. Can I get a witness?

I'm having a devil of a time with my query letter (novel has 3 MC), but I think I'm going with just two in the query.




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