You may think that romances are the story of two people (or sometimes more), but I’d contend that quite often one of the leads in the romance is the protagonist, even if the story is shared pretty equally between them in terms of page time, point of view etc.
In some stories that’s entirely intentional and obvious. I’ve read a romance book where one of the lovers died part way through, and it was actually someone else that the surviving character ends up having his happy ever after with. But it was still clearly a romance. Maybe you could say it simply started earlier in the life of that character than most romances do. The writer could have started the story when the lead met the man he ended up happy ever after with, and left the previous events as back story. But since that wasn’t the case, the book definitely became his story. We didn’t have any similar showing of the other lover’s back story.
What does it mean for a romance to be one person’s story rather than the other’s? It’s not only about seeing that person’s life before the main romance starts, I don’t think, though that’s one way it might happen. It can also be about who changes and grows most in the story. The other lead is important and of course goes through their own changes, but essentially they are along for the ride.
Looking at my books, some fit this pattern, some don’t. Liar’s Waltz is definitely Greg’s story. He has the most growing and changing to do. Karl already went through similar changes before the story and is now more stable and can be a guide and support for Greg as he goes through what’s essentially recovery. When the story was first submitted the opening scenes were Karl’s. But during editing I ended up added a couple of extra scenes to the start to expand on Greg’s character and that made it much clearer to me that this would be Greg’s story, that he was the person making the hardest journey and had the most at stake. (Karl faced losing his business. Greg faced losing his family, his career, his honour. Of course he was the main character.)
It’s less clear cut in Stowaway, I think. That’s definitely more the story of the pair of them growing from two very self-sufficient people into a couple.
Higher Ground on the other hand is definitely Zach’s story. He has to learn to connect with people and he has to learn to release all the potential in he has to become a leader. Which is why I say he starts the story as a Beta and ends it as an Alpha. He only needed that emergency to test him and bring that out of him. Adam changes of course too. He has to grow up. He’s totally essential to Zach, who wouldn’t be able to do it without him. They are a team, but they are a team like Sam and Frodo. Sam might sometimes be stronger, the only one keeping them going. But he’s still the companion on the journey not the leader.
Ganymede Tilt is Sean’s story. While Alex certainly makes some changes, regaining his confidence, Sean is the protagonist, in that he’s the one who has to break free of his past and the forces holding him there and move to embrace the future. Change is frightening. It’s easier to go on as you are. Sean needs to discover the strength he has in him to face the unknown future.
Chrysalis Cage might seem easy to classify. It’s all in Jarrett’s point of view, so he must be the main character, right? Well he’s not, Marc is – even though we never see the inside of his head. I won’t give too much away, since it’s new out and I don’t want to spoiler it. But the title refers mostly to Marc. He’s the chrysalis in its cage, waiting to emerge—but as what exactly is another question. During the story Jarrett is the one who takes action most, but essentially he’s reacting to Marc. He’s the narrator of the story. But the story is Marc’s.
I have a work in progress that I already know if definitely the story of one character not the other. But that’s another standalone story. I’m also working on a trilogy, and that’s interesting, because different books in the series will go back and forth between whose story that particular one is. For book one and book three it’s already very clear in my mind who the protagonist is. Book two on the other hand – still pondering on that one…
What do you think? Do you see romances where it’s clear whose story it is? Can it make the story unbalanced? Or is it better to have one person as a protagonist, even if there is more than one lead character?