I’ve had a few projects that were meant to have multiple focal characters but, since I prefer writing in first person, ended up requiring a single main character. The question then became, who?
Back when I was working on my Almagest project, I had originally planned for my main character to be a young man, a calligrapher, by name of Tabari. He’d been meant to be something of a challenge, as all my protagonists up to that point had been female. At the time, I’d known Tabari was going to be tangentially involved with Natara the diplomat/hostage, but I hadn’t been exactly sure how.
And then came Khadijah. At first I’d developed her around the question “What would make for reasonable compatibility between the two of them?” She was an astrologer, a bit ambitious, I’d decided she was going to have ended up being taken along with Natara as an ‘honored ambassador’, their connection would give them excuses to be sending letters back and forth, and her presence there would give Tabari a little extra motivation for his part in dealing with the political situation back home…
I think that was around the time when Khadijah started asserting herself in a narrative sense. Part of the problem was that she was closer to the action; there was far more political maneuvering going on on her side of things than on his. Part was that she was just more interesting as a character—since I’d made a careful point of learning enough about her to know what Tabari saw in her, I had a better sense of her, while he was still narratively amorphous. The last was that she had a more obvious interesting arc; I wasn’t quite sure what to do with Tabari, while Khadijah offered ‘learning to be an adrenaline junkie manipulator’ as an option.
As a result, by the time I actually started writing, Tabari had viewpoint chapters planned, but Khadijah was definitely the main character.