For my graphic novel I have 3 protagonists, each a different type of hero: action, guile, and science/rational. Although it's space opera my story is character-driven, and the heart of it is their clash of personalities, and often their own blindspots which the others tend to see more clearly. It's a temporary three-way partnership. They come together as frenemies, do the thing, and separate profoundly changed by events and realizations. It's not simply a "Heroic Trio" team-up of all action heroes where their archetypes are congruent, but I think that's what people expect.
My goal was to give each her own story arc, told from her own deep 3rd-person POV. I once read a spy novel that rotated between three characters per chapter like clockwork, but I'm finding there's an obvious POV in my scenes, and often a character makes her transition through another's eyes, so I'm allowing that to flow naturally. My question is not about the nuts-and-bolts of shifting POV from scene to scene.
When outlining the plot I realized the three do not carry equal "gravitas" over the course of the narrative, but that's ok. My action hero starts as the apparent protagonist but at the end she experiences failure, prompting the untrustworthy guile character to step in as a shaky hero. The third character also goes through a transition but her crisis is internal: the rational/science character takes a leap of faith.
Each character ends up profoundly changed from how they start. This is the goal of my story and that's how I know it's the end, but I'm not sure readers will follow me with this structure. One character is dodging bullets and making life and death sacrifices, one is a borderline sociopath trying to align with a greater good, and the third is attempting to rationalize impossible mathematics – for me this feels like equal conflict. I'm ok if the reader doesn't see them as equally important, I'm not trying to force it.
But the reality is much worse. Based on some writer's lunches the feedback I'm getting is that my "protagonist/antagonist situation is confusing" – they see the action hero as the protagonist, the guile hero as the villain, and the internalized character is just "boring character-driven stuff". To be perfectly honest, I find their characters to be cardboard Mary Sues, so grain of salt – these are my friends not professional writers…. Or maybe I am shielding my ego?
I'm willing to admit that what I am writing is not space opera (space drama?). There is a MacGuffin, and sometimes stuff explodes. There is a mystery and an implied political conspiracy, but my characters don't really confront that directly. No one is saying it's a plot issue. They are confused by the characters. A number of people have asked "Who is the villain?" Mostly my villains are character flaws, not a psychokiller breathing through a mask.
I honestly don't think it's that esoteric. I feel like the characters are behaving according to their arc, and you don't always get what you expect from life. Reality check, though: is this so confusing? I feel like they are reaching for cliches, then telling me I'm wrong. Is this too much?