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?

  • I have two protagonists, a father and son. Oct 23, 2017 at 23:16
  • 2
    the list of protagonists in LoTR is huge. Don't think anyone has complained about it yet XD
    – ggiaquin16
    Oct 24, 2017 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


Absolutely not. Use as many as the story needs (besides, 3's a good number and can tie in quite symbolically to nearly anything - if you ever wanted a "deeper" meaning).

From the sounds of it, I'd be taking the criticism with a hefty grain of salt.

Antagonists, challenges and problems do not always need to be external for the story to be effective. Character development and growth is something to be admired.

As far as examples - you've mentioned Space Opera, so I'm going to assume you're aware of Schlock. There's an entire team of mercenaries that are the protagonists. Go with it.


As long as each character has their own story arc, conflicts and development, there is no problem. Of course, the more characters the more difficult is to create a solid structure and equilibrium in the whole work. But other than being just "harder to write" I won't consider it as a problem.

Many great novels feature plenty of main characters. The only suggestion I can give you, is to make sure that the correlation among them is solid and meaningful. I mean, they should be designed so that each one's characteristics interact, even indirectly, with the others, thus giving a different point of view on the main theme or plot.

For instance, if you have a heroic protagonist, then you can have a sleazy villain just two shows two different approaches on a shared goal or target - I am deliberately being very rough in my example. In this way, you don't just have two different characters, but you have two different points of view on the main global story.

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