Last time, solo heroes, teams of two, and trios were the order of the day. Today let's talk quartets, quintets, sextets, septuplets, octets, and…uh…neuf-tets…?
More possibilities for self-contained drama/comedy/conflict exist with groups of four or five. There are several ways to begin building such a cast, as well!
Three Stooges/Amigos not enough for ya? Need a Fourth Dimension to your cast, you Square? Well don't fret, Daddio! Put a “now hiring” ad up, and you'll have your very own Winston Zeddemore before you knows it!
A cast of four can be very effective. The Power- or Comedic Trio is excellent and time-tested as well, but four protagonists can really round things out.
One way to approach it is to give the characters four different personalities. In fact, this is recommended by 3 out of 4 pretentious, self-important bloggers. The team could be an logical/rule-based thinker, an aggressive fighter type, a social butterfly/performer, and a laid back, creative/emotional type.
These qualities cover a lot of the personality spectrum and can be seen in a lot of ensembles, including the Sex and the City gals and the Entourage boys. The beloved Archie gang fits, too (with Betty, Veronica, Archie and Jughead, respectively).
Differing appearances and abilities/powers/jobs/functions, depending on your genre, are also great, but giving different temperaments creates a very powerful subtext to a group.
Another approach could be to make the foursome logic-focused, emotion-focused, Id-focused, and idealism-focused.
Or maybe the elements could create the basis for personalities…or colors. Or even colours, if you're so inclined!
I had some notions about quartets and contrasting personalities before learning about the tvtropes.org site, but I don't think I'd considered the prevalence of the Five Man Band in fiction. Visit that page for tons of examples of this trope in action.
It goes like this: There is a Leader, a “Lancer” (contrasting personality to the leader), a Big Guy, a Smart Guy, and “the Heart” (or “the Chick” on tvtropes, as this character is often the only female in a group). This is really something to check out if you have the interest. It applies (with variations of course) to so many fictional casts of characters.
Six, Seven, and Up
There is so much variety possible as groups get larger. There's a risk of characters being stuck there with nothing to do for long stretches.
Large casts can be unwieldy. I know as a reader it can be difficult to remember all the characters if a cast gets larger than seven. If they're vivid, interesting, not-too-similar characters, though, it can totally work (Cheers! Taxi! Deep Space Nine!)
Working with a Bigger Cast
A big crew can be split into smaller subsections. Two comedy trios can be combined (Friends). Or it can be, I don't know, a Power Trio plus a contrasting couple.
A duo or trio can be the main focus, with the other diverse characters more in the background (Futurama, Star Trek Original). Of course, those supporting players are available for subplots, comic relief, or for their own featured stories.
Another approach to properly serving a large cast is to give each of them (or each subsection) a tiny story. Arrested Development did this brilliantly in its initial run, with a main cast of nine characters(!).
One thing to keep in mind is that characters who are too similar in personality or function could be combined. That is my only insight on combining characters…there might be other reasons to consider it. Could Norm and Cliff from Cheers have been combined into one barfly character? (answer: No way). Could Tony and Bobby in Taxi have been combined? Maybe. I don't remember the show well enough.
If it screws you up to get too clinical about stuff like this, stay away from it. There are no rules!
Like I mentioned above, my search for info about teams/groups led me back to the fantastic www.tvtropes.org, where the subject is discussed far better than it is by me, with a motherlode of examples. Also, please discuss casts/teams here, too!
Alright then! Hope this wasn't too rambly. I'm gonna go; Daddy needs a nightcap.
Don't stay up too late, now!
Banes at 12:00AM, Dec. 17, 2015
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