Character Dynamics – Developing Large Groups of Characters

Often times I’ve seen stories that have large casts of characters but often end up only really focusing on one or two while essentially ignoring the other characters or just not giving them much development.  Recently I’ve been rewatching a couple shows I like and noticed that both of them had a cast of seven main characters and somehow had all of them fleshed out and developed quite well and I started really diving into how those worked out.  So I’m going to tell you what I found, and how it even applies to some of my own characters, and maybe you can apply these techniques to your own stories and see if it gets you anywhere.

It’s important to develop each of your characters on an individual basis and find out who they are, but sometimes that can be an incredibly daunting task to take one character at a time to figure out everything about them when you have so many to work with.  That could be one of the reasons people often end up only developing a few characters out of a large group and basically ignoring the others.  The most important thing to remember in this case is that you have to figure out how each character relates to the others.  What sort of relationship do these characters have to one another?  While it’s good to develop a character on their own, relationships with other people is often what shapes us, so seeing a character’s relationship with the other characters is often vital to their own individual development as well.

So the thing I realized while watching these two shows and dissecting how the group dynamics worked was that within the group, each character sort of fell into different subgroups as well based on certain things.  These things could be age, skills, personality traits, a whole lot of different things.  I’m going to use both shows I watched as an example of what I mean.

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The first show was Ouran High School Host Club.  There’s a group of seven main characters who are all in a host club together.  I noticed three distinct subgroups right off the bat with these characters, all of which were broken up into what grade in school they were: Hikaru and Kouru (first years), Tamaki and Kyouya (second years), and Huni and Mori (third years).   The subgroups work in more than just grade level, however.  Hikaru and Kouru are twin brothers and thus fit together because of their personal relationship.  Huni and Mori are cousins and as such also have a personal relationship.  Tamaki and Kyouya are close friends, but along with that they are also the two founders of the club.  There’s also two other subgroups I noticed within the show: Hikaru, Kouru, and Tamaki in one while Huni, Mori, and Kyouya are in the other.  These two groups are split by the fact that the first is filled with goofballs and idiots with dumb plans up their sleeves while the other is filled with more chill, intellectuals.

The seventh member of the club, Haruhi, joins the club after the other six have formed relationships with each other already so she has to figure out where she fits into their dynamics.  In a strange way she sort of fits into all their different little groups at once in different ways due to her different character traits.

Moving onto the second show I noticed this in, also with seven main characters, we have Soul Eater.  This one is a little easier to identify because of the nature of this show with each character having a partner to fight with.  Maka and Soul, Blackstar and Tsubaki, and Death the Kid with Liz and Patty.  There are two other subgroups within this group of characters: Weapons and Meisters.  Maka, Blackstar, and Kid are the meisters while Soul, Tsubaki, and Liz and Patty are weapons.  Liz and Patty are sisters.  Soul and Blackstar are best friends (and idiots).  You get the picture.

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Finally moving onto an example in my own story, technically.  In the co-written series I have with my friend, Of Beauty and Rage, we have a group of eight archangels.  The development of these characters was very much founded on them as a group first and foremost, and then individual development came later.   However it wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realized we had used this grouping method.  We had three tiers for the archangels: Chamuel, Michael, and Lucifer were the first tier; Raphael, Jophiel, and Uriel were the second tier; Haniel and Gabriel were the third tier.  Then there was the group of fallen angels (Lucifer, Jophiel, and Haniel) vs the non-fallen angels.  There were groups based on their occupation: Michael, Lucifer, and Uriel are warriors; Raphael and Jophiel are healers; Gabriel and Haniel are guardians.  Within the group of the main four angels were also a couple different dynamics.  Uriel and Gabriel are the nicest and most peaceful ones while Michael and Raphael are more stern and less trusting.  Uriel and Michael are both warriors and together get into a lot of trouble while Gabriel and Raphael try to stay out of trouble as much as possible.

By now I’m sure you get my point with all of these examples.  Having a large group of characters makes it difficult to develop them each on an individual basis, but if you develop them based on their relationships with one another it makes things a whole lot easier.  Not only that but it helps them form bonds with one another, which I’ve found seems to be another tricky thing to get down with developing characters: making each character mesh well with the others and have believable relationships.

Now granted, you can’t exactly develop characters within groups like this if you don’t know anything about them starting out.  You can’t say “this character has this trait and so does this one so they belong in a group together” if you have no idea what traits your characters have.  Starting from the ground up can be tricky, so it’s best to use this method if you have at least some idea what sorts of relationships your characters are going to have with each other when you start out with doing this.  As you progress using this method, you’ll find out more about your characters and it’ll get easier as you go.

Hopefully this has been helpful and/or insightful.  Just remember that character development is important, as is the dynamics between your cast.  If the characters don’t mesh together, your story will suffer for it.

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