So You Want To / Write a Five-Man Band
Ah, the Five-Man Band
. A staple of all genres, medium and times, it has only been recognized in 60s' rock bands before being discovered in all other works of fiction. Oftentimes, its existence in story is completely accidental, but since you're here, dear Troper, then we assume that you want to do this on purpose.
But why would I want such a clichéd scheme?
, you may ask. Well, dear Troper, it's cliche because it works. Creating characters is not easy, nor is balancing them comfortably against each other. The Five-Man Band
divides your main cast by purposes they serve in the story, which means that nobody's missing and nobody's redundant. Moreover, it's a nice framework to set up the characters - start with their position in the Band and build the rest of character from here. It also outlines the basic relationships between characters, greatly simplifying your work.
Long story short, think of it as furnishing a house as opposed to designing it from ground up - it might look similar to others at a first glance, but well-done, is anything but, not to mention that it costs you less time, money and effort. Having this out of the way, let's get down to creating the Band.
Your Five-Man Band
, obviously, has five characters. As to their gender, the trope dictates that it should be four guys and a girl. Nowadays, the consensus among Tropers seems to be that three guys and two girls
are also Bands. We won't say more on this subject - see Five-Man Band
's discussion page if you want to argue with that.
As we said above, when creating the Band, you start with a character archetype those characters are supposed to fulfill and then get down from here. There are five archetypes in the band: the Leader, the Lancer, the Big Guy, the Smart Guy and the Chick. Create a name for them all - say, Alex, Laurie, Blair, Sam and Cass. Then spice their personalities in accordance to what archetypes they occupy (more on this below) and flesh out their own personalities - we have an article for that
. Now, let's move on to in-depth analysis of archetypes of our newly created team.
Members of the Band
Meet Alex. As a leader, it's quite likely Alex who'll be the hero of the story and as such, the Audience Surrogate
. Because of this, Alex needs to be quite a normal person, preferably in the age group you're aiming at. Whether an Ordinary High-School Student
, a person already living in an extraordinary world or a badass, Alex will be our eyes during this adventure and so you need to make them sympathetic to your audience, so that we can like them and not throw the book away because of them. Alex is curious about the world around them so that we can receive exposition about the world they're in.
Now, what makes Alex the leader of the team? Perhaps they are The Chosen One
or the only one who can wield the Sword of Plot Advancement
. They might have a grudge against the villain, or perhaps they have a great vision for victory, future or both? Whatever you chose, remember about responisibilities that fall on every leaders' head. Alex has to be savvy - they're the beacon the rest of the Band forms around and they're the ones to give the Rousing Speech
and push forward. Alex's responsibility is also to mastermind the team, to solve problems that appear within it and to point out the direction in which they're going to go and goal they're trying to achieve. Alex's strength, then, results not from any physical prowess they might possess, but from ability to lead, inspire and motivate the others.
That's a lot of responsibility and so Alex may stand a bit aside from the rest of the team. Often, the conflict is about Alex against the Big Bad
more than it is about the Five-Man Band
against the Big Bad
. Alex is also The Face
of the team, who makes the final decisions in their name and - again - takes the responsibility if they screw up. A good idea for a character arc for Alex is not to make them the Leader archetype from the outset, but have them grow into the role they're supposed to fulfill, struggle with responsibilities piling up on their heads and learn how to compromise the needs of the team with their own - Hot-Blooded
, or perhaps antisocial
If you decide that Alex is not your hero and it's rather Sam or Cass that you'd prefer to focus on, the previous two paragraphs don't really change. However, in this case you can make Alex more unlike your target audience: more charismatic, more caring, more brooding, or perhaps prideful, too focused on vengeance, too distanced. Maybe a combination of several of those? Remember that unless you go for fully omniscient narrator, we get to see Alex through the eyes of other members of the Band. Make a character for Alex and consider what others would think of their leader.
Let's move on to Laurie, Alex's second-in-command. Laurie is a person greatly defined by Alex. Even when there's an Official Couple
in the band, it's Alex and Laurie who'll enjoy the closest relationship. They trust each other implicitly. Laurie is Alex's sounding board and harbors their secrets. The two may have known each other before the story even begun, or Laurie is the first person Alex bumps into when you're setting the Band up. Alternatively, they don't start on best of terms, but grow close over the course of the story.
Laurie's purpose in the story is twofold. The first one is to be a counterpoint for Alex. While it's Alex who makes a decision, it's the two of them that reach it and so it's Laurie's responsibility to provide an alternative point of view. If Alex is unsure about storming the villains' lair, Laurie will encourage them to do so. Conversely, if Alex feels like going out and charging the enemy head on, it's Laurie who will calm them down and point out that it's suicidal idea. Laurie's basic character, then, must be the polar opposite of Alex's.
The second purpose Laurie serves is to be support for Alex. We've touched upon this above - with The Chains of Commanding
firmly in place, Laurie is the person Alex can speak freely with. Laurie is Alex's keeper, the person to speak to when beset by doubt, the shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. If Alex gives the Band the Rousing Speech
, then it's Laurie who brings Alex out of Heroic B.S.O.D.
. More, if Alex is inexperienced and young, Laurie will be the mentor character, older and wiser, lending their experience to youth's imagination. As such, Laurie's decisive trait is their loyalty to Alex. They may have some doubts, they might dislike Alex - but when push comes to shove, Laurie will
stand by Alex's side.
Another important factor of Laurie's character is that they're not
a leader. Sure, they might like to be and may perceive Alex as The Rival
- but Laurie simply doesn't have the necessary qualities. Perhaps it's lack of charisma, or perhaps Laurie doesn't feel comfortable in "Big Boss" chair, but without Alex, they lack something necessary for them to be the force pushing the team forward. This being said, in dire straits, they can be able to organize The Cavalry
or Big Damn Heroes
. Perhaps Laurie's character arc is about that - learning to come out of Alex's shadow and become a leader in their own right.
The Big Guy
Blair is the strongman/strongwoman of the group, the biggest, baddest and most badass character of the five (although that last one frequently goes to the Lancer instead). When the enemy shows up, Blair's purpose is to clean the room and provide Alex with a clear path to the mook leader, or the Big Bad
. In combat settings, this attribute of Blair can go in two ways - they can either be the most competent fighter, taking the enemy down with the speed of light, or the most physically powerful one, capable of taking down multiple mooks with one arc of their weapon. When it comes down to a fight, Blair is merciless and unstoppable, or the One-Man Army
next to the side-by-side approach Alex and Laurie use. Out of combat, Blair's character may vary. They may be brash and loud, fitting with their combat persona, or they may be quiet and focused on improving their combat skill and weapons rather than social relations. In Leverage
parlance, they would be The Hitter.
Blair is, like Laurie, loyal to Alex. However, in this case it's accompanied by something of a passiveness when it comes to doing whatever is necessary. Blair feels comfortable not being the brains of the operation and has no ambitions of becoming so. While they may have their own ideas as to how to solve the current problem, they'll go through with whatever's chosen by Alex without much whining on their part. However, he is to whom Alex is most likely to implicitly entrust authority over their support team
While the other four are varied degrees of Brains, Blair is firmly in the Brawn camp. However, Blair's motives are the most likely to be divergent from that of the rest of the Band. Perhaps they're even an Aloof Ally
. So why did they join Alex? Does Blair have their own issue with the Big Bad
, or is all that simply For the Lulz
? Whichever you chose, you can run a character arc largely parallel to Alex's, or perhaps have Blair grow on the team and become a full-fledged member.
The Smart Guy
Next up is Sam. In many ways, Sam is the polar opposite of Blair the way Laurie is of Alex. While Blair goes straight for the enemy, Sam keeps their distance, instead preferring to pound the enemy out of mooks' range. When not combat-focused, Sam is the analyst, the scientist, the hacker and/or the Mission Control
of the other four. If they needed to break into a house, while Blair would kick the door off its hinges, Sam would pick the lock.
Necessity for Sam is to have a keen and analytical mind. It's Sam who provides the reader with information on the world and its rules and it's Sam who's called on to figure out the mysterious tracks left behind by the enemy. Sam's primary tool is their brain and they frequently achieve Awesomeness by Analysis
. They're the second most likely member of the crew to be left behind when the others go to combat (the honor of being the first belongs to the Chick), but remain help nevertheless. Sam observes enemy movements, opens doors and hacks the systems. They use subterfuge, sneaking and trickery against others' brute force. Long story short, Sam's main weapon is information
In terms of character, Sam is probably the Foil
to Blair, if only because they're polar opposites in their approach to problems as well. Despite - or perhaps because of - that, the two are likely to be very good friends and share more time together than with other members of the Band. Sam, however, is more likely to be invested in Band's workings and be altogether more social, especially if they're younger - if they're older, they're likely to fall on the Aloof Ally
position while Blair steps down to become your friendly neighborhood Boisterous Bruiser
. Their character arc, then, can be to learn to integrate oneself with the others. You can also tell a story of an Insufferable Genius
learning that there are things they don't know and they need
Rounding out the Band, Cass is the weakest member in terms of offensive capabilities. In fact, she (because by the Five-Man Band
rules, the Chick is a girl
) may have no apparent combat capability at all. She's there for the heroes to care about her and for her to care about the heroes. She may even be Alex's Love Interest
. But thatís not to say she doesnít serve as anything else; she is actually much more versatile than she appears, perhaps being a closet Smart Girl herself.
Cass' purpose in the Band may seem superfluous, but consider this - while others in the team take care of the enemy, she takes care of the team
. She may not be a physical or intellectual powerhouse, but she nurtures heroes back to health - she may even have some healing skills - provides words of encouragement, offers reassurance and simply is there for the others. Moreover, she calms down the atmosphere if it gets too heated and mediates between members of the team if Alex is engaged in the strife as well. She's the Band's Morality Chain
and reminds them what they're fighting for. In other words, Cass is the peacekeeper
of the band. If, as already touched on in the Lancer archetype, Laurie is the sounding board for Alex on the battlefield, Cass is the sounding board for the entire band on the home front.
While mostly a character with within-team applications, Cass is also important for the Band's relationships with others. She's the one to point out the moral implications of their actions and takes care of the little folk. If you want to put one of your characters in danger, she's your girl (although please try not to turn her into straight-played Damsel in Distress
or Designated Victim
). If there's a villain who can be redeemed, then the possibility of redeeming is Cass' idea and she's the one turning the villain. Why? Perhaps because she's the most selfless and the least dangerous to the villain (another of her many Weak, but Skilled
tendencies). If Blair would shoot out the lock or kick the door in, while Sam would pick the lock, Cass would knock on the door or go up to the front desk and / or distract the receptionist or security guard. This enables her allies to sneak out of the receptionistís immediate range and set up the next plot point.
If she is
involved in the setup for the big battle, Cass is well-positioned to be the Bandís defensive
player. Before her allies descend on the enemy fortress, she might take on the role of their mole
. In this scenario, she would infiltrate the fortress (sometimes in disguise
), learn its inner workings, identify its key areas and hot spots, and diagram the route
for her allies. When itís time to invade the lair, she remains at the Bandís base of operations.
Her defining moment can also be compared to a hockey or soccer match, with her as the band's goaltender. In this scenario, the remaining enemies have broken past the other four and now have a clear unobstructed path to their own base. The band is racing furiously to catch up to them before they can complete the assault. But too late, one of the mooks (or perhaps The Brute
, who is Blair's equivalent) is winding up for the final strike; the responsibility rests squarely upon Cass to clear it.
The presence of another female in the team affords Cass a dynamic the straightest example of the Five-Man Band
does not. What neither might be comfortable confessing to the males in the band, they will readily share with each other. Expect a Tomboy and Girly Girl
dynamic to emerge within this pairing. Male writers, especially, should be very
careful with this
step ó a female consumer is bound to pounce on any blunder.
As you can see, this character is in great danger of turning into an Extreme Doormat
. This isn't bad in itself - Cass' character arc can be about her standing on her own two feet against things other usually protect her from. However, as the character with the greatest potential to Take a Level in Badass
, it would be nice for her to have some Hidden Depths
. Perhaps you could even make her someone who's a total opposite of Extreme Doormat
, yet finds herself in position of the Chick. Another thing to consider is that Cass, as the "least awesome" (well...
) member of the team, is a perfect choice for your Audience Surrogate
to whom others (especially Sam) will explain stuff, or vice versa.
Relationships between characters
We've already touched upon this when describing basic character archetypes, but here's the shortcut for relationships between all characters. For a moment, we're foregoing the names in favor of archetypes.
- The Leader
- -> Lancer: trusts, confides in, confers with, relies on
- -> Big Guy: relies on, orders, receives feedback
- -> Smart Guy: learns from, relies on
- -> The Chick: loves, cares about, listens to
- The Lancer
- -> The Leader: remains loyal to, advises, supports, aids
- -> Big Guy: relies on protection from, listens to
- -> Smart Guy: listens to, asks for advice
- -> The Chick: cares about, likes
- The Big Guy
- -> The Leader: obeys, defends, helps, gives feedback
- -> The Lancer: defends, listens to
- -> The Smart Guy: banters with, protects, respects
- -> The Chick: likes, protects, cares about
- The Smart Guy
- -> The Leader: teaches, supports, advises, warns
- -> The Lancer: likes, informs
- -> The Big Guy: banters with, relies on, cares about
- -> The Chick: cares about, likes, trades with
- The Chick
- -> The Leader: loves, supports, calms, listens to
- -> The Lancers: listens to, likes, supports
- -> The Big Guy: relies on, likes, shows interest in
- -> The Smart Guy: likes, listens to, trades with
While this isn't the perfect shorthand for all bands, it should give you an image of basics.
Our heroes face off against an army of mooks and have to fight their way through to the mook leader. Alex spots the leader and starts making their way towards him, with the intent to duel him and take him down. Laurie accompanies them, attacking where Alex can't reach and defending Alex when necessary. Blair follows them, keeping the enemy off their backs and cutting a path through the Zerg Rush
. Sam stays out of the battle at a vantage point, both utilizing ranged attacks and informing Alex about the bigger picture. Cass doesn't take part in the battle - she's back at the base, preparing everything for an After-Action Patch-Up
. Alternatively, she's Sam's spotter, serving him in the capacity he serves Alex.
Regardless of whether Combat follows, our heroes go to a party intent on "befriending" and pulling information out of one of its participants. Alex is doing the talking, with Laurie in support. Blair keeps a close watch on the situation or out for the mark's pals and makes sure that no-one interrupts the conversation. Sam is out of the party, sitting in front of his computer and gaining data to use against the mark, cueing Alex as to what to say; while Cass is prowling the party hall on watch for anything unexpected.
Before the big battle, the characters need to reach a decision together. Alex is taking all ideas under consideration. Blair prefers to go for a direct solution, while Sam proposes a more intricate plan. Laurie catches good ideas and points out problems with propositions while thinking of the mundane issues, while Cass considers moral problems and implications the decision will have for the team while trying to reach compromise between what all five of them are after.
This is mainly a Slice of Life
element, designed to focus on the band when they're not on the battlefield. What are they going to be like between battles? How to deal with the inevitable second fight? Obviously they're not going to be quite so lucky on their next go-around; they're going to need a grounding in each other's area of expertise. This is where Character Development
becomes critical and the Discussion indicated above becomes even more important.
Adding a sixth
person means that it is no longer a Five
Man Band. There can be allies, of course, but no one that is actually part of the band itself. They become Honorary True Companions
. If you really want to add more members, then you are moving beyond a Five Man Band and into The Team
If you really want to add other characters, when doing so, keep in mind, however, to see whether the new addition isn't just a reiteration of one of other five more members of the team. That said, let's go over possible additions to a larger team anyway...
So, who could then you add? The most obvious, at least going by name, is the Sixth Ranger
. That's a character who didn't start the story in the heroes' camp. Perhaps they only showed up in the most dire straits, saved the day and disappeared, or maybe they were outright in Camp Evil and decided don't really want to give being make a good guy a chance. Whatever the origin, the Ranger stands aside from the rest of the cast. Ranger is probably similar to the Big Guy in that they're very powerful. They probably have a bleaker and darker outlook on life and can become something of a counterbalance for the Chick - while Cass motivates the team, Ranger may be more disillusioned. This can range from being the voice of reason to an outright Poisonous Friend
. On a smaller scale, Ranger can be a counterbalance for Lancer, something of a shoulder devil to Laurie's shoulder angel. Ranger may also have some elements of the Smart Guy, as they can know enemy lair's layout or be able to teach Alex the Dangerous Forbidden Technique
The relationship between Ranger and rest of the team varies. Before they integrate themselves into the Band properly, they're probably mistrusted by everyone save for Cass, and maybe Alex. It's Cass who argues for letting the Ranger join and through her they must win the trust of others. Ranger doesn't necessarily have to be a Token Evil Teammate
, or a force of grimness and discord - they may just as well be The Mentor
who simply has more knowledge and experience than others.
What of other possible additions? If you want to include a Team Pet
, it's probably going to be property of Cass or Alex. Pet's usefulness varies - it may be simply a companion for others to Pet the Dog
on the surface, or a creature capable of carrying keys, opening locks and fetching objects. Blair may be accompanied by war beast
, while Sam can use a bird as his eye in the sky
Another possibility is to add Tagalong Kid
, a child who's either a member of others' family or someone the Band needs to protect. The Kid has the best relationship with Cass, while Blair is likely not impressed by it. However, if you decide to throw in a kid for whatever reason, take care - you can either end with The Load
your readers won't like or Chick 2.0, which is hard to pull off without making Kid or Cass seem redundant.