Writing Tool: TV Tropes

TV Tropes Cast CalculusThe link above leads to a website called TV Tropes, which is an excellent writing tool for inspiration. This link in particular talks about the most popular types of cast in any and all settings. The website offers a comprehensive review of the different types of groups common in fiction. Below is a small transcript of the webpage. Especially useful for those who don’t feel like clicking the link (though I recommend browsing the website in full at a later date.) I make no profit by posting this information. Enjoy!

One of the first choices any writer has to make is how many protagonists will lead the narrative. Believe it or not, that number matters. Too many, and you can barely get attached to anyone, just one and you’ll never believe the author would kill them off.

So, which is the lucky number for Ensembles?

Let’s start at one and work our way up. A lone protagonist is not some embryonic proto-cast that contains the traits of all Ensembles past and present, but rather has complete freedom to be whoever is needed for the story. Let’s repeat that: lone. Though a one-man hero doesn’t have to be an antisocial loner, they are very independent no matter what kind of character they are. Even the wimpy Action Survivor is at least able to survive. Interestingly, the best lone heroes make up for a lack of permanent cast with a varied supporting (though temporary) cast and (hopefully) some internal struggles to add depth. The Person vs Person type of dramatic struggle is common for the lone hero. Needless to say they are also invariably The Hero (well, let’s say protagonist to hedge our bets). Though that’s kind of a “Duh” statement, read on.

Common genres or stories: These protagonist can be in any story and are unweighed by a large cast, and so they can be Walking the Earth as The Drifter. Even if sedentary, they’ll likely play the lone Action Hero against overwhelming opposition. What you won’t see is either the typical drama with lots of long term character interaction, or a “stable” environment, these heroes will live and work in flux.

Signature series: Kung Fu, Incredible Hulk, Metroid (Prime)

From there the duos are an even split between two traits in terms of body, mind, or temperament (usually all three). One is the the brawn to the other’s brains; one is emotional and fiery while the other is more coldly analytical; one is by-the-book while the other feels rules should be flexible. The duo implies a certain level of equality; it’s entirely possible for both to “share the billing” and be equal heroes. They’ll likely be Heterosexual Life-Partners, but if they happen to be different genders, it’s practically a law there’ll eventually be Unresolved Sexual Tension (unless, of course, they are a Brother-Sister Team). If this sexual tension is resolved, then you have a Battle Couple (cue the shipping). When the equality goes away, you have a different dynamic, The Hero and their Side Kick or Love Interest. These duos are different in that the hero often serves as a mentor to the sidekick or protector to the Love Interest. It’s unlikely for the sidekick to graduate from the role to a true equal.

Common genres or stories: Again, any; however, duos gain a certain level of stability as compared to lone heroes. The character interaction between them will often become deep and nuanced to a degree not often seen with other ensemble numbers. Duos are likely to be in Action Adventure shows, possibly playing Detective or fighting crime.

Signature series: The X-Files, Supernatural, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Doctor Who, Aubrey-Maturin, Sherlock Holmes, The Lone Ranger, Miami Vice

When you get to Power Trios the different splits get more interesting. The personalities divide into three, not so much dividing the Red and Blue oni as creating a “balance” personality wholecloth. Note that any of them can be the lead hero. If the division is between physical and mental, it doesn’t get degraded, but augmented with a balanced character, a character to mediate the previous pair. If combat is involved, you get the Mighty Glacier, Jack-of-All-Stats, and a Fragile Speedster and/or Glass Cannon. Interestingly, from Trio on down you start seeing the above archetypes merge into things like Genius Bruiser. It’s worth noting that from here on out a girl being in the group gets logistically easier and much more common.

Common genres or stories: A trio is downright homey, and not in the sedentary sense. Three is the number where a family of friends can be born; characters can become True Companions. Even if they don’t see each other as a family, the dynamics between them will give viewers a sort of “safety net”. Past this size, even when the group’s adventures lead to them traveling the world (or galaxy), they will tend to work out of a base (or Cool Ship) which often becomes something of a character in its own right. Trios work best in genres where there’s room to interact both with each other and with the environment, from here on down an ensemble can hypothetically devote an entire episode or chapter just to the cast interacting. These guys are likely to be in an Action Adventure or Drama. Or both!

Signature series: Star Trek: The Original Series, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events

The quartet is a challenge: just enough people for things to get convoluted, but not enough to lose track of anyone. The Four-Temperament Ensemble divides the Red and Blue Oni in half again: the Red Oni splits into sanguine and choleric, and the Blue Oni into phlegmatic and melancholic. Alternatively, the characters can be split into a Four-Philosophy Ensemble in which the characters have different viewpoints and philosophies, rather than personalities, which interact as they face problems and have to reconcile their differences to come to agreement.

Common genres or stories: Drama is the order of the day for the quartet, particularly internal drama. A quartet is likely to ‘split up’ in a given episode, giving each a chance to play off not just each other but dealing with the various aspects of the plot and the week’s guest characters. Expect occasional reminders of why everyone is special and important, even if they’re Muggles.

Signature series: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fantastic Four, Stargate SG-1, Seinfeld, Sliders

Five and anything beyond that point tend to vary quite widely in makeup, as the personality and physical traits by this point can be pretty arbitrarily mixed and matched without worrying about maintaining a “balance” in the cast. Typically, The Hero stops being a label and becomes a physically distinct character type that leads the ensemble’s members. It’s quite common for a group of five to consist of two trios (and an optional extra), often based on gender – these may or may not conform to the Three Faces Of Adam and the Three Faces of Eve.

Common genres or stories: Though roving bands of extended casts are not unheard of, they will carry their home with them, be it a space ship, a Mystery Machine, or merely the clothes on their back. These enormous ensembles practically write a Drama themselves, never mind having Hilarity Ensue due to outside events.

Signature series: Power Rangers (5), How I Met Your Mother (5), Friends (6), Saved by the Bell (6 — 7 if you count Mr. Belding), Star Trek: The Next Generation and onward (7+), Seven Samurai & The Magnificent Seven (7), The Justice League (usually 7) Arrested Development (9) and Firefly (9)

Beyond five, there are no hard and fast rules for the cast as a whole. However, even with Loads and Loads of Characters, the cast members can be broken down into a Geodesic Cast or a set of Cast Herds, each iteration of which usually follows one of the archetypes listed above. Individual characters may belong to a single group only, or they may belong to several, with their role sometimes changing depending on which group they’re interacting with.

See also:

One:

The Drifter

Two:

Ruling Couple

Sensitive Guy and Manly Man

Heterosexual Life-Partners

Battle Couple

Adventure Duo

The Watson

Three:

Power Trio

Comic Trio

Freudian Trio

¡Three Amigos!

Two Guys and a Girl

With a Friend and a Stranger

Four:

Four-Philosophy Ensemble

Four-Temperament Ensemble

Five: Five-Man Band

Four-Temperament Ensemble + Leukine

Four-Philosophy Ensemble + The Conflicted

Six:

Five-Man Band plus Sixth Ranger

Seven: The Magnificent Seven Samurai

Lots: Loads and Loads of Characters

Cast Herd

Geodesic Cast

There’s also a set of the above for all girl casts:

Two

Lovely Angels

Tomboy and Girly Girl

Three

Blonde, Brunette, Redhead

The Hecate Sisters

The Three Faces of Eve

Beauty, Brains and Brawn

Four: Four Girl Ensemble

More: Amazon Brigade

And we also have an evil version of some of the above:

Two: Evil Duo

Those Two Bad Guys

Three: Terrible Trio

Four: Four Is Death

Five: Five-Bad Band

The Psycho Rangers

Six or Seven: Five-Bad Band + Enigmatic Minion and/or Morality Pet

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Writing Exercise: Disasters

This post is inspired by the massive flooding which took place in my area this week. Take one of your characters and throw them into the middle of a disaster, man-made or natural. How does your character react to the disaster itself? To the people who may be around them? To the aftermath? Does your character turn out to be a natural born leader who takes charge of the situation? Do they panic and allow others to take over while they are inconsolable? Feel free to do this exercise with as many characters and disasters as you’d like. This could be a powerful exercise to really see the character’s personality come through, which in turn, would play a part in your novel or story.

Characters 101: Naming Technique #1

Many writers know how difficult it can be to name characters, especially characters whom are part of other worlds. This technique is one that I have been able to use successfully. Take any magazine and turn it to the page which have the names of those who contributed to the magazine. Close your eyes and use your index finger to choose a name twice. Write both names down so it’ll be easier to see the combinations you could come up with. For this, I’ll use a few examples:

Athena + Kate = Kathena

Nathan + William = Wilthan; Nathiam

Lynn + Stephanie = Lynanie (or Lynnanie); Stephalyn (or Stephalynn); Lynnie

As you can see, this technique could open up multiple names for you to use. Goodbye name generators (if you’re writing and not able to go online, lest you get distracted) and hello a new writing tool! Have fun coming up with creations, and feel free to leave your creations below in the comments to show me and the other readers how powerful this technique is!

Character Building 101: Obituaries

In this post, I will talk about an unconventional way to create characters. As the title suggests, an obituary is a great writing tool. Look in any local newspaper and you’ll probably see pages of them. Now, I’m not saying to copy the life of somebody outright. Why pick only one when you can mix and match several obituaries to create an interesting backstory for your characters? If you see any photos, you could even cut them out for inspiration and add the photos to your inspiration notebook or however you keep your information in order. I hope you all find this tip helpful, and I’m sorry it is such a small post. I like to get to the point and leave it at that.

Character Building 101: The Murder Victim

In this post, we will talk about the victim of a murder at the beginning of a mystery. Some authors introduce the victim and the crime scene, then create a cookie cutter story where the cops/detective try to solve the crime and capture the suspect(s).

In order to create a great story, the victim needs to have their own background. When you create a murder victim, they need to be created as the other characters in the story are created. Even if you do not use all of the details, it is important to know who the character was.

If you start with the murder victim, or have the victim become the second character created, you can fill in the rest of the “cast” within your story. The victim’s family, friends, enemies and co-workers are potential suspects. They can fill in the details of the victim to your main character as the main character tries to solve the mystery and bring the suspect(s) to justice.

Not everything the suspects say to your main character has to be true. The main character can hear one thing and find out the opposite is actually true during the investigation. Ask yourself, was the murder intentional or was it an accident? What would the killer gain, if the victim was intentionally murdered? Was it revenge, a blackmail threat towards another character, a hostage? In the event the murdered character was a hostage, say for example a bank robbery, is it possible the victim was a target for one of the robbers? Perhaps the victim was in charge of the bank branch, and the robbers were paid by somebody who was fired or thought they were wronged in some way?

Another question to ask is, how has this death impacted the other characters who knew them? Was the victim the sole provider of his family? if so, how has their family coped with the news? Has anyone began to show addictive behaviors? Want to go on a rampage trying to take the law into their own hands? Perhaps the victim was a harsh person and those around the victim are glad that they’re gone?

These elements should come into play for any sort of mystery/suspense novel that has to do with a murder. Emotions and personality types should also come into play. As with all stories, this type of story would need to have research dealing with psychology to make the most impact on your various characters and the readers.

Writing Exercise: The Villain’s Spawn

Here is a writing exercise found within the pages of the Writer’s Digest (I highly recommend this magazine!) though this one was for a contest at the time. I feel it would be a great character building exercise, especially for those of you who have this type of character for a current story, or plan on this type. Here we go!:

Imagine you are the offspring of a villianous character. This could be a character within your own story, a character inspired from a fairy tale, or even a character within a movie/TV show. You are not as evil as your evil parent(s), so they are disappointed in you. Write the parent(s) a letter explaining to them why you are not as evil and how you became that way. Explain why you are not interested in the dark side. This exercise could be humorous, serious, funny, or any other tone you would like to do.

Unconventional Mystery Sidekicks

Most people have heard of Sherlock Holmes. Many others have heard of Father Brown. Father Brown is an unconventional detective on account of him being a priest who solves murders with two of his parishioners.
This post is going to be about other types of unconventional detectives. My hope is to provide you all with inspiration for your stories. I’m far from a mystery novelist, though I hope to eventually create my own series eventually.

One type of unconventional detective that is used is that of a psychic detective. In some of the stories I’ve read, and movies I have watched on the subject, the detective sees pictures of the murder scene/the life of the person when they touch an object belonging to the criminal/victim (Psychometry) or they will get impressions. I like the impressions route because seeing the scenes play out would be much easier for the crime to be solved.

Imagine that the detective would get impressions instead of “video”. If they felt what the owner of an item felt at the time the murder was committed, the detective would have a difficult time concentrating. Perhaps an impression they receive would be a scent, such as smoke from a pipe or soil from a lake. The detective wouldn’t really know what those meant until they come across the scent by accident. If the item was owned by multiple people, the murder would be much harder to solve on account of the impressions from others confusing the detective’s senses.

Another option would be some kind of divine intervention, though, in this case, a ghost might be the sidekick. If the detective went around saying that he was communicating with spirits, their collegues would think they were bonkers and question the detective’s information every step of the way. This scenario would be great for a first novel within the series. Even if the detective’s collegues began to believe them by the end of the novel, others in later installments of the series could also question the detective’s validity.

One more option that I can think of at this time, though, I’m not sure if it has been done before, is if the detective has multiple personalities. Perhaps the sidekick is the detective’s own mind, where another personality helps the main personality solve the crimes? The detective could speak of the other personality as if it was a real person, confusing others in the process. With this last option, you may need to research multiple personalities so that you could show the signs of it more accurately, or you can have the character act completely opposite of what someone with that disorder would be known for. With a station full of police and detectives, many of them may end up having at least one case dealing with multiple personalities, so if you make it glaringly obvious to the reader, other characters should be able to see it as well.

With these three types of sidekicks for your detective, I hope you could use these examples and maybe come up with something unique in order to grab the reader and keep their attention as they explore your story’s world along with your characters. Have fun planning!