I’d love to know how you build the characters and create the families of characters we love! Do you have a crazy bunch of loving friends? - Salise Benjamin
I was not the most popular kid in school. That doesn’t mean I was an outcast by any means, but my interests were beyond nerdy – marching band, newspaper, drama, creative writing. If there was a time-turner available for me to take double-potions and astronomy, I would have done it. I was LITERALLY HERMIONE.
That meant that my friendships were sort of spread out among the various “groups -” the cool kids (that deigned to talk to me), the smart kids, the artsy kids, the athletes, the Future Business Leaders of America, the rebellious political kids, the ag kids. (Yes, in the south, that is its own group.) I had no idea where I landed, because like most people, I was a little bit of all of those things... except maybe the ag kids. They were perfectly nice, but you had to raise chickens and know how to weld and those skills are just not in my wheelhouse.
Because most of social time was spent in my student activities or with kids from those activities, that meant hanging out with large groups all at once. This tendency continued into college, where almost all of my friends were in the journalism department/student newspaper staff.
My skill at writing dialogue for large groups come from spending time with these friends. I loved meals or bus time where we would all sit and bounce ideas off of each other for news stories or talk about the shows we were putting together. We had purpose, which is something I think is reflected in the “bad stuff is going on in Half-Moon Hollow and we need to plan” meetings. Each person had something to contribute, even if it was comic relief, and was taken seriously – which was why they were/are my friends.
Thinking back over these friendships and how they’ve affected my writing, I’ve realized those friendship groups have created the following archetypes in my character groups:
The hero/heroine – It’s not always the person with the designated “in charge” title like manager or captain. It’s generally the person who has a take-charge personality or anchors the group by being the “central friend” that connects everybody. In terms of my characters, think Jane Jameson or Jillian Ramsay or Deacon Whitney.
The agent – They make stuff happen. If you need some obscure item or a difficult repair completed or just information that should be impossible to find, they always know a guy. Whether that stuff is entirely above-board … well, it’s better to focus on the ends than the means. Think Dick Cheney or Bonnie Turkle or Sonja Fong.
The madcap – They also make things happen, but sometimes, those things aren’t great. Think of their alignment as chaotic good. They’re the first to jump into action, but when not restrained by calmer friends, the outcomes are unpredictable and sometimes blow up in the group’s collective face. Also think Dick Cheney, (he’s a very versatile character) or Maggie Graham or Dotty Whitney.
The anchor – They’re the quiet, steady center of any group, keeping conversations productive and on track, keeping their more reactionary friends from running into danger. When the madcap wants to make a madcap-shaped hole in the wall, running into danger, the anchor basically sits on them until the impulse goes away. Think Andrea Byrne Cheney or Bael Boone or Eve DuChamp.
The big sibling – They’re quieter than the madcap, but when the group is threatened, they are just as quick to defend. Sometimes, they’re providing stabilizing advice. Sometimes, they’re giving a shovel speech. It always comes from a place of love, but it can be somewhat annoying, depending on the size of the threatened shovel. Think Zed Berend or Iris Scanlon or Carl Dawson
The font of wisdom –They’ve been through some stuff. They’ve thought it through. They have a plan. When all is lost, they’re usually the one to find the main character on a porch for a quiet conversation involving sage advice. Think Tootie McCready or Gabriel Nightengale.
There are of course, other archetypes, but these seems to come up the most in my stories. I don’t necessarily start every book “universe” with these roles in mind, but somehow, as I’m writing, they always emerge in group dynamics, in different ways.
By the way, if you’re interested in ROMANTIC archetypes, examples from pop culture, and how they interact, Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders do a much better job of defining them in The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines. I can’t recommend this book enough.