Five-Person Bands are everywhere in media.
I was honestly shocked by the amount of films, TV shows, animated series, Anime, boy-bands and everything in between that used the Five-Person Band as its core foundation. Hell, Joss Whedon's entire career is built on this writing tool:
*several franchises later*
...and, yes, even the frustrating Justice League.
So, what is the Five-Person...wait, before that, I just want to note that I'll be calling this trope "Five-Person Band" instead of "Five-Man Band" for two reasons:
One - Accuracy, because gender has little sway over the inner machinations of this trope; and,
Two - Cause it's 2018 and inclusivity, yo!
Now that I've alienated all the bigots in my audience (buh-bye now!), let's get back to business.
As I define it, the Five-Person Band describes a group of archetypes that both challenge and compliment one another, and are banded and maintained by genuine friendship.
Notice the word "archetypes" here. I note it out because the Five-Person Band is just a versatile tool that can be used as a very loose foundation for your cast if need be. You don't need to force your characters to fit into these archetypes. It's perfectly fine for them to grow and evolve from the basic foundations set by the Five-Person Band. So, don't be so rigid, mkay?
If you want to learn more about archetypes, check out this lil' betty.
Archetypes In The Five-Person Band
There are five core roles in the Five-Person Band. They go by several names, but I'll be giving them labels that, to me, make for better descriptors. BUTT, since you girls and boys will probably be doing even more research on this trope (as you should!), I'll also be calling them by their traditional names.
The five archetypes are:
Let's discuss each one in kind.
The Leader/Poster Child is the person the team is built around. They're the ones that decide the group's direction. Since the Poster Child will more than likely be the one driving the story/plot, they'll be the most relatable to the audience. (Rooting Interest)
Some stories place another Five-Person Band archetype as the protagonist (Megamind/The Genius archetype, Deadpool/Anti-hero and Jester), but most will have the Poster Child take center-stage and dictate the direction of the telling. Hell, they'll even have her/his face plastered smack in the middle of the movie poster!
(Poster Child. Get it?!)
The P.C. can, more often than not, be the cliché brand of heroic, with a moral compass that points hardcore north! Think Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Jesus, pretty much every superhero out there (with a few exceptions)....Wait...
ALSO Jesus! LOL!
In terms of their relation to the other characters in the Band, the P.C. will have a strong connection to all of them, in one form or another. Which makes sense, since the P.C. is more than likely the reason why the group is together in the first place.
What makes each P.C. different from other P.C.s in other stories is their leadership style, and how they oscillate between said styles.
You'll also notice that, as we go down the list, the scale moves from 'most calculating' to 'most socially charismatic.'
That's not to say that the later styles don't allow for an intellectual P.C.; only that P.C.s that fall in said later styles tend to (blatantly) inspire their Band through their personality rather than skills, and vice versa.
First style: Playmaker.
This style means that your P.C. will have a very clear and precise vision for the Band from the beginning. They know what the team will be after, who will be doing what, and what the potential problems will be.
Think Ender from Ender's Game and the real-world Sun Tzu. (Art of War, anyone?)
Being a brilliant tactician goes hand-in-hand with this leadership style, so, if you're P.C.'s main style is this, them being three steps ahead of the antagonist will come as no surprise.
Second style: Stoic.
A wealth of experience is what sets this P.C. from the others. No one can argue that they've seen some shit, and, because of that, they're able to put together an excellent plan of attack and stay cool when the pressure is on.
Even if they don't have time to sit down and design the perfect plan, they can adapt extremely well to situations. The Die Hard franchise's John McClane is a great example.
This type of leader won't waste time with words, and will usually let their actions do the ass-kickin'. Because they know what's important to them--their self-selected duty or love for their crew, typically--they were pretty much built to lead.
Basically, Batman, Cap'n America and Annabeth from the Percy Jackson series.
Third style: Daredevil.
Not to be confused with the *fan-boy-ing hard* Netflix series, the daredevil is pretty much every shonen anime lead character out there, people!
The daredevil P.C. will have absolutely no filter and no problem expressing themselves unapologetically.
They're also willing, with a very much reckless disregard to personal safety and an attitude that somehow circumvents basic survival instincts, to brave any danger, no matter how, big, small, cosmic or otherwise.
Thanks to the way they are, the daredevil P.C. will tend to get their Band into trouble almost as much, if not more, than they would getting them out.
Mal from Firefly would fall into this leadership style; along with: Queen Daenerys from GoT, House from House and Kirk from the Star Trek franchise.
Fourth style: Charmer.
We're talkin' pure, unfiltered passion and allure here, fam.
Forget competence--of which this P.C. will surely have--the Band that is lead by a Charmer P.C. will be inspired almost exclusively by her/his passion, beliefs and personality.
The P.C. doesn't need to be the strongest, fastest, smartest or any -est out there to lead this Five-Person Band. They just need to be themselves. That's all the Band needs for them to follow.
Whedon's Buffy and Angel are both solid examples of this leadership style.
The Vampire Diaries' Stefan Salvatore also falls in this category.
My boy, the one and only Luffy from One Piece absou-fookin-lotely falls in this style of leadership.
Ned Stark (R.I.P.) from GoT more than qualifies as well.
Since I can't go too long without mentioning superheroes, Wonder Woman and...
Superman also make the list....Oh, shit! Almost forgot:
Your P.C. will likely cycle through at least a couple of these styles as your story progresses and from high-pressure situation to high-pressure situation.
You may have noticed that some of the example/characters I gave can straddle a couple of these leadership styles, and, you'd be right!
A P.C. can employ a number of leadership styles depending on the situation they're in; just, be careful not to give them a leadership style that strays too far from their personality.
For example, Luffy and Goku aren't exactly known for their intellect.
Having either of them slip into a Playmaker style/design a foolproof plan addressing structural weak points, escape routes and well-drawn schematics isn't really their thing. Fighting geniuses they are, pop-ups and coloring books are more their speed, respectfully!
It's about to reach some serious levels of stone-cold devil-may-care savagery up in hurr!
Ladies and gentleman, the wild ones are in the building!
We can't properly study the Maverick without first realizing how reliant this archetype is to the Poster Child.
In fact, if you don't first design your Poster Child, you won't properly be able to construct your Maverick. The reason for this is simple:
The Maverick is the Poster Child's foil!
That means that the Maverick is the opposite of the P.C. in many ways; ergo, it's structural archetype is heavily dictated by that of the P.C.'s and its traits.
If the P.C. is democratic, the Maverick will be headstrong and authoritative. If the Maverick is a recluse, that will likely mean that your P.C. is a social butterfly. If your P.C. is a close-range fighter, a 'boy-scout' and honorable, then your Maverick will likely be a sniper, a trickster and doesn't mind a white lie or ten.
Because of this dichotomy in their personalities and values, there is gonna be plenty of friction (read, drama!) between these two.
They'll likely be (friendly) rivals; the Maverick having no problem pushing the Poster Child's buttons, and the Poster Child being largely unaffected (secretly totally is) by the Maverick's efforts/still continues to lead the Band as they always have.
Some P.C./Maverick pairings are:
Goku and Vegeta.
Captain America and Iron Man.
Kirk and Spock.
Stefan and Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries.
Dante and Vergil from Devil May Cry (more like 'Vergil and Dante', despite Virgil being the more straight-laced one and Dante being the protag).
Xavier to Erik/Magneto from the X-Men franchise,
Buffy and Faith from Buffy.
Angel and Spike from Angel.
Naruto and Sasuke from Naruto.
Luke Skywalker and Han Solo from Star Wars.
Gon and Killua from Hunter x Hunter and SO many more, my peeps!
Even though the P.C. and Maverick are constantly fighting for dominance, they will ultimately both fight for the same side, despite having different ways of going about it.
While the audience will come to appreciate the mutual respect these two have for one another, the Maverick will probably be the crowd fave; mostly because they're the edgier of the two.
A reoccurring pattern that you'll quickly recognize is that the Maverick will have probably grown on the "wrong side of the tracks," unlike the P.C.; and may have even been a once-upon-a-time baddie themselves!
The fact that the Maverick has overcome so much and still continues to fight for our side, to the bitter end no less, both excites and prompts a #SlowClap.
That being said, the Maverick will likely be the one to cut corners/be a little inconsistent in terms of where their moral compass points.
They're more than likely to have an "ends justifies the means" mindset, and, as long as they get what they want (stop the Big Bad, keep love interest/Essence safe, etc...), collateral damage is more than acceptable.
If the Maverick were to, at one point in the story, take over the Five-Person Band, expect their leadership style to very much conflict with that of your P.C.'s; with the final outcome being that the Maverick realizes they are not ready to lead, and that the team is better off following the P.C.
Bro tip: Watch
Now we've come to the--wait for it--'heart' of the Five-Person Band, everyone. #Puns
The Essence is, without a doubt, not just the emotional center of the team, but also the glue that holds it together.
This character will be the one that maintains the group's copacetic dynamic. Without the Essence, the team will have a very hard time getting along and, to no one's surprise, will probably end up disbanding.
THAT's how crucial the Essence is to the Five-Person Band.
Since the Essence is the most emotionally stable, the Band comes to rely on them to be the only constant in their crazy, drama-filled, every-changing emotional landscape.
The group depends on the Essence, whether they admit it or even realize it or not, to keep them centered and from going off the rails.
The Essence is always there to encourage the group to play nice and stick together, despite the constant presence of both external AND internal feuds the group has to face; feuds that the Essence manages to resolve thanks to their talent at playing peacemaker.
A quick note on gender:
When it comes to the Essence's gender, traditionally, it has been female. But, that doesn't mean that this is always the case; even recently.
If you've ever watched the epic Steven Universe, the legendary Hunter X Hunter, the fan-fave Marvel's Agents of Shield and animated juggernaut Rick and Morty, you probably noticed that Steven, Gon, Agent Son-of-Col and Morty are all the emotional centers of their respective shows.
So, in this, and, matter of fact, all the archetypes in the Five-Person Band, gender is kinda irrelevant, to be honest. Don't be afraid to play. Hell, maybe that's how we create a new 'normal;' whatever that is! *fart noise*
End of quick note!
In term of team relations, the Essence can be/is usually the love interest to both the P.C. and the Maverick; making for some serious romantic, three-is-a-crowd shananigans!
The Essence can even prompt a crush from the Genius, if/when the Genius happens to be younger.
This is because the Band is incredibly overprotective of the Essence (a fact that you can exploit to great effect as a writer), and they will put all personal and external qualms aside if ever the Essence is at risk.
When, as a writer, you do/time this story event right, jeopardizing the Essence and prompting the Band to act can inspire and invigorate your audience; evoking in them the same exact cocktail of feels and instincts that your characters are experiencing.
Very, very powerful story beat here, gang.
The Band knows, subconsciously in most cases, that without the Essence, they would stray too far into the extremes of their archetypes, become disconnected from the outside world as a group, neglect protecting the innocent and, more importantly, stop operating as their best selves.
In short, no Essence, no Band.
There. That's it. That's all you need to know about the Berserker.
The Berserker is pretty easy to spot and pick out of any line-up, because they're (usually) physically bigger than the rest of the gang.
This doesn't mean they must be titan-sized, just that, when compared to the rest of the team, they clearly are stronger in terms of raw power.
The Berserker tends to be incredibly loyal, so much so that it's typically beyond question. That type of earnest, straight-forward even simple view of life defines how the Berserker views the team; to the point where there are no shades of gray *cough* Maverick *cough* To the Berserker, morality is near-binary, with little ambiguity as to where people they come to know fall.
Like I mentioned, the Berserker dominates physically, and in a complimentary regard to the Poster Child.
Meaning, if the P.C. is well-rounded as a fighter, the Berserker is physically stronger. If the P.C. is stronger, the Berserker will be more durable, and yadda yadda yadda! Power and durability are the Berserker's arenas to shine.
This is because the Berserker will typically be the most battle-hardened, and will have both the literal and metaphoric scars to prove it.
Now, understand that this doesn't mean their pugnacious savages on the daily, no. They can, in fact, be the most gentle of the group.
(Apachai from Kenichi: History's Strongest Disciple).
But, when it comes to the fight, it's best to give the team's one-person army their space!
But being a rugged badass isn't what the Berserker is all about. They usually have something quirky about them that separates them from the group, be it them using a single phrase for everything...
...making noises to communicate...
...looking older despite their pubescence...
...takes everything literally...
...(Yes, he and Groot are both Berserkers)...
...or whatever other mushy-center-to-crunchy-exterior quark you wish to attribute them.
That being said, the Berserker is typically always down for a good fight, and will usually volunteer to play with/"SMASH!" the henchmen while the rest of the team face off against the punchable face of Papa Evil.
Beyond that, your Berserker's physical appearance will be considerable dictated by what genre you give your story.
Sci-fi will likely either make them an alien (Teal'c from Stargate SG-1), horror and/or comedy might make them a monster (Frankenstein from the many creature features and Hotel Transylvania) and the superhero genre will probably just make them a mutant (Thing from Fantastic Four).
Secret Technique: The "Whoa...no way, Aziz!"
There will come a time when you have to both introduce and showcase your villain and your power in a very efficient and timely manner; and, what better way to do so than through your Berserker!
We've all seen this happen before:
Your Beserker is doing their thing (berserk-ing) and kicking butt, then, out of nowhere, the scary villain shows up. The Berserker, confident as all hell--cause, c'mon, have you seen how much trouble they gave your protag last episode--takes on the villain...only to have their face, along with their dignity, royally shit on. Ergo...
"Whoa...no way, Aziz!" (Even though your roommate's name is 'Steve.')
Doing this not only gives credibility to your villain, but also solidifies them as a threat.
On every team, you know who the person is that exclusively designs the plans...
...builds the robots and invents the gadgets...
...casts the spells...
...and, while they don't usually fist-a-cuff the bad guys in the face, they're clever enough that you still dont wanna fuck with them...no, seriously, dude, do NOT fuck with the Genius, genius!
Like all the members in the Five-Person Band, the Genius is there to compliment and contrast with the Poster Child.
As in, if the Poster Child's leadership style doesn't involve them ever creating a plan, the Genius figure out the logistics and will put together said plan
(Double D from Ed, Edd n' Eddy).
If the P.C. actually does come up with a plan, the Genius will be the one that expositions the frick outta it for the rest of the group and the audience.
(Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho)
Genre also dictates what the genius looks like, be it a mage for fantasy...
(Rita from Tales of Vesperia)
...or a robot/android for Sci-Fi...
...(Teen Titan's Cyborg).
Because the Genius role isn't inherently physically demanding, the Genius can actually have a disability or handicap in the context of your world and still be able to contribute and then some!
(Professor Charles Xavier from You should seriously know by now!)
Your Five-Person Band doesn't necessarily have to start that way from the get-go. It can start with two members and, over the course of the film/season/story, become the entire Band. Simply look to the many examples you've come across as an audience member or the many I've already mentioned.
Some ways of bringing the Band together are:
-They're already family.
- They're all after the same thing/person but don't realize it (great dramatic beat).
- Some of the members already have history with one another even before the Band gets together. For example, they're childhood friends, they're past lovers, they're rivals, etc...
- A combination of some or all of the above.
Basically, study the trope's history/examples, see what worked and what doesn't, then, get creative.
Also, realize that if the Band currently consists of two members, the dynamic between those members will be different from the group being three, four and five members. It has to. The P.C. and Essence will interact in certain ways, but those ways will change and be affected once the Maverick comes into the picture; and, so on.
Finally, despite the name, your Band doesn't necessarily have to be FIVE characters. Characters can assume more than one archetype. The Maverick can be both the Maverick and the Berserker. The Essence can play both the Essence and the Genius; and so on. (Check out Tvtropes.org from more on these hybridizations) This is why I said this trope is a very malleable one. Three or four members can assume all the roles found in a Band of five; and, even more archetypes can be added to the Band if need be...but, those can be the topic of a later piece.
Hope y'all found this helpful! I really love this trope, and think I'm going to be working on mastering it a lot more for the time being.
P.S. I never like doing this cause I think the work itself should be a writer's real reward, but, I'm very much trying to quit my job and do this beautiful writing thing full-time, so, whatever my fellow nerds can do to help this small blog of mine will be INCREDIBLY appreciated.