Yesterday, I talked about some of the elements for creating groups of characters that could also function as one somewhat complicated character role-wise. One of the points I touched on was the idea of each character’s role in the group, and how these roles can be used to ensure that the characters aren’t misplaced (unless they want to be) in a situation requiring all or most of them.
The first thing to consider is functional roles; what each character literally does within the purpose of the group. Many, but not all, groups will have a leader. Ones that focus on fighting might have the heavy hitter, the knowledgeable one, the one who sets up her teammates’ attacks, that sort of thing. A pair of spies might include the one who does the interaction/distractions and the one who filches the sensitive documents. A budding political group might include a face, a person for logistics, one for analyzing the opposition…. you get the idea.
But roles aren’t just what people do as part of the group’s purpose; they can also be what they do in interactions, since not everybody’s going to be all that outgoing. Two people might set up a good cop/bad cop routine. Some in a larger group might be quiet most of the time, but vocal about something that interests them or that they are experts in for other reasons. Some groups have someone who specifically handles the talking, whether or not that person is the leader; some have one person for overall interaction with people and one for negotiations.
Note that roles of either sort can also affect characterization; a character whose role in a group is known and assured will probably come across as far more secure than one whose role is vague, changing, threatened or even recently displaced.
For instance, I have a pair of NPCs, information gatherers by trade, who trade off dialogue almost constantly. Role-wise, one trades in rumors, speculations and gossip; the other focuses on verifiable facts. The former is a fast-talker, enthusiastic, goofy and sometimes a touch insensitive; the latter tends to be quieter, more neutral in tone, and sometimes more empathic. Generally, it’s the first one who takes the lead in conversation, unless the subject is pure facts and procedures, and to occasionally interrupt with commentary on the second’s facts; the second mainly interrupts the first when he’s about to stick his foot in his mouth.
Since one of the main uses of in-group roles is to ensure that nobody gets left behind unless they want to be, make sure that everyone’s roles are likely to come up in the average conversation. This often means that a character’s functional role and conversational role often don’t completely overlap; one might have a functional role that involves, say, weapons maintenance or something similarly backgroundy, but their conversational role is to take information provided by the rest of the conversation and draw conclusions from it, so they’re likely to pop into the conversation any time the clues reach a critical mass.
A good set of character roles is like a puzzle; all the pieces fit smoothly together, you can’t get the full image without all of them, and the whole is far more interesting than the sum of its parts.