There just isn't information about this on the internet (at least that I could find), so I'm here.

A few specific questions: how many team members should there be? Should they all be main characters, or just one? What kind of personalities and dynamics are needed within a team to make it work?

And any other general advice is greatly appreciated.

  • 1
    Team stories are like Heist stories. Sanderson spends a little time on the general bones of the Heist format in his BYU308 online course (youtube). What you might want to include, etc.
    – SFWriter
    May 26, 2018 at 15:03
  • 2
    Also, Sanderson's writing podcast Writing Excuses spent an entire month on Ensemble stories back in 2016 Jun 3, 2018 at 4:38
  • @ArcanistLupus ... And touched on the subject again recently (in the episode on characters as foils).
    – Jules
    Aug 21, 2018 at 16:17

6 Answers 6


There are many possibilities of teams, in terms of number and group dynamics. You might want to look at TV Tropes: Power Trio, Four-Man Band and Five-Man Band for some fairly standard builds. Note, however, that the structures presented are sort of averages that the examples more or less fit - they are NOT baking recipes that you should follow to the letter.

The short answer is this: in terms of group dynamics, each team member has to bring something to the team. Each member has to have their place. Take one out, and the team is lacking, not in "ability to complete the mission" (though that is a likely side-effect), but in ability to have certain thoughts and certain emotions, take certain actions.
It is useful to have contrasting, complementary traits on the team. Presented opposite each other, each gains lustre, the team gains the ability to use either when the situation calls for it, and you've added tension to the group dynamics, making things more interesting.

The larger your team, the harder it is to give each team member their unique and necessary place. Look, for example at The Hobbit: de-facto, it functions as a three-person team: there's Thorin - the leader, there's Bilbo, and there's "the other dwarves".
It is, however, possible to have sub-groups within your team. For example, in the Lord of the Rings, the four hobbits, collectively, are the member of the Fellowship who's to be protected, shown and explained things, and who always lands in trouble. At the same time, they have their own internal group dynamic, with Frodo as the leader, Pippin as the comic relief etc. Note that Pippin can only outgrow his role as Butt-Monkey once he is separated from the group.
Which is to say, there isn't a hard limit on how many team members you can have, but the more you have, the harder it becomes to write the team.

While in its interactions with the "outside", the team is a unified unit (to a certain extent), so you're basically writing the team as a complex character of sorts, dealing with a challenge, an important part of your story would be the interactions between team members. Those could almost be a ritual, reinforcing each member's place in the team; think of Spock and McCoy bouncing quips, reinforcing each other's position as "brains" and "heart" respectively. Those interactions, sometimes adding challenges to those presented by the "outside", but ultimately indispensable for solving the story's main Problem, make the story fun to read. In a way, they're the reason to write a team in the first place. It's the team that lets each character shine.


To answer your question well, I'd honestly need more information. What exactly is this team doing? What makes them a team? Are you going to make the team band together from the start or always be in conflict with one another? Also, what is your story about? I really can't answer any of your questions accurately without more info about your story. Otherwise (and this may be completely unhelpful or irrelevant; honestly I have no idea), here are some possible ideas or options.

First, you could make a large team filled with random side characters and one to two main characters. I would say if you have one main character, you could make two or three important side characters, and the rest of the team members could serve a purpose from time to time but never be focused on. You could also make a large team with two to three main characters, not really any super important side characters, and then team members that you wouldn't focus on either.

Second, you could make a small team of a few people (maybe three to four) and focus on half or all of them. The smaller the number of characters in the team, the easier it would be to have all of them be main characters. However, if you go lower than four members, I would have a hard time seeing them as a "team" and more as some people/friends who just got forced together under certain circumstances.

Third, you could make a team of about five to seven characters (which seems like a decently medium-sized group), have one to two main characters (five to seven is too many main characters for a story), and have the remaining members all be somewhat important side characters.

Those are just some possibilities. However, the amount of team members and their roles should move the story along. Characters should not exist unnecessarily. This is not something someone can answer for you. I'd need much more context to accurately answer your question in a way that makes your story better.


So some things you should consider... If you're making a Team from an existing set of heroes with their own merits, it is always best to play with the personalities. It's more forgiven if you start with six or seven (Avengers, Justice League) but the rule is give everyone time to shine. Because they are per-established, they have unique personalities that may overlap and the dynamic here is the reader wants to see how they play off each other. Everyone is equally the main character.

In terms of a new team that is assembled from the get go, the general starting numbers are 3, 4, and 5. These numbers ensure that there is enough personality to butt heads, but not so many characters that the others get forgotten in the plot. I'm going to address 4-man teams first because there isn't much difference between them.

Four man teams are largely American teams that model a Nuclear Family of sorts. Typically there is a Team Dad, who is sort of aloof and emotionally distant, but this isn't a lack of love, but usually has duties that draw his attention away from the family. When the chips are down, he is always there for the team and can usually focus them on the mission at hand. Team Mom, the nurturer and more emotionally attentive to everyone's needs. If the father can unite against internal threat, she's going to be the voice of reason during internal family quarrels, and two team children, the older straight (and physically bigger) man and the younger clown. The children tend to be closer to the team problem, especially in continuing series as real life kids tend to be major impacts on all family events in the families life. As such, they are often the cause of the problems. The older child tends to be more level headed and agreeable with the parent analogs, but will also have conflicts of interest that are external to the family or cause him to have conflicts with the external life and internal life within the family. Usually these conflicts are to satisfy needs that aren't family concerns but will bring in trouble that quickly becomes the family concern. The Younger child, by contrast, is his own worst nightmare and thereby, the single greatest cause for concern internally in the family unit. Often impulsive, he's simultaneously able to think up innovative zanny schemes and stupid enough not to realize the risk. Many of these zanny schemes are harmless pranks aimed at the older sibling, the favorite target, that tend to get out of hand way to fast and requires all hands on deck to solve. When he doesn't cause trouble, the more comedic nature shines as being the one to harass the enemy the most. Most of their opponents will be an out group element that challenges the entire team... since the team is a family, they tend to work best as a family and rarely does any one team member outshine the other... typically they take turns with introducing the problem.

Teams of Three typically work in a Fruedian Id, Ego, Super-ego dynamic... or in fiction, a Bones, Kirk, Spock dynamic. These typically work by the Id and Super-Ego providing two opposed views of a problem that the Ego must then work out and find a middle ground. Typically, the Id character will be a visceral reaction to an offending thought of the more rule-lawyer and logic bound Super-Ego. That is, the Super-Ego will understand why the system has created the problem and what their actions mean. The Id is opposed to the whole system and cites this issue as a reason why they should throw the rule-book out. An important point of note, is that the logic and rules of the system need not be logical or even well thought out. Merely that the Super-Ego character will understand the decision making process with the rules in place. Spock has observed that if the rules follow no known logic, than illogical action is permissible. Typically your hero character is the Ego, who is clever enough to fuse both points of disagreement into an agreeable fix. Trinity teams work great as well because of the fact that a group of three is the smallest group possible in which one person can be an Outsider to the group. This is a major theme of "The Blue Man Group" where one of the Blue Men is always portrayed in opposition to the other two, allowing for many stories to revovle around settling internal differences to solve an external problem.

A Five person Group is best exemplified by Power Rangers/Super Sentai teams. If you have a specific hero character in mind, it's important to distinguish there place on this team first, before you flesh out the other character. The hero is the eyes and ears of the reader for rest of the team... so the hero does tend to get a bit of a spotlight. Typically, they come in one of two ways: The hero is either the newest member on the team, or he double hats as the team leader. Either way, you have a character who can safely get details out to the reader. In the former's case, the team is going to bring him up to speed on the exposition or the latter, who will brief the crack team he just assembled. The leader and the hero can often be one in the same as both characters are known for their ability to assess and bring out the best qualities of people.

Another standard character is the Lancer. In Power Rangers, with rare exception, this tends to be the Blue Ranger of a team. The Lancer is best described by being that which the Hero/Leader is not. If the Leader is cool and level headed, he will be brash and prone to action. If the Leader is extroverted, he will be introverted. If the Leader is a loose cannon who gets results, the Lancer will be the guy to quote the rule book chapter and verse of the regulations the Leader just broke. He serves to criticize the leader and dress down the hero. However, no matter what, question his loyalty at your own peril. If the Leader is not the hero, the hero will find that despite all the bad mouthing the leader will experience at his disrespect, the leader does value the Lancer's advise... they may even be good friends despite their opposite natures. If the hero is the Leader, the Lancer may not respect the command style and isn't afraid to tell the leader to his face, but these disagreements have some merit to them. He is not dissing you out of spite or malice but actual concern. The most defining characteristic here is that the Lancer is the tactical mind of the team and while the leader may order something and the hero may save the day, he is the one who reminds them of the things they overlooked.

The next two characters tend to be a little more loose in defined characteristics as they tend to float between collections of the team. If the story is about the conflict of the Hero/Leader and Lancer, these two will form a micro team with the fifth character. If not, usually one will form a missing part of the Fruedian Trinity as mentioned above while the other two have some adventures... or are damsels in distress. In power Rangers, these are typically the Black, Green, or Yellow Rangers and one of those three is always absent as are some traits. Typically one will be the Royal Smart Person, whose job it is to spout of technobabble until a new invention or vulnerability of the bad guy is revealed. The other is the Big Guy, who's job it is to wield the physically largest weapons and throw another teammate in a fast ball special, and get dogpiled by the mooks. Another personality trait is that they are the eager young cadet who is just junior to the team and is a bit more of a jester or comic relief and tends to fight with more oddball antics or pure speed and agility. These traits get blended around so you could have combos like the Genius Bruiser (A big guy who is smart) or big funny man. Another one of them may be a bit more serious. Typically these two tend to be best of buds or like brothers and sisters or brother and brother. Basically wild cards in character, but season to flavor.

Finally, and again, we have the Heart (Usually the Pink Ranger). What kind of lame power is heart? Well, typically they are not the best fight, almost never get to be part of the trinity, and may often times be the lone woman on a team of men (though they need not be women. Flash, from Justice League and JL Unlimited cartoons is the heart of his team). Typically they are the most empathetic to the needs of others, and will be the diplomat of the team. They tend not to be the greatest of fighters or combatants, she tends to be the one to patch up the wounds of the team, both physical and emotional. That said, those that underestimate her do so at their own peril. She still can kick ass and take names... and if that cannot get the job done, behind her are four people who can agree on few things, but "You make her cry, we make you cry" is one of the few common believes of these teams.

Typically, teams of five start out that way but rarely finish. Usually there is a Sixth Ranger who will be brought on at some point in the early middle part of the series. Sixth Rangers will typically shake up the new pecking order of the series, either by the trouble they bring with them, or by upsetting the recently stabilized team dynamic. There are no real hard rules about what the sixth ranger personality is like. Fighting wise, they are equally mixed of melee and ranged. The only rule is that they didn't start on the team in episode one. Because of this, they tend to be great vehicles for alerting the team to the furtherment of the plot of the bad guy, often they tend to have deep connections to the villains that run deeper than the rest of the team. Often, they can even start as villains with codes of honor, which throw's the team dynamics off because the team will have strong emotions of accepting someone who tried to kill them into the fold. These types tend to have valuable intelligence into the villain's inner workings, plotting, personality, and other things that explotative understandings. If they aren't in the villain's employ, they may be from an earlier attempted team and provide value in knowlegeable fighting of bad guys, personal knowledge of those in employment, or a familiarity of the enemy that comes with experience.

  • Great answer. What do you think of huge "teams", like Ocean's 11 (or 13)? Particularly in film (with limited character development space), I'm not sure that is ever done well, it seems like half the crew could have done the job with better character development. Like, do you really need a full share partner to go buy a few vans?
    – Amadeus
    Dec 8, 2021 at 12:31
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    @Amadeus Having never seen Ocean's # proper (just Heist film parodies or spoofs). That said, heist films would typically have jobs that are broken into smaller groups of 1s, 2s, or 3s. Small teams will then shine with each member having skills and talents related to getting their task done. Typical of the format is the man who wants the desired stolen good(s) will meet with the guy who "knows a guy" and that will segway into a montage of assembling the larger crew, quickly introducing us to members for specific parts of the job (the cracker, the wheel man, the distractions, ect).
    – hszmv
    Dec 8, 2021 at 14:50

Team stories can be very interesting, but each one is different. Two of my favorite urban fantasy stories from the late 1980's are "War for the Oaks" and "Gossamer Ax." In both of these stories the team is a rock band.

I would say that each team member should be a main character, and that each should be important, though not as important as the team itself.

Other than that, I can give you examples, but the roles of the team members depends on the needs of the story.

In both stories the bands are being used to fight an important battle and shortly before the battle (not enough time to replace the band member) one of them is killed.

It seems to be common in team stories that the team is tested in some way. Perhaps a member is killed, or perhaps one of the members is a traitor to the group, or perhaps one of the members quits.

In "War for the Oaks" the band was originally designed so that Eddy (the woman leading the band) was using the band to earn money because she couldn't hold down a normal job because of plot reasons.

The main characters break into a fairly standard team. There is the charismatic and musically talented leader, the bodyguard and roady, the guitarist who acts like he should run everything, the bass player who rarely speaks, Eddy's feisty best friend Carla the drummer, and the techie keyboardist. There is one great scene of them acting as a team when they try to rescue one of their number who has been kidnapped and their individual skills and personalities come into play.

In "The Gossamer Ax," our heroine has been trying to break into the Faerie to rescue her lover for a few hundred years, but her mortal harping (even with a powerful magical harp) isn't enough to overcome the perfect skill of the elven harpist who prevents her. So she gathers a number of women musicians and makes a heavy metal band to throw something new (and highly amplified) against the elves. In this book, the team blends together better than the WftO, but they pretty much have the same roles.

I will say that I'm living in a motorhome with limited space, and yet I have a physical copy of "The Gossamer Ax" because I couldn't find an ebook version. I reread it every couple of years.


Team based stories are usually very interesting reads. Generally they are used in the heist genre, although have been used in many others. The important part of every team is that they all need a skill set to complement one another, as well as distinct names and personalities. Personally I would be sure all their names start with different letters to help readers differentiate between them early on.

Now as for some of your more specific questions. Generally speaking, the most I’ve ever seen done effectively is six, and this is a pretty common number in terms of these type of stories. I’d say four to five is about the minimum. If Yeah his a very team based story, than they should all be main characters, whether they all have their own POV chapters is really up to you. Depends on how deeply you wish to develop them all. An example would be Six of Crows bu Leigh Bardugo, who has six main characters, and across the book and it’s sequel, explores all six of the characters pasts, develops them and by the end nobody is the same. It is one of the best reads in terms of a large ensemble all having character development.

In terms of team dynamics and personalities, that really comes down to what you want. Generally you should have different characters have different relationships with one another. Sometimes romantic, others friendships, and almost always there should be personality or ideology conflicts. Conflict between the main cast is essential but not everyone has to hate each other. However on some level, even if it’s just a pair of characters should disagree with each other, because you want your ensemble to feel human.

Regardless, keep all personalities unique. But if you find perhaps htat two of your characters have really large egos, then be sure they differ in many other aspects and perhaps use those egos for conflict or comic relief. In fantasy genres perhaps have them of different species, or in general keep the cast diverse, but not in a meaningless offhanded way.

The way I would approach it is once you’ve got team number, be sure they are all main characters and you stick by it. Then flesh out all of them, give them all what a main character needs, motivations, background, personality, quirks, flaws etc. Then I would make a chart with a bunch of circles each representing a character. Then put lines between each and every single person on the team with every single other person on the team with what their relationship is like whether friendly, rivals or in turmoil. Be sure those relationships vary, nobody should be friendly if everyone.

Overall, keep your focus on those team dynamics and be sure they evolve over the course of the story. That’s not to say every single relationship has to same, but every character should reevaluate how they view another by the end of their ordeal they go through together. Because as with any team based story, it’s ultimately about the characters, their dynamics with one another and why they evolve.


I’m not going to have a very long answer but I’m reading IT right now and Stephen King balances 7 main characters very well so I honestly don’t know what the limit is I think he does it so well by giving all the characters individual story arcs that all eventually combine with the friend group they’re in, idk if that makes sense but yeah.

  • I was totally going to say the same! I haven't read IT yet but there are other novels where the author writes chapters from different character's narration perspective. Some bits might get overlapping but that totally depends on how you handle it. Personally, I like this style of writing - where every character gets to grow. Aug 17, 2018 at 9:22

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