The Five Friend Dynamic

posted April 18, 2011 by Jer


There is a rule. Whenever you have five equally established characters, they always fit the same dynamic: The Captain, The Philosopher, The Sprite, The Oddball and The Grump. I also like to call it The Fraggle Five.

When you add or remove people to the dynamic, the roles shift. Two, Three and Four character dynamics have lots of options and when you have six or more characters the dynamic tend to become extremely complicated. When the characters hit the magic number five, though, they will always fit the Five Friend Dynamic.

Gobo - The Captain

The more characters you have in a group, the more likely it is that one of them takes charge. Around four or five, it seems to become inevitable. I would not be surprised to learn there is anthropological research to support this.

The captain is brave, confident and driven. Whatever the group's purpose or goal is, it's likely strongly related to the captain's own motivations. Captains tend to be very protective of their crew, and can even be parental at times. When the captain has a plan, the gang has a plan, and when the captain is lost, the gang is lost. Captains aren't always the best people to give advice, but they tend to be the ones everyone looks to for guidance. There may be someone that the captain looks to in turn - a preacher or trash heap outside of the group, or even an older, wiser member of the five - but the Captain always remains at the center of the team. Even in rich stories where all the characters are all very well developed, the overarching story tends to center on the captain.

Mokey - The Philosopher

The Philosophers are the thinkers of the group. Some philosophers are reserved and inwardly thoughtful, while others boldly speak their mind. Often they are the voice of reason when the rest of the gang is in chaos. In the case of a stubborn captain, the philosopher may be the only one in the world who can talk sense back into them.

Red - The Sprite

Every team of five has a power source. Sprites are energetic and cheerful, and tend to be the ray of sunshine through the gloom that a good plot casts over the gang. Almost nothing can bring the sprite down, a fact the gang comes to depend on. If sprites ever succumb to despair the whole gang will drop what they're doing to nurse them back to their energetic self. The sprite can be overwhelming at times, and in some cases all that energy pushes a sprite to challenge the captain, but the crew depends on the sprite. The sprite is the engine, and the machine can't move without it's engine.

Wembly - The Oddball

The oddball is the wildcard or the comic relief. Oddballs crack wise and goof around. They fit in with the group but no one can really say why. They're usually friendly and love being part of the group, though they sometimes struggle with defining their actual role. Like the sprite, the oddball goofing about is necessary for the gang to keep sane. The oddball is a familiar chaos in the face of the terrifying chaos outside.

Boober - The Grump

The grump may be a pessimist or simply a realist, but every team needs someone to point out the worst that could happen. They tend to be reliable warriors or very hard workers, or have extremely rare and useful skills the team can't live without. The gang tolerates the grumps attitudes because they need their skills for survival, but though no-one would admit it, they provide an emotional counterbalance as well. Grumps are loyal. Some may have trust issues, or questions about their place in the gang like the oddball, but when the pressure is on the grumps can be counted on to do their job for the good of the gang. They are a reliable and stalwart force. The grump is the load-baring member of the group.

List of characters that fit the Five Friend Dynamic

Title The Captain The Philosopher The Sprite The Oddball The Grump
Fraggle Rock Gobo Mokey Red Wembly Boober
Firefly/Serenity Mal Zoe Kaylee Wash Jayne
Angel Angel Wesley Cordila Fred Gunn
How To Train Your Dragon Hiccup Fishlegs Snotlout Ruffnut & Tuffnut Astrid
The Usual Suspects Dean Keaton Verbal Kint Michael McManus Fred Fenster Todd Hockney
Metalocalyps Nathan Explosion William Murderface Pickles the Drummer Toki Wartooth Skwisgaar Skwigelf
Voltron Keith Kogane Sven Pidge Lance Hunk
Captain Planet Kwame Gi Wheeler Ma-Ti Linka
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Frank Dennis Dee Charlie (WILDCARD!) Mac
Watchmen Ozymandias Night Owl Sally Jupiter Comedian Rorschach
Law and Order - Special Victims Unit Cragen Munch Benson Finn Stabler
Bones Brennan Booth Angela Sweets Hodgens
Insecurity Alex Claude N'udu Bert JoJo
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Mina Murray Captain Nemo Allan Quatermain Hawley Griffin Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde
Werewolf Apocalypse Ahroun
Full Moon
Crescent Moon
Gibbous Moon
New Moon
Half Moon
Sneakers Martin 'Marty' Bishop Irwin 'Whistler' Emery Carl Arbogast Darren 'Mother' Roskow Donald Crease

Exceptions to the Rule

There really are no absolute rules in fiction. Here are a few of the troubles we've found applying the Five Friend Dynamic.

Breakfast Club

The "Five Friend Dynamic" applies to characters who are equally developed. While the Breakfast Club does fit this guideline, they actually begin the story with almost no development and develop into a group over the course of the plot only to ultimately disband. The elements of a five friend dynamic can be seen, but they are in constant flux. Given time and the chance to stay together, the kids in The Breakfast Club would have established a profound example, but due to the movie's unique scenario, they were never given that chance.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Another tricky fluke is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A strong case could be made for a five-friend team consisting of the turtles plus either Splinter or April. The trouble here lies in the connection between the characters. The bond between Leo, Don, Mike and Raph is brotherly, while the four's bond to Splinter is parental, and to April is... well, complicated. The point of adding "equally developed" to the five friend rule is that the strength and style of the inter-character bond is the same. Since the four turtles have a very different bond with each other than with others, it complicates the dynamic. If we include Splinter, he tangles with Leo for the role of Captain, or with Raph for the role of Grump. Putting April in the mix shuffles Mike away from being the Oddball or the Sprite. The elements are there, but the Turtles are too strong of a four-character team to include a fifth.

Boy Bands and Girl Groups

They come close, but boy bands and spice girls don't exactly (n) sync up with the five friend dynamic. One problem is that bands of five have their own dynamic. Boy bands go something like Bad, Innocent, Cute, Weird and Sporty, which parallels the Spice Girls' Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh and Sport. The band of five dynamic also lacks an official leader roll. Now, the bands do have leaders - Ginger was considered leader of the Spice Girls and Jordan lead New Kids, and N Sync had a bit of leader contention between JC and The Timberlake - but the leader isn't a defined roll in the dynamic. The Five Friend Dynamic rule works best for fictional character sets, because they have a story behind them to drive the connection between characters. It gets a little tricky when you apply it to real people because they don't necessarily have a coherent story behind them, nor do we always see the depth of their interpersonal relationships.