When you’re writing your fantasy story (or your genre series), one of the most significant questions you need to ask is: who will be my core characters? There’s the protagonist and then there’s the side characters, but usually some of the side characters are less side-y than others. Since gender matters a lot to me when I’m making character decisions, I’m always intrigued by the gender breakdown in a core group. I will not say that one breakdown is better than another, but in looking at the various types I’ve thought about below, I’d say that the preference for male-centric core groups among famed writers is obviously high.
As with anything, I’d say you really need to exam your choices as a writer. If you choose to go the ‘MMF Trio’ route, do you have a significant reason why, or does it just feel right to you because, hey so many others do it (or, worse, because deep down you have this sense that two girls and guy will not survive in the epic danger that your story has waiting for them?)? Is it better to have a small group like a trio or a large varied ensemble? The ensemble will change your story entirely, necessitating something much larger than you may anticipate. Either way, this may be one of the most significant choices you make for your story. Choose wisely!
1. The Trio: MMF
This seems to be the most popular group. I would say the big two are: Harry, Ron and Hermione, and Luke, Leia, and Han. Others include Neo, Morpheus and Trinity; Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (or Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch, since the other three aren’t really a team); Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura; and, of course, Shadow, Chance and Sassy.
In this combination, we usually see one of the boys take the lead, and there is almost always inter-trio naughtiness. This may take the form of a love triangle (Katniss, Peeta, Gale/Bella, Edward, Jacob/Luke, Leia, Han…) or it may just be that two of them pair off (Neo, Morpheus, Trinity). In many cases, the female has a strong presence, but must still play second fiddle to the main man (Harry vs. Hermione, Neo vs. Trinity).
Advantages: Tried and true.
Disadvantages: Tried and tried again.
2. The Trio: FFM
I cannot think of many examples of this type of trio beyond Buffy, Willow and Xander. TV Tropes points me to iCarly, but I can’t describe much familiarity with the show. In Buffy’s example, the woman takes the role and the male is inevitably feminized. While Xander is more complicated than that, I think it’s fair to say that he’s portrayed as somewhat womanly (at times). This can suggest that any man that follows the lead of a woman must be emasculated.
Advantages: Will force you to treat your women less like a token
Disadvantages: Be careful with how you characterize the man (is he feminized? should he be?)
3. The Unisex Group: Male
Think Lord of the Rings, Ghostbusters, TMNT, the unisex trio of Spock, Bones & Kirk, the trio of Brody, Quint & Hooper. In this type of group, the men may be on a mission, and it’s possible for women to be the element that potentially divides them.
Advantages: Plenty of opportunities for Battles of the Sexes
Disadvantages: Variety is more engaging.
4. The Unisex Group: Female
Think Sailor Moon, The Powerpuff Girls, Sex and the City. Sometimes the core group is entirely female; in the case of Sex and the City I think this choice is negated because the only thing the women seem capable of ever talking about is men.
See above for advantages/disadvantages.
5. The Mixed Ensemble
The original Scooby gang (Fred, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma), Buffy (if we count Giles as a member of the so-called “Core Four”), and the Friends cast are equally split. Sometimes you have an uneven number (the Community Study Group) that’s mostly equally. Sometimes you have hugely uneven number, and it usually falls on the male side of the scale: the main Lost cast (three main women and many, many men), the Angel “Fang Gang” (Angel, Gunn, Wesley, Lorne vs. Fred and Cordelia).
Advantages: Lots of room for character development and relationships
Disadvantages: Can become unwieldy