Gathering Companions


Forum Revolutionary
Apr 4, 2015
Hello all,

Every couple of years I go back to one of my more youthful loves, manga, to peek at what's new. I've finally gone back to them for a short stint, and have seen several different stories based on light novels where the MC dies in chapter 1, and is reincarnated into a fantasy world, or has his dying adult mind/memories transferred to his much younger self--sometimes in order to change the future--and is often clearly overpowered given the knowledge he has to work with and all the time he has to prepare before facing the ultimate enemy again.

Then they must train, shoot through the ranks of their school/clan/army, get special items and advantages with their unfair knowledge of the future, and gather the companions that helped the MC, before they were great adventurers (who mostly will perish heroically in the future), in order to prepare them more effectively, with more time and resources.

I love the slow gathering of emotionally-meaningful allies, one-by-one. I've been thinking about adding a bit of that to one of my "pipeline" stories, but comics and books are not the same, so I'm having a tough time thinking on how to do the "companion-acquisition format" without skewering plot pace and structure. Any suggestions? Ideally, the gathering of allies should be finishing up by the midpoint IMO. Please also disavow me of that notion if it is not accurate :).
There are scads of books that do just that. The genre that springs to mind is the caper story (think Ocean's Eleven), but it happens also in various adventure and military stories. And fantasy. They don't all follow that exact formula, but the adding in of characters, singly or sometimes in pairs, has plenty of precedent.
The thing is, I'm thinking entire arcs for each "acquisition", but I guess if I make the gathering of companions the objective of the book, rather than the means to an end, it might work? I actually like that idea, quirky as it is.
All things can work; all things can go awry. If you like the idea, then by all means make it work!
How very timely from my own interests. There's lots of movie examples too (The Magnificent Seven being a highlight here and more recently from Rogue One). Lots of book examples?

The Belgariad and Malloreon very nakedly have a Sorcerer rounding up people he needs to fulfil a prophecy, more or less one by one. Its used a subplot to the main plot. A lot of fantasy has a similar vibe, particularly quest fantasy - Feist's Silverthorn does it, Brooks' Sword of Shannara does it. What you're suggesting is super trad Fantasy.

How to do it?

Structurally, I think this would fit very neatly into the Three Act Structure if you want it done by the mid point. If you look at Snyder's beat sheet (here's an example that I use a lot) after the first act (which in your case would be the stuff in paragraph one, maybe some of the start of the training), then you get the Fun and Games which takes you up to the mid-point - for you, collecting companions.

However - if you want to make it the entire book - if it ends with the final companion/training montage rather than beating the bad guy - that's a far harder sell, even if it was one book in a series. I think if you want to do it that way, you need to focus on what about collecting the Companions will be a Struggle and what will be Overcome. Its going to have to be pretty satisfying for people to not feel cheated about not seeing the final show down from getting all the companions.

If I've misread you and you still want the final beatdown of the bad guy in there - then my bad! Ignore the above... and do most of the companions in Fun and Games but have the last one or two companions be really hard to get and have trying to get them and failing the part of the Second Act where it all goes down hill. An alternative would be you get all the companions by the mid-point, but after that they bicker and argue and are useless and one storms off, but there's a big rousing moment where they all get it together for the third act and then they win. I'm sure most of us can think of a movie (or five) where that happens.

Of course, this isn't the only way you can do it. But its the easiest most-audience friendly way, so it should at least make a good spring board for thinking of how to make it work :)

edit: One problem you do have is the new companions tends to be a very visual thing - shiny powers, looking different, different fighting styles, etc.etc. - its why it works great in comics and movies (and video games). Getting the same feeling of difference in literature might be hard. Don't be afraid to give them really big personalities and habits to make the differences obvious.
The (written) story that springs to my mind is William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which is a heist story. What’s interesting is that the team never trust one another properly and don’t all have quite the same objective, and that the arrangement starts to break down pretty rapidly in the last third of the book.

For me, what has to be convincing is that the decision to join the group and stay with it is credible. By that, I suppose I mean that characters shouldn’t drop elements of their personality just to fit into the structure of the story (this probably counts with romance, as well). If that means that one of the team leaves half-way or only helps to a limited extent, so be it.

The proposed structure puzzles me slightly: what do the characters do once they’re all together? Presumably there is a task they must accomplish. It’s hard to be certain until the story is written, but I think it could be disappointing if the book ended with the recruitment of the last person, unless there was some sort of suitable pay-off taking up about a quarter of the story (or, less interestingly, a sequel). It’s also worth pointing out that if character A convinces B to help him, then A and B will be using their skills together to rescue C from prison, and all three will then be looking for D. This could lead to an interesting cumulative effect. Perhaps recruiting the final character is the objective, in that (say) freeing him will enable a vault to be opened to which only he has the code.

I think it's probably best to have a go at writing it and see if it feels like it’s working.
It’s also worth pointing out that if character A convinces B to help him, then A and B will be using their skills together to rescue C from prison, and all three will then be looking for D. This could lead to an interesting cumulative effect.

I really like that structure. At just the idea of 'The party members will be gathered one by one', I'd be scared to end up with X number of parts that all are relatively similar and vaguely different as each party member gets collected in a slightly different way. In that case, I would personally have the same emotional investment in a party of adventurers as I'd have in someone else's randomly assembled team of Pokemon.

With Toby's structure, you could even have the party try something out of order, fail, and then realise the party is not yet complete. A and B try to break C out of prison and fail because they need D's specific skills, etc, etc.

I'll also add that, as Big Peat said, big personalities will help to avoid the problem of all collections feeling vaguely the same.
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Yes, those are all good observations. The characters I envisioned indeed are wildly unique, together with their backgrounds. A repetitive format such as this needs to have as much variations thrown into the mix as possible to keep it fresh. And yes, I agree the acquisitions should all tie organically into each other.
The sad thing is, companion gathering really isn't as popular as it used to be, especially within fantasy. The MC might have a friend or two, as is often the case in real life, but I think gone are the days of the likes of the Fellowship and such.

More often than not, it's probably best to keep "companions" as opposed to friends/acquaintances to a minimum, or at least a "believable" number. People these days don't seem to want a Hero's Journey story anymore, at least not in the literal sense, which just saddens me.
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Personally I'd avoid this in writing. Maybe I'm just naturally a loner, but the moment I saw this happening in a book I'd be thinking dungeons and dragons and all the games that have followed from it. What I like doing is having two, sometimes more, people embarking on intersecting quests, sometimes coming together or having their paths cross, but not really traveling together. Then at the end, linking up the quests so it all becomes part of the same over-arching struggle.

If a companion is needed I'll often use an animal or a magical being of some sort who comes and goes.

Cheers, Greg.

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