What role do you usually play in a group?
Are you the peacemaker? The leader? The navigator? The brains of the operation? The nurturer? Or does your role change, depending on the group?
One of my favorite types of stories, I’ve realized, is what I call the small-group story. A little band of people is thrown together by circumstance and forced to survive in dangerous situations.
Zombie stories are a good example of this. Take The Walking Dead. Whether you’re talking about the graphic novel, TV show, or PC game, the basic story is the same. We follow a small group of survivors during a zombie apocalypse and watch their struggles not just against the undead, but with each other. It’s compelling storytelling because of the group dynamics, not the mindless flesh-eaters. Who’s going to come through under pressure? Who’s going to crack? And who’s going to commit the next wrenching betrayal?
Here are a few of my other favorite small-group stories, in various media: Alien/Aliens, The Goonies, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, LotR, Baldur’s Gate (1 & 2), Planescape: Torment, and basically every Japanese RPG ever (the Final Fantasy games, etc.). It’s also why Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop games can be so fun with a good group of players.
An interesting juxtaposition got me thinking about this: the book I’m currently reading (Dies the Fire, by S.M. Stirling), and a vacation that I’m just wrapping up with family. Both have basically been the story of a small group: the former a group trying to survive after all electricity stops working and guns stop firing, and the latter a group trying to enjoy a vacation without strangling each other. It got me thinking about my own group role.
In a traveling group, it turns out my role is, surprisingly or not, the asshole.
By which I mean the guy with the map in hand, spurring everybody else along before the group misses the next train or visiting hours of the cathedral/museum/whatever. And concealing impatience with only varying degrees of success when people fall behind. My feet somehow push forward faster than I want them to.
Maybe this role would serve me well in the hypothetical zombie-survival group (that is, if my fellow survivors didn’t murder me early on). You know, navigating us to the next safe zone or abandoned grocery store or pharmacy. But it’s not always appreciated when the group’s mission is vacation—i.e., to have fun.
So how long do you think you’d last in one of these small-group survival situations? Sometimes your companions are more dangerous than the zombies . . .
Would love to hear about your favorite small-group stories, too.
Quick news. As I mentioned last week, my horror novel The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley: Part 2 is now available on Amazon for you continue Mark’s adventures. Check it out and please drop an Amazon review for that bad boy! Also, you can find my new sci-fi workplace short story “The Stress of Excellence” in the 2015 aois21 annual literary magazine. And I’m appearing in Rochester, N.H. on Sunday, November 1, at the Authors at the Cannon event to peddle my wares. I’ll give an appropriately Halloweeny reading from Mark Huntley!