I've been studying some of the old masters to get a sense of how they arranged multiple figures to create a sense of mood,atmosphere or indeed add to the narrative. Here are some of studies. I've been looking up Gustave Dore, Gerome, Russian Socialist painters, Repin, Shishkin and a few others.
The following is a breakdown of some of the studies. I find it really helpful to do this. Studying the shapes and the implied lines helps me to see how the eye is guided around the painting.
I also find it a really good exercise to experiment with abstract shapes. Designing big, medium and small shapes, contrasting the soft curvy shapes with the hard ones. Soft, round shapes and big S curves evoke emotions of calmness,stability whereas the harder, sharp ones bring out anger, unrest or danger. Molly Bang talks more about this in her wonderful book on composition. If you're working digitally, the lasoo, marquee tool comes in handy to quickly build up compositions. Later on, you can possibly use some of the more interesting arrangements and build environments or figures.