Category Archives: Suspension of Disbelief

Stages of Team Development

The following could constitute a class from your local business school, but it’s also used in great story-telling. In my work with organizations, I have seen group after group follow the stages of team development in their quest to become an effective team. These stages are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

A group of individuals don’t simply meet one day and perform together as an effective team, just as a group of characters don’t start the story already performing at a high level of effectiveness. Great stories involve try-fail cycles and character arcs.

What I’m about to share is in a lot of movies/stories like Remember the Titans, The Martian, Apollo 13, The Incredibles, Dark Knight Rises, The Way of Kings (not a movie yet), and so many more, but I’m going to focus on The Avengers (2012).

FORMING – Nick Fury starts to form a group of superheroes namely Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and The Hulk. At first, the individuals were all about doing their own thing. They each had some experience in their element, but little experience in working as a team, especially with others as equally talented as themselves.

STORMING – Often Storming follows Forming though it may pop up from time to time. For example, Civil War is pretty much all Storming in a group that at the end of the first Avengers reaches the level of a Performing Team.

In the first Avengers Movie, Storming happens throughout a lot of the money and is based on the dynamics of characters interacting with one another in the group. Hulk doesn’t want to help. Thor wants to do his own thing. Iron Man’s too arrogant to ask for help. All of these and more prevent the group from developing into an effective team. “What are we a team? No, we’re a time bomb.” – Bruce Banner

NORMING really starts when the team thinks Agent Coulson was killed. Nick Fury uses this moment to inspire the group and get them all on the same page. In the following scene they stop trying to do it their way (individually) and start respecting each other’s talents and skills. Norming suggests synergies. As a team they are greater than the sum of their parts.

PERFORMING happens right at the end. The Avengers spent some time Norming, figuring out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And then Captain and Iron Man really start to employ the others and work as a team.

The following is the culmination of the performing team and my favorite clip of the movie.

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at


“The Most Successful Bankrobber Ever”

Jack Foley.

The first time I met Jack Foley was in Elmore Leonard’s novel Out Of Sight. Elmore Leonard was a literary genius and his approach to storytelling and dialogue are two of my biggest influences when I write. You’ve probably been aware of his work (notably Get Shorty, 3:10 To Yuma, and the television series Justified to name a few).  When I read Out of Sight, I immediately liked Foley as a character. But when the movie came out, something incredible happened. The movie version released in 1998 and was directed by Stephen Soderbergh. It remains one of my favorite movies and, in my opinion, the best of Leonard’s novels turned into film (in a tie with Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown – which I’ll discuss next month!).

Foley’s career bank robber with a good heart escapes from the Glades Federal Penitentiary in Florida and promptly runs into U.S Marshall Karen Sisco. In the commotion of the escape, they end up in the trunk of a Cadillac as Foley and his accomplice, Buddy, run. By the time we see this, we’re already in love with Foley. He is smart, good looking, charming as hell, and always has a plan. In the trunk of the car, lit by the reverse side of the taillights, Foley and Sisco have a conversation that feels as natural as one that you and I could have. In the midst of the dangerous situation, sirens and flashing lights close by, we’re pulled into their discussion as naturally as possible.  By the time they got out of the car, and the rest of the tale unfolds, we’re clearly following both of them and wanting them to get together at the end of the movie.

In the movie, George Clooney plays Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez plays Karen Sisco. With Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Michael Keaton, and Albert Brooks as some of the stellar cast, the movie is very true to Leonard’s novel.

So what’s the big deal? Why is Jack Foley a memorable character?

Flash forward a few years and Elmore Leonard’s sequel to Out of Sight was released. Road Dogs follows Jack Foley after his release from prison as he tries to build a new life for himself but keeps running afoul of shady characters out for money and blood. From the book Out of Sight, which is one of my favorite Leonard titles, I liked Foley’s character. However, seeing him played by Clooney so perfectly, as I read Road Dogs, I could not stop seeing and hearing Clooney in the role. That’s where Foley transcended being a likable sympathetic character into something different. Clooney’s effortless performance as Foley indelibly attaches his “aura” to the character. The likable, memorable character has become something else entirely through the visual medium.

There are a few movies that suck me in when I find them one television. All of them have something in common. A sympathetic, regular guy protagonist with a good heart trying to get by. All of those movies have been perfectly cast so that the main characters are indelibly etched into our minds. Seriously – could anyone other than Tim Robbins have played Andy in Shawshank Redemption? Clooney’s performance as Jack Foley did exactly the same thing. When written stories become films, so many times the elements the make the books vibrant and alive are lost. Sometimes, we cannot see a character in our minds as clearly as the movies define them.

But when a likable, memorable character is played by the right actor or actress – wow. And you all know exactly what I’m talking about. But is it the actor or the character that is memorable? I vote character. No matter the actor’s talent, commitment to the role, or appearance, the character is developed on paper and is the vision of the writer/screenwriter that the actor is to bring to life. When it’s done perfectly in a book, it resonates with us. When we see that on camera, it’s more than memorable. It’s legendary.

Write What You Know or No?

All right, Mark Twain, sounds simple enough.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard this sage advice: write what you know.

Our experiences help shape who we are and what we believe about the world, so they can be valuable veins to mine when it comes to writing. No one person in the world has had the same combinations of experiences as you. However, many have had similar combinations of experiences and have lived in the same time as you. That connection of shared, similar experiences can help engage readers and draw them in to your book. This is why the saying, “Write what you know, ” is so popular in writing circles.

But this advice isn’t the end-all be-all. Plenty of arguments can be made against it.

Oh, I see what you did there.

What if a physical handicap has limited the writer in combat experience, but the writer wants to write a medieval sword fight?

What if you’re a boring person? Do you just write about owning seven cats at one time because that’s what you’re familiar with? What not showering for three days does to the human body? Not clipping your toenails for three months?

While those topics can be very interesting and you should totally write about those, perhaps there is room for adding more information to your story even if you haven’t yourself experienced it.

This month, the Fictorians will discuss personal experience verses imagination: which

Okay, I don't even know anymore.
Okay, I don’t even know anymore.

is more important and where the two intersect. We’ll also consider how far you can/should/maybe shouldn’t go to experience what your characters experience. We’ll include some interesting experiences we’ve had, which may or may not include learning how to deal with post-combat stress, retracing Nikola Tesla’s footsteps, butchering our own meat, and breaking bones.

Later this month, we’ll get an exclusive interview with Fictorian Frank Morin, author of the series The Petralist.

Now we’re curious. In the comments below, please tell us how far you’ve gone to gain experience for writing!


“I Need Protection from the Things In My Head”

Jimmy Buffett sang “I need protection from the things in my head” in his song “Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost.”  In the song, the character’s imagination proves to be far more frightening than any real-life horrors–even the murderer who lived on the character’s block!

downloadThe key to writing a great horror story isn’t buckets of gore or even necessarily a creepy new monster.  It’s the ability to make the reader’s imagination your ally.

Few things are as terrifying as the unknown.  When you leave gaps in your story for the reader’s imagination to fill in, they will almost always imagine something far creepier than you could describe, unless your phobias and reactions are identical to theirs.  Over-familiarity breeds contempt, taking horror into camp.  Sometimes this takes place because a description is too detailed, too unbelievable, and crosses the line between spooky and silly.

Use suggestion.  Hint, rather than stating outright.  Make your readers and your characters consider multiple possibilities.  Which ones are true–if any?  What if it’s something else entirely?  Build suspense by describing sounds, shadows, scents, movements, and leave readers and characters wondering for a while what is causing them.  Maybe it’s nothing.  This time.

By leaving spaces like these for your readers to use their own imaginations to “fill in the gaps,” you’ll not only have readers flipping ahead to see if they were right, or to find out what happens to your characters–you’ll also give them the opportunity to project their own worst fears into those spaces, to imagine their greatest terror, or to struggle to conceive of a horror so great it defies description.

We all know what a vampire is, and a werewolf, and a zombie…these monsters are hard sells in certain markets, now, because they’ve been used so often and become so familiar to the general public that it’s a lot more challenging to make them fresh and scary.  We’ve all seen movies where the “monster” is obviously a person in a suit, and instead of screaming, we laugh.  Or when the topic of shapeshifters turns to were-bunnies and were-deer, we giggle.

Except.  fossil

Imagine the anxiety, the constant panic attacks, seizing you out of nowhere and causing your skin to twitch.  You can feel the claws under your fingernails, the stretch in your tendons.  You can smell your great-aunt cooking a pie that reeks to you of corpses.  You are prey, constantly, and you can never relax, never calm down, even though you know that the mere act of being picked up off your feet can be enough to kill you.  To keep it together, you chew.  Constantly.  It helps.  A little.

…I think being a rabbit would be terrifying.

Again, your reader’s imagination is your ally.  If your readers can identify with your characters, see through their eyes, feel what they feel, then suddenly were-bunnies aren’t humorous at all, not next to the horror of constant panic attacks and the feeling of being an animal underneath your skin…a skin that threatens to shed itself without warning….

Buckets of gore and gruesome-looking beasties will never be as frightening as wondering what it might be like if something scary happened to you.  Wondering what might be lurking out there in the dark, or worse, what might be lurking inside your own skull, waiting for some unknowable cue to activate and change your life forever.  What could be the cause?  And what might happen to you next?

You don’t know.  You have to imagine.  And often, the things your own mind comes up with are the scariest things of all.

About Mary: 

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.