break the chain

Do these guys count as a story team? Leader, Lancer, Smart Guy, Big Guy, Chick…?

Well, last night I was so exhausted that I finally broke my streak and failed to post.


But today is a different day! So here I am, ready to dust myself off and start again…

…except that I actually spent the whole evening grading, so now it’s time for bed. OH WELL HERE I GO ANYWAY!

As usual, the end of the month is turning tricky. But at least I got to watch some Leverage while grading! That, of course, was inspired by thinking some more about the “team” posts on Crusie’s blog and my own favorite teams.

I want to make sure that my YA cli-fi WIP involves the development of an interesting team, so I’m hoping that a combination of reading Crusie’s analysis, analyzing some teams on my own, and thinking about my WIP (possibly even just subconsciously, since who has any free time in Nov/Dec??) will help me work past some of the blocks I keep running into.

Crusie sets up these qualifications:

A team is a group of people who
1. Have a common goal that unites them.
2. Have a set of skills that complement each other and are directly useful in attaining that goal, no redundancies.
3. Have individual character arcs that create the character arc of the team as a whole.
4. Develop individual relationships within the team that keep them from being cogs in a machine.
5. Have a leader who deserves to be the leader, whose world view and focus gives the team its identity.

I had proposed to look at some of my favorite teams: Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures, Burn Notice, White Collar, and Buffy. I thought I’d take them one at a time and see how they stacked up.

Wait, where does the dog fit in?

Thinking about this definition, though, I realized that The Quest Team really doesn’t fit the mold… in fact, by this definition–and despite having declared themselves a team–they’re… not really much of a team at all?

  1. Common Goal that unites them – well, they’re sort of a family? Except Race is an employee. Except when he isn’t? Hmm.
  2. Different Skills – okay, yes, we’ve got that. Kinda? Super-Scientist (Dr. Quest), Strongman (Race), Leader (Jonny, because although he’s a kid, he seems to spearhead most of the “adventures” and he’s the only one who’s in (almost) all of the episodes. Then you’ve got Hadji (best friend/sidekick, best at computers) and Jessie (…chick?). All three of the kids have a lot of overlap, though, with technological and martial arts skills that sort of appear and disappear as the plot requires them (whoops).

    Yo, they ALL think we’re sellouts. Sellouts!
  3. Character Arcs: Uhhhhh nope. Characters don’t really arc much. Probably because this is a 90s kids cartoon, but also because the writing is really insane. So unless “complete character 180 between seasons” counts as an arc…
  4. There’s some attempt made at developing individual relationships. Benton and Race are the adults, Jonny and Hadji are BFF/brothers, Jessie and Hadji like nerdy stuff and he gives her driving lessons, Jonny and Jessie make out in that terrible ghost episode, Hadji is Benton’s assistant (or something?). And even though this team is almost a classic Five-Man Band, most of the episodes sideline as many as four of the team members through the main action.
  5. The Leader. OK, so earlier I said that was Jonny–after all, it is his show–and everybody else on the team is definitely motivated to protect Jonny even when he does hare-brained things. He doesn’t really have a focus, per se, but his world view–good should triumph, and “We have to help them!”–definitely drives the action of the show.

TV Tropes has its own definition of The Team and also has the subdivision of The Five-Man Band, which is a pretty close match to The Quest Team, too, with one interesting swap…

The group traditionally includes:

  • The Leader(lead singer) The leader of the group. Can be a mastermind, charismatic, levelheaded, headstrong, or some combination of the four. Often also The Hero.

  • The Lancer(lead guitar) Usually a contrast to The Leader. If the Leader is clean-cut and/or uptight, the Lancer is a grizzled Anti-Hero or Deadpan Snarker; if the Leader is driven and somewhat amoral, the Lancer is more relaxed and level-headed.

  • The Smart Guy(keyboardist) The physically weak, but intelligent or clever member. Often nerdy and awkwardly played for comic relief. Sometimes unconventionally young (early- to mid-teens). Sometimes a Trickster and a buddy of the Big Guy.

  • The Big Guy(drummer) The strongman of the team.May be dumb. Or mute.

  • The Chick(vocal effects, tambourine) A peacekeeping role to balance out the other members’ aggression, bringing them to a nice or at least manageable medium. The Chick is often considered the heart of the group. This role is played by a woman or girl. Someone female. Otherwise, it is not a Five-Man Band.


If The Quest Team is a Five-Man Band, then Jonny’s the Leader (headstrong, certainly), Hadji’s the Lancer (calmer, more rule-oriented), Jessie’s The Smart Guy (nerdy, kidnapped with alarming frequency), her dad Race is The Big Guy, and… wait, does that make Dr. Quest The Chick?

I guess maybe this isn’t a five-man band, then. Because it really doesn’t work with anybody else as the leader. I guess If Jessie’s The Chick then Dr. Quest is The Smart Guy. Hmm. That does make sense… except that she’s definitely not the one who “balance[s] out the other members’ aggression”! That’s definitely more of the Doc’s lookout.

Well, I guess I really haven’t gotten much of anywhere by analyzing this team. On the other hand, a non-example is a pretty good way to figure out what not to do, and I can see that one problem that the Quest Team has is that they don’t really have any goals other than “play VR games, defeat the insane baddies who insist on attacking us for, like, no reason.”

That does tie in nicely with Crusie’s claim that a strong antagonist is one of the most necessary parts of having a good Story Team.

Takeaways for my own work:

  1. Get a dang antagonist already! This will give the team a clear goal, which is always nice. Right now everything (including the antagonist) is very, very nebulous in the story (not a huge problem YET) but also in my mind (huge, huge problem).
  2. Make sure your leader/protagonist deserves to be the leader. For all that Jonny’s pure of heart or whatever, I’d rather be following Hadji or Race, both of whom think things through before rushing in.
  3. TVTropes is right about a lot of things but that “The Chick” stuff is stupid. 😛 My team will definitely have Chicks as the Leader (Anika, the protag) and The Big Guy (notorious assassin), and probably as the Lancer too (bitchy foil for our warm-hearted leader). The Smart Guy’s a guy and I guess I don’t have a Chick yet, although it might be… a dead man’s preserved brainwaves?? Still working on this. Obviously.
  4. Making sure my Team doesn’t have redundancies will be tough since most of them so far are teen spy/soldiers trained by the same people. Hmm.


OK, that’s enough to sleep on. Next up: one of the live-action shows on my list!

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