Since The Power of Words is up and running, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about a method of plotting.
Plotting is a tool I and other authors use to plan out how the story unfolds, and a heist story, is a specific type of plot.
When I started writing my contribution to The Power of Words, I saw in my imagination a mother who had to pay insane amounts of money just to be able to say, “I love you” to her daughter. That gave birth to the idea of this mother hatching a scheme to shut down the system that regulates the Communication Act of 3748.
I did some research (some would call it binge watching Leverage, but I call it research). This led me to believe there are key plot points in any good heist story.
One: Introduce the team. Different stories do this in different ways, but nothing really starts until the readers meet the team. Ocean’s 11 spends the first quarter of the movie on this while Now you See Me spends about five minutes. But this is the first real part in any heist story.
Two: The plan. Now this is a debatable part of the plot as sometimes the ultimate plan is hidden. For instance, in Now You See Me, no one really knew what they were ultimately up to, but I argue the viewers still clearly knew that team was after a Robin Hood angle. Sure, the ultimate plan was hidden, but there’s usually some identification of what the team is after. In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, he just came right out and said it. Again, there was a mystery here in that the readers didn’t know the real plan (more on that later), but there was a clear objective stated. Ocean’s 11 did this as well.
Three: The confrontation of the antagonist. Most stories do this in a blunt way. The brains of the outfit and the cop or mark face of in a direct manner. There’s even usually a dare of some sort. Ocean’s 11 shows this when Danny Ocean faces Terry Benedict.
Four: The weak link. Most heist stories identify some sort of flaw or hole in the plan. It’s usually a person, but can sometimes be a fulcrum on which the plan hinges. Yen get’s injured in Ocean’s 11. Jack Wilder dies. The other way this happens is when there is a character who seems like a bad fit for the team. Ocean’s 11 actually does this too in that Linus seems at times antagonistic.
Five: The collapse. There might be some who want to insert “the rehearsal” before this, and I wouldn’t immediately argue. I’d like to state, however, that while a number of heist stories have a rehearsal (Gone in 60 Seconds, Inception), this is more something many heist stories do, but it’s not what I would call a requirement. However, if you’re writing a heist story, you need everything to fall apart. The trick is, it has to sell. You need the viewer/reader to be ultimately convinced that the plan failed and the movie/book is about to end on a downer. This usually happens with the team caught or taken down (Ocean’s 11). It sometimes happens when the object in question seems gone or missing (Inception). Either way, everything has to fall apart spectacularly.
Six: (The Most Important) The twist. And this is what makes or breaks a heist story. You need that plot point that has the reader saying, “I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN!” It can’t be forced. It has to be unpredictable without being unbelievable. It has to be something that the reader can connect either just before or right as the twist happens. In The Final Empire, we learn that the plan wasn’t really the plan we thought it was. In Ocean’s 11 (and honestly most other heist stories) we realize that getting caught was actually a part of the plan. Some do both. If this is satisfying, then you’ll have readers singing your praises. If it doesn’t work, well, there’s always the next story. Right?
Seven: The victory lap. Once the loot is distributed or just as the opponent realizes he’s lost, the crew has to have their moment in the sun. Leverage actually has the team inevitably find some way to obscurely smirk at the mark as he’s taken away in cuffs. The Now You See Me crew get’s a literal final sendoff. Sometimes it’s more subtle. The victory lap in The Final Empire is actually a letter. Here the author is letting the brains of the outfit or the outfit as a whole gloat for a moment.
So there you have it. I’d challenge anyone to watch any great heist movie and identify these seven plot points or (a thing I truly challenge you won’t be able to do) show any heist story in which one of these moments is missing.
Do I think Stealing Freedom, my contribution to The Power of Words, holds up? Honestly, yeah! I’m darn proud of this story. I won’t be so egotistical as to say it’s as good as any of these, but I think the twist (hehe, singular? No, my friend, I mean to say, twists) are immensely satisfying. You could of course buy the anthology, read the story, and judge for yourself.
Thank you for reading,