Any advice on how to write a heist story something like oceans Eleven?
Well, you can start by watching Ocean’s Eleven, and Ocean’s Eleven, and then Leverage, and then Burn Notice, and then The A-Team, and then Mission: Impossible, and then all the other heist stories like The Italian Job or Heat. Watch, read, uncover as many stories about criminals as you can from fiction to nonfiction to reading security analyst blogs. Read the spy memoirs, the thief memoirs, the fake ones and the real ones. Check out magicians, hypnotists, card tricks, and sleight of hand. Watch the making ofs and director’s commentaries looking for clues behind the thought process of these stories. The hows and the whys as you look into the research they did. Burn Notice, for example, is famous for using stunt props and technological rigs that work in real life. Like using cell phones to create cheap bugs on the go.
The worlds of criminal fiction and spy fiction rely on being able to present (or convincingly fake) a world which feels real. A heist is all about exploitation. So, you need a world with security structures to exploit. You’ve got to know how things work before you can craft a way to break them. Social engineering, hacking, and every other criminal skill is about breaking the systems in place. So, you’ve got to get a baseline for how law enforcement and security analysts work. What security systems are set up to look like. The ways we go about discouraging thieves. Better yet how people behave. Real, honest to god human behavior.
So, you know, pick somewhere in order to start your research. Get an idea of what you want write about stealing, then learn everything about the object, the museum, the city, the country, and its customs as you can.
If you’re setting a heist in a futuristic or fantasy setting then luck you, you get to make all of it up.
Learning the plot structure and conventions of the heist genre is the first step. This means watching lots and lots of heist movies, shows, and reading books. Over time, as you become better at critical analysis, you’ll begin to see specific story structures and character archetypes emerge.
The Heist Story is a genre. Like every other genre, it comes with its own structure, cliches, archetypes, plots, and genre conventions which necessitate the narrative. The better grasp you have of those, the better you’ll be at writing a heist.
For example, a heist story like Ocean’s Eleven relies on a collection of thieves rather than a single individual. The character types are as follows:
The Pointman- Your planner, strategist, team leader, and the Jack of All Trades. Can also be called the Mastermind. They’re the one who can take the place of anyone on the team should they fall through. They’re not as good as a specialist, but they’re very flexible. Narratively, he plans the cons and subs in where he’s needed.
The Faceman- Your experienced Grifter, here for all your social engineering needs. These guys talk their way in.
The Infiltrator - Your cat burglar or break-in artist. Basically, the conventional genre thief.Your Parker, Catwoman, Sam Fisher, or Solid Snake. The stealth bastards, they’re all about silent in, out, and playing acrobatic games with the lasers.
The Hacker - The electronics and demolitions specialist. Usually this is the guy in the van overseeing stuff remotely. Your Eye in the Sky. Their skill set can be split up and swapped around as necessary.
The Muscle - The one who is good at fighting. They’re combat focused characters, usually with mercenary and special forces backgrounds. Though, that’s optional.
The Wheelman - The one who handles the getaway. They’re your often overlooked transport specialists. It’s not just that they can drive, they’re skilled at getting lots of people around, figuring out how to move your valuables, and exiting hostile cities or countries undetected. They get the team in and they get them out.
For an example of these archetypes, I’m going to use Leverage. Nathan Ford, The Pointman (technically, he’s written like a Faceman). Sophie Devereaux , The Faceman. Parker, the Infiltrator. Hardison, the Hacker. Eliot, the Muscle. They all take turns being the Wheelman.
Other examples like Burn Notice: Michael Westen, the Pointman. Sam Axe, the Faceman. Fiona, the Muscle. They all take turns with explosives, Michael will invariably take all the roles during the course of the show.
Ocean’s Eleven has multiple variants of these archetypes, all broken down and mixed up.
You can mix and match these qualities into different individuals or break them apart like in Ocean’s Eleven, and more than one character can fill more than one role, but that’s the basic breakdown. For example, your hacker doesn’t need to be a guy in a van overlooking the whole security grid. One guy or girl with a cell phone can sit in the lobby of a building with an unsecured wireless network and crack the security. Welcome to the 21st century. The skills don’t necessarily need to take the specific expected shape.
What you do need is the basic breakdown: You need someone to plan the con, you need someone to be your face or grifter, you need someone to break in, you need someone to watch the security/electronics, you need muscle to back you up, and someone’s got to cover the getaway.
These shift depending on your plan, but this is the expected lineup for a heist narrative. The first step of a heist narrative is not the plan because we don’t have one yet. We’ve got an idea. Pick your target. Maybe it’s a famous painting. Maybe it’s a casino. Maybe it’s a rare artifact from a private investor’s collection loaned to a museum for a short period of time. Maybe it’s art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Whatever it is, figure it out.
The next step is simple. If you want the thing, you’ve got to find a way to get it. This is a big job, your standard thief won’t be able to pull it off alone. So, you gotta go recruiting. Get your team together. Make sure to establish the goals of the different members for joining. Who they are. Their pedigree. One might be an old flame or an old enemy. This is where we lay out some character driven subplots.
When everyone’s together, we’ve got to lay out the plan. Before we have a plan though, we need to establish where the object is and the issues in getting it. Why this has never been done before. So, what are the challenges? Invariably, an object worth a great deal of money will have a lot of security protecting it. Figure out what that security is, who the item belongs to, what sort of retribution do the thieves face beyond what they might expect. Lasers, pressure plates, cameras, security, other career criminals, mob bosses, the rich and powerful, whatever.
After that: How do you get it? Then you’ve got to plan the con, while taking everything into account.
Then, We prep the Con. There will be steps to take before the con can be put into place, your characters taking their positions in plain sight. Stealing whatever pieces you need to make it work. Casing the joint. Etc.
Then: Run the Con. This is the part with the actual stealing. Better known as the first attempt. Things go well, there may be a few mistakes, but things are going well and then we…
Encounter Resistance. While running the con, something goes wrong, pieces fall apart, the thieves come close to success but the object gets moved and they suddenly need a new plan. New information may pop up, it may be one of your artists was running a con of their own separate from the rest.
If there’s a double cross in the works then this may be when and where it lands.
We’re ready now, so it’s time hit up: Steal the Thing, Round Two. Your characters put their new plan into play and get about thieving the object of their desire.
Lastly: The Get Away. This is the part where your thieves make for the hills with their stolen treasure. This can be short or long depending on the kind of story you’re telling and other double crosses may occur here. It could be the end of the story or the beginning of a new heist.
Heist stories are like mystery novels. They’re all about sleight of hand and misdirection. You’ve got to keep just enough information on the table to keep your audience on the hook, and just enough information off the table to surprise them later on the twist. Yet, when they go back to re-read the novel again, they’ll find the answer was there all along. They just didn’t see it coming.
If anything, learning how to write a well-done heist or a mystery or any kind of novel in this genre will teach you a lot about how to manage your foreshadowing and create superb plot twists. Like any good con, you need to lay out all the conflicting pieces where people can see them, let them draw their own conclusions, withhold the critical context, and then hit them with the whammy.
Like lots of audiences, new writers (and even some old ones) can get distracted by the shock and awe. They see they’re impressed by the conclusion, not the lay-up. If you want to write any kind of fiction, you need to learn to see past the curtain and pay attention to the critical pieces leading into an important moment rather than the moment itself.
Good writing isn’t modular, you can’t just strip out pieces and run with them because you’ll end up missing the crucial, sometimes innocuous pieces that ensured the scene worked. Like the Victorian Hand Touch, every moment between the two leads and most of their scenes with secondary players are working for that singular instance of eventual, gleeful catharsis.
If you’ve got a plot twist coming in your novel, every sentence from the second you start writing is working towards it. You start laying out your pieces, funneling in your tricks, and playing with misdirection. You may have multiple twists, to cover yourself, divert your audience, congratulate them for successfully guessing your ploy, and reassure their initial suspicions before catching them again on the upswing.
The clever writer is as much a con artist as their characters. The only difference is the target of their con is their audience. The tricks in their bag are narrative ones, and they work with the understanding that it doesn’t matter if someone guesses the end so long as they’re entertained by the journey. A great story stays entertaining long after the audience has figured out all the twists.
So, don’t get caught up in Red Herrings and frightened about not being able to outsmart other people. Tell a good story with conviction and heart about a bunch of crooks out to steal their heart’s desire.
Inej: one of those superhuman gymnastics channels, acrobatic tutorials, and sometimes sit-down politics chats and book reviews, she’s literally an inspiration to everyone
Kaz: you never see his face, just gloved hands and raspy voice demonstrating card tricks and slight of hand until one day he reaches 5k and does a face reveal, and everyone is like, wtf….he’s so young whatttt???
Wylan: some kind of badass sciencey chemically shit, videos get taken down bc they are too dangerous, also has a conspiracy theory series…
Jesper: PRANK VIDEOS
Kuwei: one of those cringy af flower crown vloggers that 12 yos are obsessed with…most of his videos consist of him reviewing candy - has most followers tho
Nina: absolutely no one can tell me Nina wouldn’t be the queeeeen of ASMR, probably does slime videos, and also daily life logging, fashion hauls and feminist rants, often is a guest on Inej’s channel
The video was uploaded sometime after midnight early
As was usually the case after an akuma attack, Alya Cesaire
had been running on a caffeine rush and adrenaline high that made sleep
impossible. The dedicated blogger would
not see the back of her eyes until her copy was written, her files rendered,
and her newest masterpiece was live for the entire world to see.
Or at least the majority of Paris. She was young yet.
Fortunately for the aspiring journalist, the Ladyblog’s wide
and devoted readership ensured that the hits would rack up quickly regardless
of the time of posting.
What no one could have anticipated, however, was just how
It started with the local news.
Nadja Chamack’s bright-eyed good morning Paris grin
punctuated the more somber news of floods, akumas, and politics with the
light-hearted clip. The segment usually
reserved for heartwarming fluff pieces about eye-seeing dogs and neighborhood
bake sales was instead taken over by the city’s most reliable ratings machine.
Ladybug and Chat Noir were television gold.
From there the clip hit the major news networks and was
being broadcast to the whole of France.
Then came the talk shows, the copycat blogs, the online articles,
Buzzfeed, and more. When the video hit
the front page of Reddit there was no stopping the infection.
By the time Monday morning rolled around, less than three
days after the akuma attack and the video going live, Chat Noir had become the
laughing stock of Paris, the Internet, and the world.
And Marinette Dupain-Cheng was absolutely furious.
In stream the other day, we started talking about an Avengers Mall AU, and now I can’t stop thinking about it, because I have so many years of bad retail stories built up in my head and non-powered AUs usually don’t work for me, but the longer I think about it, the funnier this gets.
Steve and Sam are two guys who retired from their military branches and teamed up to run an artesian bespoke candy shop. Steve has no idea half of their sales comes from the fact that Sam put the candy pulling hook in the front window and teenage girls just stand there, drooling. Sam is totally aware of this, and uses it to ALL his advantage when he’s doing the sugar work.
Bucky took a part time job at the Hot Topic across the way because hell, he was spending all his time hanging out with Sam and Steve, might as well get paid. He was the only reliable employee over the age of seventeen; he is now the manager and he’s FURIOUS about it. His staff is made up of Nico, Kamala and Sam Alexander and various people who get hired and then don’t make it through the training because Bucky glaring at you while you take register training is just SO HARD TO HANDLE. No one is sure if he’s after Sam or Steve or both.
The SHIELD crew runs a pretty decent mall restaurant, but yeah, used to be a Golden Corral and Fury reserves the right to yell “Do you see a buffet here?” at anyone dumb enough to think it still is. He doesn’t actually do it, because most of the people who are confused enough to ask are retirees who remind him of his grandma, but still. He reserves the right. Nat is a truly terrifying line cook, Maria’s front of house, and Phil’s the head waiter. Clint doesn’t actually work there, but he’ll put on an apron and belt out an impressive rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in exchange for free food, and no one else on staff wants to do it, so he eats there A LOT.
Clint is always in the mall. In the back corridors. Hanging out in the food court. Wandering up and down the anchor store escalators. Everyone thinks he works somewhere else. No one knows where he actually works. There is a betting pool. It has been building for YEARS.
Jan runs the sort of high end boutique that has like, four outfits in two sizes on six gigantic racks. There are no prices. You do not ask how much it is. You know if you can afford it. If she likes you, you can afford it.
Thor runs the hardware store. No one knows why the hardware store is there. This is not the sort of place one would see a hardware store. Thor says he inherited it from his father, and it was there before the mall, and no one really wants to look into it. Mostly, they seem to get by on selling knives.. Big knives. Little knives. Knives as long as your arm. They get by on selling knives, because who’s buying screws at this place? Oh, right, anyone Sif TELLS to buy screws. "You need screws.“ "Oh, no, I-” "You can always use more screws.“ "Y-yes, ma'am.” She might be domming half of their customers without knowing it. The Warriors Three run the stock room. Badly.
Bruce runs the used bookstore down on the lower level where he can’t really afford the rent but the mall management like saying there’s a bookstore, and no one else is going to rent that hole, so he gets to stay, hiding in his piles and piles and piles of used books. Mostly science and history, but he does a brisk business in romance novels and murder mystery paperbacks. He likes it down there. He wishes people would stop trying to get him to come upstairs to socialize. He also kind of wishes people would stop coming down TO socialize. His cousin Jennifer runs the register and helps the customers most days, she’s very quiet and very mild mannered and wears very lumpy clothes and giant eighties style glasses, so no one recognizes her when she goes to her second job, as a crossfit instructor for the gym on the top floor. Jenn is, as they say, RIPPED. Put her in a leotard and her whole personality changes, it’s like she’s a different person.
Carol is a recovering alcoholic ex-pilot who runs the bar at the ‘bad’ chain restaurant down on the far end of the ground floor. Other than the SHIELD place or the food court, it’s the only place to eat in the mall, and honestly, you’d be better off in the food court. The food is trash, but she can mix a mean mojito and she knows every secret of every worker in the place, and she’s paid double on Saturdays because she’s her own bouncer.
Jessica Drew runs the arcade on the main floor, one of those stupid ones with 'glow mini-golf’ and games that constantly spit out tickets, you know, legalized gambling for children. It’s a chain, but the give out far too many prizes and she and her staff (Peter, Miles, Anya) would be fired if they also weren’t the highest grossing location on the eastern seaboard. They throw the best birthday parties in the state, and have a waiting list that’s like, months long.
Wanda’s shop sells… Something. No one knows what any of this stuff does. Or if it’s legal to own. But when you find something you want, OH GOD YOU REALLY WANT IT. She mostly sits and reads, and drinks tea from Hank McCoy’s tea shop.
Stephen Strange quit his job as a surgeon and retired to run a magic and joke shop. If you ask him why, he just shrugs and said he made some very bad choices. A relative somewhere oversea, Asia, Clint says it was somewhere in Asia, died and left him some sort of inheritance. So now he just sells fake rubber vomit and teaches slight of hand. Buy him a drink, and learn more than you wanted to know about card tricks. Walk into his shop, and be prepared to sit through at LEAST four card tricks before you can escape.
Greer run’s “Tigra’s Treasure Trove” on the second floor, it’s the anime and manga and gaming and comic shop. She wears cat ears and a tail. Every day. No one’s sure if she does it to bring in the otaku, or if it’s a lifestyle choice. No one wants to ask.
Tony owns the mall. Owns like a hundred malls across the country. No one knows, Obie does the day to day running of the management company, but Tony owns them. He’s mostly in it for the buying and selling, but he likes this mall. This one. He likes it here.
He has a Sharper Image type store on the top floor. It’s him and Rhodey and Pepper and Pepper will kill them both one of these days but he sells the sort of stuff you do not need but God you want it. You walk into his store and it’s all apple store chic, white and chrome and gleaming surfaces, collapseable tablets and robots and holographic projectors and all the geek chic that you want and everyone in the mall wants something from him, they’ve all got something on layaway (he only does layaway for other retail workers because he doesn’t want to keep track of this stuff) except Steve and it makes him insane. He spends far too much time trying to figure out what he can stock or create or build that will get Steve into his shop.
Pepper calls them “Steve-Grabbers,” Like 'grandma grabbers’ but designed to attract the most sincere hipster she’s ever met and she’d kill Tony over adding this stuff to stock without telling her, but it all sells. It all sells. In his desperate attempt to attract Steve, Tony misses and attracts EVERYONE ELSE.
-Lance is thicc af, he can dance in any style
-He plays the ukulele like a damn pro.
-He is also effeminate, in the sense that he can run in heels and kill a man with his manicure
-Allura collects crystals and loves it when Lance plays his ukulele (he totes bought one at an “authentic earthling” store)
-Pidge is 100% done with everything (why the fuck is everyone pining over everyone??)
-Hunk always has food on him and likes his nails painted
-Kieth can recite every MCR song by memory (go ahead, test him)
-Shiro is one of the biggest meme fiends (“What in self-deprication”//“Pepe wouldn’t treat me like this”)
-Coran follows Lance’s beauty regime
-Lance, Shiro and Hunk all enjoy reading teen mags (honestly Lotor’s spreads are their fav)
-Kieth and Pidge take personality quizzes (shitty ones//“What kind of Solarian bird are you?”)
-Allura and Coran sing Altean folk songs while they work
-Shiro and Pidge share obsession over fitspiration (both work out extensively)
-Pidge can bench press Kieth
-Allura, Coran, and Lance have sleepovers and share beauty tips (they do each others hair/nails, face masks, and gossip)
-Hunk is a casual visitor (he usually caters)
-Shiro has the habit of leaving motivational post it notes on the lions (more on Blue than any other lion)
-Lance can style anyone’s hair. He can give Shiro’s hair braids (he loves to play with that white tuft)
-everyone is in awe
-Kieth knows card tricks
-Its helps calm children alien refugees
-Pidge rigs up communication systems to earth
-Lance spend an hour talking to all of his family
-Shiro’s mother and father take down his shrine (they sob so much and speak rapid fire Japanese together)
-Pidge keeps updating their mother on the search for Matt and their father (they both cry so much)
-Kieth has no one to message, his father went back to Seoul after his birth
-Hunk calls his moms and introduces Kieth as his brother (both women immediately adopt Kieth legally on earth -Kieth doesn’t cry, shut up)
-Everyone meets each other’s families
-the McClain clan inducts both Alteans as honorary members after hearing thier back story
Harry’s suit looks magical like he’s going to open a pocket on the inside of the suit jacket and a bunny is going to hop out or he’s going to shake one of his sleeves and release a dozen butterflies into the air