Vary the relationships of the team members. Who is like oil and water? Who gets along? How do different characters see different members?

All phases of the heist need their own hiccups: planning, execution and escape.

Add an element of the ridiculous: something good and ridiculous to provide an anti-anchor to an otherwise grim theme (crime).

Keep the consequences in mind. What happens if they fail? What’s at stake for different members?

The McGuffin is always located in the centre of a maze of impenetrable obstacles.

Decide early on what style the team is going to employ; go in all guns blazing or go in under the radar. This determines the type of action/challenges you’ll see throughout the heist.

The execution always happens against a ticking clock (literal or metaphorical). Out of all the obstacles they face, time is always the greatest one because the longer they’re doing what they shouldn’t be doing, the more likely they are to be found out.

Assemble your team well; each member has a speciality they bring to the table. You can combine several specialities/archetypes into one person.

Archetypes for team members:

  • The Leader/Mastermind – the only one brave (or dumb) enough to pull this off, think Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven
  • Partner-In-Crime – can be a lover, sibling, friend, family etc. – this is the person knows the leader better than anyone, they’ve worked together and are comfortable with the mastermind (can sometimes act as a wild card), think Rusty Ryan in Ocean’s Eleven
  • The Backer – the kingpin behind the operation that organizes, plans and/or funds the heist for the thieves for a part of the haul, provides the means for the thieves to operate, Reuben Tishkoff in Ocean’s Thirteen
  • Hacker – the one with the codes, can unlock doors, or crack open a safe with a homemade gadget, greatest weapon is their brain, think Basher Tarr in Ocean’s Eleven
  • Conman – the smooth talking and a master of disguises, this character is able to sneak or speak his way through any obstacle, often is the comedic touch, Danny & Rusy share this in Ocean’s movies
  • The Getaway Driver – the chase sequence is integral to most heist scenes and the make or break moment when the heist will either succeed or fail, the driver often has the most important role, think Driver in Drive, Baby in Baby Driver.
  • New Kid – often acts as the audience surrogate; our way into this world of criminality, is often also a liability, hasn’t yet proven themselves and fodder for endless jokes, I mean, hello? Linus Caldwell in Ocean’s Twelve Lost in translation
  • Inside Man – a character who has ulterior motives to sabotage or thwart the heist for their own personal gain, can be a mole, undercover detective, or pulling a double caper, think Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs

When it’s time to ramp up the action, use short paragraphs and sentences to reflect the speed of action; short sentences that convey exact action.

NOTHING GOES AS PLANNED. This is the most important thing in a heist.

There are usually two styles of introducing the plan; if the reader doesn’t get the whole plan, the plan goes off without a hitch, or the reader gets the whole plan, but the plan goes wrong and the team has to improvise.

And the more abstract variables that arise, the more tension there is.

Make characters think on their toes; just when things are going right, throw in a wrench and have them overcome yet another seemingly impossible obstacle.

The Shootout is the point of no return for the team, where the protagonist reaches their lowest point and is closest to failure.

Meet audience expectations in unconventional ways to give the story a new twist.

The chase is where you drum up speed with action words, forget long, meandering descriptions and view the world through a very narrow pinhole.

The aftermath is also important because it establishes how the team come together again after the heist. This is our mirror to revisit the relationships of the characters with each other; have they started seeing each other differently through working together?

Good tropes for heists with romantic dimensions; fake dating, stuck together (sharing any kind of limited resources: space, bed, food etc.), after-action patch-up, friends or enemies to lovers.

Generally, the beats included are:

  • Meet the leader
  • Find out the reason, score and stakes
  • Assemble the team
  • Make the plan, learn about the stronghold
  • Meet the antagonists/contagonists/enemies
  • Do the heist
  • The shootout
  • The chase
  • The aftermath

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