How To Write a Heist
Heist stories are captivating and exhilarating, filled with thrilling plots, daring schemes, and unexpected twists. From classic novels to blockbuster films, heists have always fascinated audiences worldwide. If you’ve ever dreamed of crafting your own high-stakes, pulse-pounding heist tale, this comprehensive guide will walk you through the key elements and essential steps to create a compelling and unforgettable heist story. Here’s our guide on How To Write a Heist.
Step 1: Define Your Motivated Characters
A successful heist story hinges on well-developed, motivated characters. Start by crafting a team of unique individuals, each with specific skills and personalities that complement one another. Dive deep into their backstories, motivations, and personal stakes in the heist. Whether they’re driven by revenge, survival, redemption, or personal gain, their motives must be convincing and relatable to readers.
The heart of any heist novel is its central character. Whether it is charm and charisma (think Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven) or a motivation that justifies the daring caper, the mastermind (not always the protagonist, as in Hustlers) drives the emotional core of the story with the plan and vision to make things happen.
Character backstory is key. What drives the mastermind? What brought them to this crossroads, and why are they qualified to lead the heist?
The charm of a heist lies in its motley (or vibrant as in Inception) crew, each with special skills that they bring to the table. The bosses—mastermind, partner in crime, and money person—keep things organized and the crew in line. The specialists—hacker, gadget person, and explosives expert—thrill us with their incredible inventions and expertise. The thieves—grifter, distraction, contortionist, safecracker, and pickpocket—dazzle us with deception.
The supports—driver, muscle, fixer—often take a back seat but often pull the heist together (think of Baby Driver). A crew can be as small as two or as big as 13 (Ocean’s 13). Each character adds layers to the plot and their interactions can provide comic relief. They are the gears that keep the heist running.
Step 2: Set the Stage
Choose the Target Select an enticing target for the heist, whether it’s a priceless piece of art, a valuable treasure, or a high-security bank vault. The target must be worthy of the risks the characters are taking and provide enough challenges to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Step 3: Construct the Elaborate Plan
The heist’s success hinges on a meticulously crafted plan. Outline the step-by-step process, showcasing the team’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in overcoming obstacles. Include clever disguises, sophisticated technology, and strategic timing to keep readers engaged.
An engaging heist plan is akin to choreographing an intricate dance, and seeing it all come together is part of the fun. In Snatch, the preparations and scheming by a group of wildly different criminals are packed with mishaps and comical conflicts. In Money Heist, the plan is spun out for the entirety of the series. Your characters need to envisage potential challenges, design solutions, and prep every aspect of the heist. Research is key.
Step 4: Introduce the Antagonists
Create formidable adversaries who act as roadblocks to the heist’s success. These antagonists could be law enforcement officers, security experts, or rival criminals. The conflict between the antagonists and the heist team adds tension and excitement to the story.
Step 5: Build Suspense and Foreshadowing
Use foreshadowing and subtle hints to keep readers guessing about the heist’s outcome. Plant clues and obstacles along the way, allowing readers to unravel the mystery alongside the characters. Building suspense is key to keeping readers eagerly turning the pages.
The stakes need to be sky-high to convince the reader to jump on board the runaway train that is every heist. Each member of the crew will have their own reason for getting involved. Whether it is a quest for vengeance and reparations as in The Italian Job, or a fight for survival and saving innocent lives as in Die Hard, or just a need for money, the stakes fuel the narrative, making readers empathize with the reason behind the heist.
Step 6: Develop Unexpected Twists
Plot Twist: A successful heist story thrives on unexpected turns of events. Incorporate unforeseen obstacles and betrayals that challenge the characters and elevate the stakes. The element of surprise keeps the story fresh and engrossing.
Step 7: Execute the Heist with Flair
The heist’s execution should be the climax of your story. Create a pulse-pounding scene where the team puts their plan into action. Describe the heart-pounding moments as they navigate through the security measures, highlighting the risks they face.
The Big Day
Time to mess with the reader’s expectations! Even with the best laid plans, the initial heist goes terribly wrong, often leading to a thrilling encounter with the antagonist (think of Heat). Whether the crew is betrayed by an inside informant (Reservoir Dogs), the intended object of the heist is missing (The Art of the Steal), or the heist spirals out of control (Dog Day Afternoon), the crew is forced to retreat and regroup. The roller-coaster ride of successes and setbacks keeps readers turning pages.
Step 8: Consequences and Resolution
After the heist, explore the consequences of the characters’ actions. Did they get away with the loot, or did they face the consequences of their choices? Tie up loose ends and provide a satisfying resolution for both the characters and readers.
The Great Escape
With the object in hand, the crew makes their great escape. Riddled with misdirection and surprises (The Usual Suspects), an unexpected double-cross, a chase scene, a visual treat (think of the Minis in The Italian Job) or a last-minute snag, this part of the story provides one last pulse-pounding thrill before the big finale.
Whether it is the sweet taste of success or a twist of poetic justice, readers should leave with a sense of satisfaction at the end of the journey, even if the story ends with a lingering question (Inception) or a touch of ambiguity (Now You See Me) that could set the stage for a sequel.
Writing a heist novel is a high-stakes literary game of cat-and-mouse that catapults the writer and the reader into a whirlwind of intrigue, danger, and breathtaking feats. So, grab your pen or keyboard, find your target and put together your crew. It’s time to plot your heist.
Remember to immerse yourself in the world of heists, research real-life heists, and let your imagination run wild as you embark on this exhilarating writing journey.
Top 11 Heist Novels:
- “Ocean’s Eleven” by Ernest Lehman
- “The Great Train Robbery” by Michael Crichton
- “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch
- “Parker Series” by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)
- “Heist Society” by Ally Carter
- “The Score” by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)
- “The Hot Rock” by Donald E. Westlake
- “The Burglar Who…” Series by Lawrence Block
- “Now You See Me” by S.J. Bolton
- Six of Crows: Six of Crows is a fantasy novel written by the Israeli-American author Leigh Bardugo and published by Henry Holt and Co. in 2015. The story follows a thieving crew and is primarily set in the city of Ketterdam, which is loosely inspired by Dutch Republic–era Amsterdam
- The Gilded Wolves: It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.
Top 9 Heist Screenplays:
- “The Italian Job” (2003) by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers
- “Heat” (1995) by Michael Mann
- “Inside Man” (2006) by Russell Gewirtz
- “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1999) by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer
- “Now You See Me” (2013) by Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin
- “The Town” (2010) by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, and Aaron Stockard
- “Logan Lucky” (2017) by Rebecca Blunt
- “Inception” (2010) by Christopher Nolan
- “The Usual Suspects” (1995) by Christopher McQuarrie