Tag Archives | Blake Snyder

Story structure of a heist movie in 15 sentences.

I walked up to Redbox simultaneously rubbing my hands with glee but also doubtful because we haven’t had much luck in the movie department. One of the first movies I noticed was Man on A Ledge. At first, I thought it sounded really dumb but…as soon as I saw the words diamond heist I didn’t need to read anymore.

Of course I won’t mention that I left the movie in the shopping cart in the parking lot and had to return and then pay for it again. Nope, not going to mention that at all!

So, if you couldn’t tell, I love, love, love heist movies and I love studying them. #plotnerd #savethecat. So here goes.


Opening Image:

Nick Cassidy eats his last meal in a hotel (alone), wipes down all his fingerprints, writes the suicide note, and then climbs out the window and onto the ledge.


For me, it’s hard to pick out the moment they reveal the theme because I’m watching the movie and taking notes, but the strong theme of looking beyond the facts to find the truth is very apparent.


During a flashback, we learn Nick might have been unfairly imprisoned, he’s an ex-cop, and he escaped while attending his father’s funeral.


During the flashback we learn Nick’s appeal had been overturned and he’d be in jail for 25 years.


Tricky in a heist movie because there is usually not a huge character arc but I’d say his debate occurred when he was denied the appeal. Obviously, he chose to do something about it and escape!

Break into Two:

Nick Cassidy says he won’t talk to anyone but Detective Mercer, so Act II starts for me when she shows up at the window to talk Nick out of jumping.

B Story:

The subtle romance between Nick and Mercer as she tries to do her job and he plays her and stalls for time.

Fun and Games:

Joey Cassidy, Nick’s brother, and his girlfriend break into a nearby building to steal a diamond while Nick draws all the media attention.


Due to a news helicopter, Nick is recognized, and we learn he was previously in jail for already stealing the diamond.

Bad Guys Close In:

We see David Englander, the owner of the diamond, talk with dirty cops to “take care” of Nick.

All is Lost:

Nick reveals to Mercer that he’s been communicating with his brother through an earpiece, and Joey states that the diamond is not in the vault. (They were counting on it to prove Nick’s innocence.)

Dark Night of the Soul:

Per the usual heist movie or book there is not a huge character arc, nor a dark night of the soul.

Break into Three:

The tactical team arrives from helicopter and the chase begins when Nick breaks back into the building.


Nick resteals the diamond and proves his innocence. This simple sentence doesn’t begin to show the amazing climax. (We learn the man who owned the diamond had previously framed Nick to recover financially from the insurance money from the supposed theft of the same diamond.)

Final Image:

At the start he was eating alone and now he’s in a bar with Mercer, his brother and girlfriend, and his Dad. Yes, a nice twist at the end and it’s confirmed that this elaborate heist was planned and a success!

Overall, I really enjoyed this heist movie especially because the motivations behind it were personal with Nick’s freedom on the line. And I learned that Man on a Ledge is a cop term for a potential suicide.

And I loved seeing the similarities between this break down and the break down of Heist Society by Ally Carter.

Do you like heist movies? Any good ones? If not, what do you like to watch?




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Plot Busters – Heist Society break-down in 15 sentences!

You know I love breaking down story structures to learn and grow as a writer. And Heist Society was terrific!

1. Opening image: (the before snapshot of the protagonist)

When at private school, Kat tries to live a normal life, but the headmaster’s sports car is placed on top of the fountain with water shooting out the headlights, and Kat is blamed or framed.

2. Theme stated: (What is the story really about?)

And at every turn Kat is debating – how far should one go for family? And who is family?

3. Set-up:

When a man named Taccone believes Kat’s dad stole his paintings, Kat joins the family business again to resteal the paintings and save her father.

4. Catalyst: (the game-changing moment or inciting incident)

Taccone gives Kat a ride to the airport and spells out to Kat that her dad has two weeks to return the paintings or else.

Kat experiences the true evil behind Taccone. And if she walks away from this, her life will never be the same. Now that is a catalyst.

5. Debate: (asks some kind of question of the main character)

Kat is constantly asked, by others and herself, the same question: Is she truly a part of the family, or not?

At the end of Act I, after meeting with Taccone, Kat ends the debate. On returning to Hale’s house in New York, she wakes him and announces that they are going to steal back the paintings.

6. Break into two: (protagonist must make a proactive decision)

When Kat visits her Uncle Eddi – it’s a statement: I’m back, I have a job, and I need your help.

No more indecision. It wasn’t a flashy scene, but the significance isn’t lost.

7. B story: (the love story – not always romantic)

While Kat works on planning and setting up the big con, we see her relationship with her “team” and her love interest, Hale.

8. Fun and Games: (the heart of the book – why we read it)

Clue after clue, Kat tries to figure out who stole the paintings while she works with Hale to build their team.

9. Midpoint: (stakes are raised significantly; another big game changer)

Kat figures out that a Visily Romani stole the paintings and hid them in the Henley – an impenetrable museum, so she meets with her crew and announces they will be robbing the Henley. (mouths drop)

10. Bad guys close in: (Things get even worse.)

While Kat and crew are casing the Henley and planning out the con, Taccone steals her away and shows her pictures of all her loved ones, her family and close friends. He means business.

11. All is lost

On the eve of the caper, Kat meets with Taccone and names the place and date for the exchange. Not a super strong All is Lost but it fit Heist Society perfectly.

12. Dark night of the soul

Hale fully admits to getting her kicked out of school and even gives her a full admission, so she can clear her name and go back to school – if that’s what she wants. Again, not a true dark night, but served its purpose of offering Kat a choice.

13. Break into three: (External and internal conflicts combine for the solution.)

Kat breaks into Act III with all the swag and confidence of a true thief: with help from her cousin, Kat walks down the stairs and looks hot!

This is not the girl from the start of the story who wanted to walk away from her family.

14. Finale: (the climax)

If you haven’t guessed by now, the climax of HEIST SOCIETY is the actual robbery of the Henley – with some twists that I loved!

I can safely tell you that they steal the paintings because there is never any doubt she would. The fun and suspense came from watching how she pulls it off. And it’s worth the read.

15. Final Image: (Opposite of the opening image.)

At the start, Kat was with her new family at school. At the end, she’s with her real family, embracing the life and not looking back.

Final note:

What comes after that heist is what made me fall in love with this story. Ally Carter does a magnificent job making the impersonal caper, extremely personal, and then ended with another surprise. I loved it.

And you’ll have to read it to find out how she did it!

Have you read Heist Society? What’s your favorite caper story? Have you tried breaking your story down into 15 sentences?

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How to bring emotion to your plot. (Plot Busters)

In Act II there is something that Blake Snyder refers to as the B story (or basically the subplot).

And this is where you bring in the emotion, the personal stakes.

I figured with a humorous mystery like I SO DON’T DO SPOOKY that the emotion might be on the weak side. With the focus being on the mystery.

Boy was I wrong.

Barrie Summy does an incredible job balancing the main storyline or the Fun and Games of the first part of Act II with the B story.

In other words, the mystery is there but we connect to Sherry when we realize how much she misses her mother, which makes us care more about the mystery.

The emotion of the B story provides the motivation for the character to solve the mystery.

Below is a one-sentence break down of Act II

Break into two: (protagonist must make a proactive decision)

Sherry and her best friend, Junie, make a plan to follow leads.

B story: (the love story – not always romantic)

Sherry misses her mom (who is a ghost) and wants to earn some “real time” with her by solving the mystery.

Fun and Games: (the heart of the book – why we read it)

Sherry investigates and follows clue after clue – some of them leading to a dead end, but others set up the midpoint and climax.

Midpoint: (stakes are raised significantly – another big game changer)

In her undercover work, Sherry is found out and dropped off in the middle of a desert where she learns that the Ruler’s stalker is a ghost!

Bad guys close in: (Things get worse.)

Sherry goes ghost hunting with a “real” ghost hunter and learns how to catch a ghost and she learns who the ghost might be.

All is lost and Dark night of the soul:

The mystery continues and more truths are revealed but I didn’t find a true dark moment where Sherry feels all is lost. She does feel the stress of time running out, but that’s not quite the same thing.

And this ends Act II.  So without that dark moment how did I know where Act III started? With an obvious Break into three. But that’s next Monday.

How do you add emotion to your main storyline so it works? Share your tips.

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We’re back for our last look at THE SKY IS EVERY WHERE. The ending, the oh so crucial ending if you want readers to read your next book! I learned a lot from this book, and I hope you did too. Here’s Act III broken down to Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT.

Break into Three: (External and internal conflicts combine for the solution.)

In a character-driven story often the external conflict (or A story) is closely tied or the same as the internal conflict. So, at the start of Act III we see Lennie making decisions to take control.

She not only decides to challenge Rachel for first chair, but she brings her Gram’s famous roses to Joe’s house. Way to go, Lennie! Living life. Taking risks. The exact opposite of the Lennie we first met.

Finale: (the climax)

The climax, for me, is the rest of the book, chapter after chapter of emotional pay-offs. Her Gram. Toby. Her friend, Sarah. Joe. #nospoilers

An amazing ending.

Final Image: (Opposite of the opening image.)

Remember the sickly plant with black spots? That represented Lennie? I thought the plant would thrive at the end. But no.

In this last scene, Lennie visits Bailey’s grave and she throws the sickly plant off a cliff. I loved this. The plant didn’t get better. The old Bailey is gone. She realizes that through her sister dying, she has become a different person, a stronger person, a more alive person, who feels things she didn’t feel before.


Some of you may have figured out by now that this book had excellent structure. Whether Jandy Nelson did that on purpose, I’ll never know. Sometimes, stories come naturally. As writers, we know to put in more tension, create character change, and tie up loose ends.

The only reason I read this book was to study the structure of a literary novel. Would it hold up? I’m so glad I read it. Why did I wait so long?

Any books you feel that way about? Because I want to read them!

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How to keep a literary novel afloat in the middle.

That’s right. Let’s dive into Act II of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. And learn to stay afloat in Act II!

Break into two: (protagonist must make a proactive decision)

Again. This was easy for me to find. Remember the debate? It’s answered. Lennie strides into Act I by saying yes. She finally is willing to play her clarinet with Joe and all her grief comes pouring out. Joe is stunned. But it wasn’t just a random decision. In order to avoid Toby and grief, she decides to play.

B story: (the love story – not always romantic)

In Act I, Joe pursued and Lennie pushed him away. But now the world is upside down and they set off on the rocky road of love. They play together. They have fun together. And surprise, surprise because at times, Lennie feels joy.

Fun and Games: (the heart of the book – why we read it)

Why did I pick this book up? What were my expectations? I wanted to read about a girl dealing with her grief and moving on and figuring out how to do that. So, with her newfound decision of playing the clarinet comes other brave decisions. It’s really hard to call this section Fun and Games, but don’t take it too literally. It’s a breather before the tension spikes.

You’ll have to read the book to find out what those brave decisions are. #sorry

Midpoint: (stakes are raised significantly; another big game changer)

Again, in a plot-driven novel, the midpoint should be obvious. In a literary, character-driven novel what turns out to be a game changer is just on a smaller scale but still huge in Lennie’s world.

In Chapter 20, exactly half way, Lennie finally talks to her best friend, who she’s been ignoring. She tells her everything. This is huge! Lennie is letting someone into her life in a healthy situation.

Bad guys close in: (Things get even worse.)

In a character-driven novel there is no regrouping of the antagonist and his minions. It just isn’t like that. But, stakes are raised. Definitely.

I’ll just say that Lennie learns that Bailey, her sister, had secrets. Big secrets! And in her grief, she makes mistakes that affect her budding relationship with Joe.

All is Lost: (no hope left)

In chapter 30, Lennie is in her room. So many things come to a head. She realizes how Bailey’s secrets affect her too, and Joe is not coming back. And even worse, as the days pass, she no longer hears Bailey’s heels clicking in the hall. She’s getting used to her sister’s absence. Her sister’s clothes now smell like her, since she’s worn them so much. In all areas, Lennie has no hope left.

Dark Night of the Soul: (How does the protagonist feel about everything?)

Through out Chapter 30 we know exactly how Lennie feels. Miserable. Then her friend, Sarah, forces her to go to the movies. They see Joe and Rachel together. Rachel plays first chair clarinet, and Lennie plays second. But we all know that Lennie is better. At the end of this chapter, Lennie decides to challenge Rachel for first chair. (Who is this girl, who at the beginning wouldn’t even play her clarinet?)

And that ends a wonderfully structured Act II. Onward!

Can you find some of these elements in the middle of your current wip? Do you agree or disagree with me?

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