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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 – Three Tips from TANGLED

1. A debate scene that starts in Act I and doesn’t end until The End.

In Act I, Blake suggests that the main character question a decision. This debate goes on until the Act I climax where he/she makes the decision and reaches the point of no return. The debate is over. Or maybe not.

After seeing the floating lights and then meeting Flinn, Rapunzel has to decide whether to trust him and whether or not she should leave the tower. Small moments build up to her decision. But when Mother Gothal shuts Rapunzel down and tells her she will never leave, Rapunzel reaches that point.

She lies about Flinn. She decides to trust Flinn or at least make a deal with him. And she decides to leave the tower.

But the screenwriters didn’t leave it at that. They continued the debate. From the slight pause before Rapunzel is willing to touch her feet to the grass to the hesitation before using her hair to save their lives. And then at the end, the debate returns in full force when Rapunzel believes Flinn has abandoned her.

  • Does your debate continue through out the entire story?
  • How can you show moments of doubt before your character makes a major decision?
  • And can you show why he/she overcomes those doubts and makes the decision?

2. Following through with the Promise of the Premise.

That’s what our friend Blake refers to as Fun and Games during the first part of Act II. It’s why people want to read your book. What kind of story will your title, cover, and blurb convey? If you were to have a movie poster of your story – what would be on it? That’s what you want to give your readers. Or they’ll end up disappointed.

Looking at the poster for TANGLED with Flinn holding a fry pan and Rapunzel standing in front of him wielding her hair, I expected a fun story with great action and some great hair tricks.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

  • Do you follow through with the promise of your premise?
  • Look at the first half of your Act II to find out. (Though Rapunzel wielded her hair like a lasso through out the entire movie!)

3. A smart antagonist (Bad Guys Close in – second half of Act II)

Readers don’t respect a stupid villain. Which means their respect for the protagonist drops too when he/she overcomes the stupid villain. As a reader, I crave the smart, well-rounded villain. I love when I understand the villain’s perspective and could even see the story from his/her pov. Now, I’m not going to say that I could understand Mother Gothal’s pov. She was selfish and wanted to stay young and beautiful. I’m not saying she couldn’t have been more three-dimensional.

But I loved her tactics.

She played with Rapunzel’s mind. Mother Gothal could have just captured Rapunzel and brought her back to the tower. But no. She wanted Rapunzel to come back on her own, willingly. So she challenged Rapunzel, stating Flinn would leave her once he had the stolen crown back in his thieving paws. Then Mother Gothal went one step further and made sure that happened or that Rapunzel believed it to happen. And Rapunzel went willingingly.

  • How does your villain stop your protagonist?
  • What does he/she do behind the scenes?

Check out Stina’s blog for her breakdown of TANGLED Part Two!

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Plot Busters – PRINCESS FOR HIRE (part 2)

We’re breaking down PRINCESS FOR HIRE by Lindsey Leavitt in order to apply better structure to our own writing.

Act II is the bulk of the story. Let’s see how PFH holds up, according to Blake Snyder’s beat sheet.

B Story (subplot/love story/internal story/focus on theme)

The B Story offers a breather, a break from the tension of Act I. And it often offers a different set of characters, which this story offers in abundance.

In PFH, we see the start of Desi’s relationship with Meredith, her princess agent. I see this relationship as the “love” story. Meredith is grumpy, snarky and nothing like you’d expect a princess agent to be. (Great surprise and reversal of expectations!)

Fun and Games (Promise of the Premise)

Training: Desi substitutes for a Hollywood star as a Princess Caterpillar at a costume party. (Not exactly glamorous.) After, she meets Lilith, the sweet and kind agent, who is nice to Desi and fills her in on the why and how the whole substitution thing works. (Great explanation of the magic rules.)

Leavitt fulfills the promise of her premise perfectly. After training, Desi experiences a couple princess sub jobs. Her first job is for Simmy, an overweight and bullied princess. Right away, Desi breaks the rules. The substitutes aren’t supposed to act out of character or try and improve the life of the princess. But Desi, wanting to make an impact (remember the theme?), stands up for her princess, with much humor and tension. And we’re left not knowing if Desi made a difference.

Next is the Amazon princess and the tribal dance. And it’s everything you’d imagine it to be. I’ll leave it at that. Except, Desi tries to make an impact and “screws up” again. And we’re left not knowing if she made a difference. Again.


Meredith rescues Desi from her Amazon experience and states that Desi failed. Then, Desi is called to a probation hearing – as in she might get fired for breaking policy. Total game changer, just as a midpoint should be. Yay!

Bad guys close in:

Even though we didn’t have a standard villain in this story, in this next section it feels like it. The tension is upped, and Desi’s wish ‘to make an impact by breaking the princess sub rules’ is put to a test.

After the hearing, she is put on probation and sent home. Again, Desi runs into Celeste, Hayden, and a new cute guy in school. Did I mention it was while she was the pooper scooper in a town parade? Still humble and humorous. After getting dunked in a water tank by Celeste, Desi calls out to Meredith.

Desi is given one last princess sub job for Elsa in the Alps. The stakes are raised in that this is Elsa’s first call for a sub, which means Desi has a chance to earn the position of permanent sub.

Again, Desi tries to help Elsa when her childhood love, Prince Karl, tries to break it off because Elsa isn’t “royal” enough, even though he loves her. In the next six chapters we grow to care about Elsa and her grandmother, Helsa. (You’ll have to read it for the beautiful, moving story)

All is Lost:

Still subbing for Elsa, in a last ditch effort to convince Karl he still loves Elsa, Desi kisses him. Then she is whisked away and goes straight to the court of appeals. Her dark moment is while she is with Meredith in the travel bubble. Desi realizes she could be fired and brainwashed so she’d remember nothing.

Dark Night of the Soul:

Desi realizes she could go back to being a nobody with no impact. This moment is short and sweet but devastating because Desi is not the type of person to be held back.

Next time we’ll talk about the Act III – the part of the story which determines whether readers will read your next book or not. No pressure there! How will PFH hold up? Come back and see.

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