Tag Archives | plotting

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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THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (Act I) or how to make a BIG impact!

Last Monday, most of you came to the conclusion that based on the description and plot that THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is not high concept. I can see your point. But if you want to write or understand how to make a low concept book have high impact, then keep reading.

Act I

Opening Image: (the before snapshot of the protagonist)

I fell in love with this opening. Lennie is sitting with her Gram and her Uncle, known as Big, as they contemplate Lennie’s emotional health and her future based on a plant. The plant, which has always been “connected” to Lennie has black spots and is quite sickly.

You’d think the opening would show Lennie’s life before Bailey died, but it starts four weeks after. So how is this the before snapshot? Well, it’s her life without Bailey before things start changing and getting out of control.

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

The plant says it all. This story is about survival and grieving. Will the plant survive? Which really represents Lennie. Will she make it through this experience a survivor?

In this opening, several times over, Gram and Big ask if the plant is going to recover.


Because this is more literary and character driven we are absolutely drenched in Lennie on every page. Every chapter in Act I shows us a different aspect of her life and her troubled relationships.


Lennie’s goal is to get through every day and face the challenges of how grief has changed all her relationships.


The stakes are extremely high for Lennie. It’s about the survival of her as a person, living, without her sister. She might not be saving the world or fighting a demon king, but to me, the stakes are just as high as if she were.

Six things that need fixing:

  1. Lennie’s soured relationship with her best friend, Sarah.
  2. Lennie sits in the closet, wearing her sister’s clothes, to grieve.
  3. Lennie doesn’t talk to her Gram anymore, refusing teatime or talks.
  4. Lennie’s lack of passion when playing the clarinet.
  5. Her bedroom, she shared with Bailey, has not changed, even down to Bailey’s dirty laundry.
  6. Lennie writes poetry and leaves the pages in random places around town.
  7. She’s been finding a reprieve from her grief while kissing Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby.

Catalyst: (the game-changing moment)

For me, the catalyst occurs in chapter 6, when Joe, new student and band mate, asks if they can play their instruments together. At this point, Lennie says no. But it gets her thinking. It symbolizes her unwillingness to let go of her grief, or even try. But we learn the problem stems to before Bailey’s death. Lennie has been struggling with a lack of passion in her music for over a year. So, a fellow talented musician asking her to play is a big deal. Almost as big, or bigger (in a personal way), than Frodo being asked to be the ring bearer and carry the ring to Mordor.

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

Okay, I’m going to be honest. I found it easier to find the debate in this character-driven story than I have some of the plot-driven stories. And maybe that’s because so much is being asked of Lennie that finding a debate is like plucking grapes off the vine.

Is she going to start living life again? But it is represented by one question. Joe keeps asking her to play with him, and she keeps saying no. When is she going to play again? When is she going to let go of the past?

At the end of Act I, Lennie is trying to pack up her sister’s stuff, but she’s having a hard time. Her and Toby go for a walk and share another emotional kiss. But it’s a kiss that develops from thinking about her sister and questioning how can the world go on? It’s a big moment. A dark moment.

And so ends, Act I.

Question: Do you think the only reason this book is high impact is because it deals with life and death and is more character driven? Have you read a high concept plot driven book with such impact?

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Plot Busters – How To Train Your Dragon (2)

Ever wonder about that sagging middle? Understanding structure helps to eliminate those worries. A little bit.

The set up is over. Now what? Well, if you’ve set up Act I the right way – plenty can happen.

Here’s how Blake Snyder in Save the Cat breaks it down.

Act II

B Story: (The A story or main thread has been established – we want something new! Often the love story and internal story.)

A Story – His dad is off trying to find the dragon’s nest, and Hiccup starts his dragon training with his peers. We get to know his friends and future allies.

B Story – Hiccup finds Night Fury and realizes the dragon is injured and can’t fly. The B Story is Hiccup’s developing relationship with Night Fury, but going deeper, it’s Hiccup’s story of figuring out who he is as a Viking.

Fun and Games: (According to Blake, this is the promise of the premise, the heart of the story, the stakes aren’t raised significantly. Fun.)

For me, this is Hiccup flirting with the dragon, gaining his trust, fixing his injury. His journey in “training a dragon”. Eventually, he flies Night Fury.

But I would also include his failed attempts at dragon training with his peers.  But as he trains Night Fury through communication instead of violence, he is able to relate to the dragons in his training. And he becomes a hero among his peers. Plus we see his relationship developing with Astrid, the cute girl, who wants to be the best dragon killer.

Midpoint: (Stakes are raised, big twist, new direction.)

  • Hiccup’s dad returns, learns that Hiccup is doing well but misunderstands and thinks Hiccup is actually killing the dragons. (A false win.)
  • Hiccup wins first place in dragon training. (A false win.)
  • And, Astrid discovers Night Fury, who Hiccup has named Toothless. Uh-oh!

Bad Guys Close in (Act II from the midpoint until Act III. The stakes are raised and the fun and games are over.)

When Hiccup’s dad returns, there’s no more pretending. He passes on to Hiccup a real Viking hat with horns. His dad is excited because now they can really talk – about killing dragons. And in the upcoming final exam, he can’t wait to see his son in action. (Great conflict!)

But before the final exam, Hiccup wins Astrid over to his side by giving her a ride on  Toothless. The dragon takes them to the famed nest that the village has been in search of for hundreds of years. And they discover the real reason for the dragon raids: there is a monstrous dragon living in a mountain and he needs to be fed. Talk about a bad guy. (I loved watching Hiccup and Toothless win over Astrid!)

Push comes to shove and the final exam arrives. Hiccup announces to his dad and the village that they are wrong about dragons. (Talk about bravery! Hiccup is changing, folks!) He throws down his shield and spear. His dad is furious and scares the dragon, who becomes enraged and goes after Hiccup. Toothless hears Hiccup’s cries and comes to the rescue. Except Hiccup’s dad captures Toothless, and feeling the ultimate betrayal, throws Hiccup in a cell. Hiccup slips about the nest and the dad, enraged, disowns Hiccup.

All is Lost:

Astrid says it best. “You’ve lost everything.” And he had. His dad, Toothless, the respect of the village, his friends – he couldn’t feel any worse.

Dark Night of the Soul:

He didn’t think he could feel any worse until his dad chains Toothless to the ship to guide him to the dragon’s nest and sets sail with a fleet of ships. Hiccup watches them sail away. Helpless. He’s lost everything. And now he might really lose his dad too. (I love these moments! Anyone else a little sadistic?)


As writers though, we know that the best part is yet to come. And this movie followed structure with great success. The beginning hooked me but the ending made me a fan. But you’ll have to wait until next time! We’ll wrap it up with the final act.

Have you ever studied books for structure? Just curious.

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Stop the plotting Ferris wheel! I want to get off!

When I started writing, I took the first idea that came to me and ran with it. No stopping me. Not even a bulldozer on full throttle.

  • I didn’t think about the market.
  • I didn’t think about what publishers were looking for.
  • I didn’t make sure my idea wasn’t just a derivative plotline.

And now, I know better.

While revising my current project, I’ve also been dreaming and plotting my next project. Like a Ferris wheel, I’ve been going round and round and round – for three months! Yikes. I’ve completely ditched 2 separate outlines. I’ve looked at a shelved project. But slowly, an idea has transformed and grown into something I can be excited about.

The other ideas weren’t bad, but I wasn’t doing cartwheels around my room with excitement either. And when I brainstormed plot points, not much came. Or not much good came.

So how do I know when I’ve found the right idea?

  • It’s not the first idea. More like the tenth.
  • It’s not based on movies or books I’ve read recently.
  • It’s not based on my mood that day or week.
  • It’s a book I’d love to read.
  • It’s an idea I’m willing to stick with for the next year.
  • Characters appear that fit with the plot. Not cliché either.
  • It’s an idea I’d want to be a debut novel.
  • It’s a genre or character I could continue writing about.

But I know for absolute sure when the plot points come with ease.

Some might say I waited too long. That I could spend forever diddling around with plots and never be happy. And that might be true. But I couldn’t move forward until all the signs were there and I knew in my gut.

How do you know when you’re ready to move forward with an idea?

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How I Write: Muddled middles and motivation.

I feel really bad for the “middle”. It has a bad reputation. Seriously, it must have a huge guilt complex. And I don’t blame it.

The middle will make or break your novel. (No wonder we curse it so often.)

If you craft your novel well, the middle is the part where readers give a contented sigh and race to the end with their fingers gripped on the ereader device book. If you have a saggy middle – a reader just might close the book.

I’m a plotter. So when I’m writing I have motivation to finish because I know where I’m going. I’m excited to see how everything unfolds and to reach the climax. But when I’m plotting I struggle with the middle just like pantsers who are writing through the middle.

What I think makes a good middle: (or Act II)

  • plants for later payoffs or revelations
  • main character hunting down false clues or trying to reach goals, and they make mistakes
  • introduction or furthering of the inside character arc
  • disasters and complications
  • plot points and information that push the story forward
  • developing relationships

The middle middle: the big twist, reversal, huge revelation; the part where the reader gasps and the story takes off in a whole different direction.

  • real clues and plot developments
  • increased stakes in the outer and inner plot
  • everything goes wrong
  • payoffs from earlier plants
  • any subplots or separate storylines start connecting
  • devastation and the main character’s dark moment
  • mc makes plans

After the middle, the story heads into Act III and the climax.

There you have it. I find motivation through the middle by constantly asking how I can make it bigger, better, more suprising  – while moving the plot forward.  

Do you struggle with your middles? And what aspect of the middle is the hardest? How have you learned  to perfect your middles? (Srsly tell all because I’m stuck in a middle right now.)

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