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Is there a formula for plotting an epic heist mission? (1 Viewer)

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Eicca

Senior Member
It's been YEARS I tell you, but I'm finally ready to plot out my climactic third act. It's a heist inside a highly secure skyscraper to take down a deep-rooted government black-op program. I'm inspired by Mission: Impossible heists. Plenty of tension, plenty of twists, disasters, improvisations, the like.

Is there a guide for plotting the mechanics of such a thing?

A few details on the mission:
-The objective is to shut down the government computer program running the black op and escape with a copy to expose to the internet at large so people will get angry and rise up against it.
-The protagonist is being hunted by every police and SWAT unit in the city at this point in the story.
-The FBI agent that is supposed to be catching the protagonist and protecting the black op is going to try and covertly help the protagonist.
-The antagonist, the head of the black op, is known by the reader to be the main villain, but a highly respected figure in public eyes.
-The tower will be hosting a big media event to celebrate the launch of this black op, disguised as a social media and internet revolution sort of thing. Civilians of plenty.

What I want to accomplish: twists, wrenches, edge-of-seat tension, aces in the holes, and ultimately make the mission barely successful. The black op program and the antagonist will be taken down, but at immense cost. This will not be a picture-perfect happy ending. The good guys will pay dearly.

I don't necessarily need anyone to plot this for me. But I would welcome and ideas that pop into anyone's head, and I would very much appreciate being pointed toward a resource that has some tips on planning such an epic event.

How do these screenplay writers do it?
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
To be clear, is this a movie or prose?

Either way, my central answer is the same: Read similar material to that which you are trying to write. There are no formulas for 'epic', no good ones anyway. The closest to a formula that's halfway legitimate is to follow something like the three act structure (primarily a drama device but can be used for books also).

If this is a book, read books. Not just one or two but dozens, until your mind becomes attuned to things that can affect what you are looking for. If this is screen, that's almost easier. Watch the movies BUT ALSO read the scripts. Most scripts can be downloaded for free. Try story-boarding out the scenes.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
It's been YEARS I tell you, but I'm finally ready to plot out my climactic third act. It's a heist inside a highly secure skyscraper to take down a deep-rooted government black-op program. I'm inspired by Mission: Impossible heists. Plenty of tension, plenty of twists, disasters, improvisations, the like.

Is there a guide for plotting the mechanics of such a thing?

A few details on the mission:
-The objective is to shut down the government computer program running the black op and escape with a copy to expose to the internet at large so people will get angry and rise up against it.
-The protagonist is being hunted by every police and SWAT unit in the city at this point in the story.
-The FBI agent that is supposed to be catching the protagonist and protecting the black op is going to try and covertly help the protagonist.
-The antagonist, the head of the black op, is known by the reader to be the main villain, but a highly respected figure in public eyes.
-The tower will be hosting a big media event to celebrate the launch of this black op, disguised as a social media and internet revolution sort of thing. Civilians of plenty.

What I want to accomplish: twists, wrenches, edge-of-seat tension, aces in the holes, and ultimately make the mission barely successful. The black op program and the antagonist will be taken down, but at immense cost. This will not be a picture-perfect happy ending. The good guys will pay dearly.

I don't necessarily need anyone to plot this for me. But I would welcome and ideas that pop into anyone's head, and I would very much appreciate being pointed toward a resource that has some tips on planning such an epic event.

How do these screenplay writers do it?
There are no formulas for writing a book. There are methods people use to help them structure their novel (see snowflake method), but nothing concrete that you can follow. Writers often have their own methods they've cobbled together from writing on their own. I know I have mine.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
The two best heist movies in my opinion are Parasite (2019), and The Sting (1973), if those count as heist movies. Maybe those might give you some ideas. The Score (2001) is also good too.
 

bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
Hi Eicca.
A lot of crime writers plot backwards before they write the story. I have forgotten who said, 'make it as tough and as impossible as you can.'
Falling from a great height is good. Remember Die Hard 1? There is a bit where John jumps off the roof with the aid of a fire hose. Crashes into a lower area, then has to struggle to release the hose before the weight drags him back out to his doom. I always tense up then.
Good luck
BC
It's been YEARS I tell you, but I'm finally ready to plot out my climactic third act. It's a heist inside a highly secure skyscraper to take down a deep-rooted government black-op program. I'm inspired by Mission: Impossible heists. Plenty of tension, plenty of twists, disasters, improvisations, the like.

Is there a guide for plotting the mechanics of such a thing?

A few details on the mission:
-The objective is to shut down the government computer program running the black op and escape with a copy to expose to the internet at large so people will get angry and rise up against it.
-The protagonist is being hunted by every police and SWAT unit in the city at this point in the story.
-The FBI agent that is supposed to be catching the protagonist and protecting the black op is going to try and covertly help the protagonist.
-The antagonist, the head of the black op, is known by the reader to be the main villain, but a highly respected figure in public eyes.
-The tower will be hosting a big media event to celebrate the launch of this black op, disguised as a social media and internet revolution sort of thing. Civilians of plenty.

What I want to accomplish: twists, wrenches, edge-of-seat tension, aces in the holes, and ultimately make the mission barely successful. The black op program and the antagonist will be taken down, but at immense cost. This will not be a picture-perfect happy ending. The good guys will pay dearly.

I don't necessarily need anyone to plot this for me. But I would welcome and ideas that pop into anyone's head, and I would very much appreciate being pointed toward a resource that has some tips on planning such an epic event.

How do these screenplay writers do it?
 

Mutimir

Senior Member
You've got to ask and answer a lot of questions. How do they shut down the program? How is the program protected? Is there something unique that protects the program? Think of like how launching nuclear missiles in movies will take 2 keys or something similar.

One of the things I enjoy is when the team sets up the heist. There's a meeting and they kind of present the stakes. That's what you really need to flesh out, the stakes. This kind of builds the tension. Then you have the plan where the team has to do A then B and then C lets say. Now to accomplish each step they have a plan but having everything go according to plan isn't exciting. So you've got to throw speed bumps at them and have them improvise. In the recent Mission Impossible I watched I thought this was done really well. One step of their plan was to use a mobile face mask creation tool. Well one of the agents accidentally used it to knock out a thug and broke it, uh oh!
 

Eicca

Senior Member
You've got to ask and answer a lot of questions. How do they shut down the program? How is the program protected? Is there something unique that protects the program? Think of like how launching nuclear missiles in movies will take 2 keys or something similar.

One of the things I enjoy is when the team sets up the heist. There's a meeting and they kind of present the stakes. That's what you really need to flesh out, the stakes. This kind of builds the tension. Then you have the plan where the team has to do A then B and then C lets say. Now to accomplish each step they have a plan but having everything go according to plan isn't exciting. So you've got to throw speed bumps at them and have them improvise. In the recent Mission Impossible I watched I thought this was done really well. One step of their plan was to use a mobile face mask creation tool. Well one of the agents accidentally used it to knock out a thug and broke it, uh oh!

I understand this in a formulaic fashion. Thanks for that. I can see my plot fitting into something very similar and working well.

I also just had the inspiration: the objective is seconds from being completed, and they realize said objective is all wrong. That'll really throw a monster wrench into thing, and lead to the at-great-cost ending I've always envisioned.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
There are no formulas for writing a book. There are methods people use to help them structure their novel (see snowflake method), but nothing concrete that you can follow. Writers often have their own methods they've cobbled together from writing on their own. I know I have mine.

Completely agree - and if there were formulas out there, I'd advise NOT following them. Don't use a templet, draw freehand and thereby make your art unique.

Far too many novels out there seem like their plots come off of an assembly line. Last night, I was looking for a dystopian thriller to read... and was disappointed by how many dystopian stories use an EMP the the impetus of their worlds. As a reader, I want something NEW, rather than a story arc and world that I've encountered many times before.

My advice is to start drawing outside of the lines.
 

Eicca

Senior Member
The heist is simply the climax of the story, so if it's a tad formulaic, it's ok because I've gone to great lengths to make the novel as a whole very character-driven and uniquely twisty to boot.
The climax will still be character-centric and the heist will be the means of doing so.
 

Newman

Senior Member
It's been YEARS I tell you, but I'm finally ready to plot out my climactic third act. It's a heist inside a highly secure skyscraper to take down a deep-rooted government black-op program. I'm inspired by Mission: Impossible heists. Plenty of tension, plenty of twists, disasters, improvisations, the like.

Is there a guide for plotting the mechanics of such a thing?

A few details on the mission:
-The objective is to shut down the government computer program running the black op and escape with a copy to expose to the internet at large so people will get angry and rise up against it.
-The protagonist is being hunted by every police and SWAT unit in the city at this point in the story.
-The FBI agent that is supposed to be catching the protagonist and protecting the black op is going to try and covertly help the protagonist.
-The antagonist, the head of the black op, is known by the reader to be the main villain, but a highly respected figure in public eyes.
-The tower will be hosting a big media event to celebrate the launch of this black op, disguised as a social media and internet revolution sort of thing. Civilians of plenty.

What I want to accomplish: twists, wrenches, edge-of-seat tension, aces in the holes, and ultimately make the mission barely successful. The black op program and the antagonist will be taken down, but at immense cost. This will not be a picture-perfect happy ending. The good guys will pay dearly.

I don't necessarily need anyone to plot this for me. But I would welcome and ideas that pop into anyone's head, and I would very much appreciate being pointed toward a resource that has some tips on planning such an epic event.

How do these screenplay writers do it?

The heist is the uppermost, tangible element. Underneath it's still about character, theme, change etc. The journey/change/theme model still applies.

I agree with an earlier post, best to analyse several yourself and come to your own understanding of the consistencies.
 

L2me

Senior Member
I hope this helps, Mark Kermode (the greatest movie reviewer of all time) did a programme on the BBC which I'm sure you can get hold of called Mark Kermode: Secrets of Cinema; Heist Movies, where he reviews, dissects and analyses heist movies over the last hundred years. I know it's movies and not literary works, but I should think that this would be a really good place to start some research.
Hopefully this will inspire a few good ideas or at least give you a few interesting films to watch.
 

Eicca

Senior Member
I've got that video pulled up for study as soon as my other homework obligations are finished.

In the meantime, I also have a preliminary outline of the climactic heist completed. Anybody willing to take a gander at it and tell me if it's gripping, sufficiently twisty and believable? I have a PDF I can send via whatever means.

I'm sick of reading thrillers where the climax consists of some running, some shooting, and some bantering and then the hero takes out the villain. So I'm going for some serious punch with this one.
 

Mutimir

Senior Member
Completely agree - and if there were formulas out there, I'd advise NOT following them. Don't use a templet, draw freehand and thereby make your art unique.

Far too many novels out there seem like their plots come off of an assembly line. Last night, I was looking for a dystopian thriller to read... and was disappointed by how many dystopian stories use an EMP the the impetus of their worlds. As a reader, I want something NEW, rather than a story arc and world that I've encountered many times before.

My advice is to start drawing outside of the lines.

I understand you want to avoid being generic but if a person wants to write a heist movie I don't think it's a terrible idea to try and use a "formula" to guide them on their way. That's why we always tell people to read more. That way they can understand what works and what doesn't work for them. I'd also compare it to a mystery novel or a romance novel. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl and boy wins girls back. One of the simplest formulas is the business. Usually these stories have a formula but writers tweak the formula to make them interesting. Then they write interesting characters to make the story more enjoyable.

I mean in itself a plot is a formula. So I disagree there are no formulas to write a book. But there is no right or wrong formula. You can use a formula as a jumping off point but don't let it box you in. Readers want to be surprised.
 
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