Writing Excuses 7.25: Writing Capers

Capers! They’re delicious on bagels with lox and cream cheese. Also, tricky to write well, and often called “heists.”

Dan explains the caper/heist format to us using Ocean’s Eleven as the model, so we can identify the key elements that are typically present. Brandon explains the key difference between the two styles: In the first, the reader doesn’t get the whole plan, and the plan goes off without a hitch. In the second, the reader gets the whole plan, but the plan goes wrong and the team has to improvise. Ocean’s Eleven is an example of the first. The Italian Job and Mission Impossible are examples of the second.

One challenge writers face, as opposed to filmmakers, is keeping the reader in the dark for an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper without cheating.

We talk about how the formation of a team of experts or specialists is critical to the form, but also works across lots of other forms. Beware using these teams as a substitute for character development, however.

The combined viewing time of our example films is, quite frankly, oppressive. Don’t watch them all in one sitting. But if you do, that was all part of our insidious plan to keep you busy while somebody else steals your stuff.

What is a Pig in a Poke: Basically, it’s a confidence scheme involving a substitution.

Play

Your characters need to perform a reverse-heist, putting jewels into a safe without getting caught.

The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton, narrated by Michael Cumpsty