Saturday, 19 March 2016

Writing Heists

I’m currently working on the first novel of a series set in an alternate reality to the Knight Agency. Because of the content (and because I feel like it), it will be called the Black Knight Agency. Working on the other side of the law, in a reality in which the Knight Agency doesn’t exist, I will get to put more interesting heists in these books.

The first novel of the Black Knight Agency, currently still unnamed, sets up the world and the characters and is accompanying Jane on her way from the ten-year-old to the twenty-five-year-old. Unlike in the Knight Agency novels, I have packed her upbringing from the moment she meets Steven (well, a little earlier than that) to the age she is in the regular novels in one book. Scene by scene, part by part, she is growing into the right hand Steven didn’t know he wanted or needed until they met. As you might guess from this, Steven is a criminal in this story (at least until towards the end of the novel, but that is part of the plot, so my lips are sealed). I took some things Steven and Jane say in the third regular novel “Crime Pays Sometimes” as basics for the story and expanded it. I’m also introducing other main characters bit by bit (Cynthia, Brock, Frank, Grand, Liam in that sequence).
I have two heists in the first novel already and there might be another one or two until I’m done (I only partially know how things will happen, I only know what will) and I enjoyed myself tremendously while writing them. I like writing heists, which is why I have so far mostly used Jane’s speciality of breaking-and-entering in the novels, not her abilities as an assassin (which so far only feature in “Key Pieces”). I like turning the situation over and over in my head and figuring out how such a heist could work out and where there could be a sudden twist, forcing Jane to think on her feet and improvise. Perhaps I shouldn’t play games like “Crookz” or “The Marvellous Miss Take”...

I also realized lately that writing heists is pretty much the opposite of writing a mystery novel. I’ve loved mystery novels since I was a kid and I’m still an avid reader of those today. My parents even automatically assumed I was writing them when I told them I was going to publish stuff I had written myself, first on Feedbooks, then on Amazon.
Writing a mystery or detective story is, as Carolyn Wells wrote in “The Technique of the Mystery Story,” presenting a riddle and allowing the reader to solve it alongside the detective. Writing a heist story, if that is the main topic of your story, is letting the reader follow the process of setting that riddle up. A good heist story builds a riddle which the detective will not be able to solve (or, in rare cases, will not want to solve, because he or someone close to his heart is involved in it).
A heist story is about plotting, about planning, about organizing. It’s about pulling together resources, sometimes human ones, sometimes technical ones. It’s about giving the anti-hero of the story (since the main characters usually are criminals) a good reason for the crime they are about to commit.

In the “Cat’s Eye” manga and anime series, the main characters are three sisters who use all means to find and retrieve the pictures their father painted, because those might help them to find him. Usually, the oldest sister does the recon, the middle sister does the actual heist, and the youngest sister creates the technical means for it. In grave situations, the older two or even all three sisters might be directly and physically involved. The story gains an extra layer of danger and excitement from the fact that the middle sister is in a romantic relationship with one of the detectives on the ‘cat’s eye’ case. Obviously, the reader or viewer doesn’t want the sisters caught, since their reason for the thefts is an understandable one (and there are suggestions not all paintings were sold with their owner’s/creator’s permission).
In other cases, the victim of the crime is simply an institution which will not really suffer, like a bank. Modern banks have an insurance in case of a theft like that - and most people don’t feel very positive towards insurance companies who are known to shirk their duties of paying. Or the victim is a criminal as well and used illegal or at any rate immoral means to get what is stolen.
It’s important for such a story that the sympathies lie with the criminals, because there will be no solution in the end. The criminals will not be caught. They will disappear after the successful heist, leaving the detectives with an unsolvable case.

Of course, when it comes to writing detective stories, you need to do all that plotting and planning, too, but that is not what the book will be about. In a detective story, the author plots and plans so he can present the crime for the detective to solve. And the presentation should be fair enough, so the reader has the chance to solve the puzzle as well.
In a heist story, the author plots and plans the crime, then transfers all this plotting and planning to the main characters who will do it in the very pages of the novel, showing the reader who did what and why. Usually, something will go wrong with the plan, forcing the main characters to improvise, creating more thrills and making the story less predictable.

I love reading detective stories, but I love writing heists. But then, when I do those ‘personality tests’ online (which aren’t very reliable, I know), I usually end up as the Mastermind. Add ‘Criminal’ and it’s Steven’s job description in the Black Knight Agency. I just like to plot and the novels give me a chance to do so for the good of mankind (or at least my main characters).

No comments: