Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Writing lessons learned from HEIST SOCIETY


Thanks to the advice of Laura Pauling, I just finished Heist Society, by Ally Carter. What a fun, fast-paced adventure! My favorite description is "Ocean's 11 for teens," but here's a longer blurb from Amazon:

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre...to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria...to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she expected.

If you read and write YA, and you love a fun caper, this book is a gem. Here are some of the many writing lessons I learned from Heist Society:
  • When writing kid lit, create a realistic reason why the kid is doing the story's heavy lifting--In this case, the author deftly set it up where Kat's dad had just done another "job" in Paris, and was being followed by Interpol. The villain accuses Dad of stealing valuable paintings, but Dad is unable to get himself out of the pickle. Enter Kat and her merry band of thieves to get the job done.
  • Get to the point...literally--The characters in this book hopped from New York to France to Italy to Austria and to England. But the author didn't bore us with long lines at the airport, security checkpoints, and traffic to and from hotels. No, she jumped ahead to the part in the story that mattered, and left all the unnecessary details behind.
  • Remind readers of the deadline--Every few chapters there was a reminder page that simply read "Thirteen days to deadline," and so on. This reminded me that Kat was running out of time, and added tension.
  • Add a deep layer--I was already invested in the story because Kat's father's life was at stake as retaliation for stealing valuable paintings. But the author took it one step further. Kat learns the paintings in question are not just any paintings--they had been stolen from Jewish families during the Holocaust, and presumed lost. This detail added depth to what the characters were trying to accomplish. Not only would Kat save her father if her plan succeeded--these paintings could be returned to the rightful families.
  • Your character breaks the law? Add charm--For Kat, stealing is the family business. We can't hate her for doing what she was raised to do. Hale, the love interest, is a billionaire who steals for the fun of it. But he's charming, and we like him anyway.
  • When the reader least expects it, add a new character--The plan was in motion. The crew was ready. But when I least expected it, Kat bumped into a pick pocket, Nick, and invited him to join her crew. Nick added friction with Kat's love interest, Hale, and also added complications with the final job.
  • Hint at familiarity--Kat and her hunky billionaire friend, Hale, have a storied past. They hint at it, such as botched jobs and what they've learned from them, but we aren't bored with long flashbacks about those previous jobs. We learn just enough to keep us interested, and then it's back to the main story.
Heist Society was a fun read that dug deep into family history and loyalty. I highly recommend it!

Have you read this book? If so, what was your opinion? Can you share any of the lessons you've learned from a great book?



33 comments:

  1. I haven't read this yet but it sounds so FUN! I love all of your lessons, but most of all, I try to remember to get to the point. Sometimes I add extra details as part of my thought process and cut them later because I know they aren't needed for the reader. Thanks, Julie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michele, I've done the same thing. I've learned from good books that it's ok (even advisable) to jump ahead to the part that matters!

      Delete
  2. Ha! I refer to this in my pitch for my novel currently in the ABNA contest, but I did it on recommendation, not because I've read it. it sounds like it would make a great movie. That second one is the one I need the most work on--letting the filler between scenes fall away.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hart, that's such a cool pitch! Succinct and gets the message across in a hurry. Good luck on the contest *fingers crossed*

      Delete
  3. I like the sound of Heist Society. All the things you have learned from this book are great writing tips to keep in mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Rachna! How fun for us to learn while we're reading great books.

      Delete
  4. Charm helps the difficult or almost unlikeable characters as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, Alex. This has been an important lesson for me to learn.

      Delete
  5. Julie, I'm truly amazed at how you analyze these books and break down the plots into tips for better writing. I've never read this book, but I'll surely use these tips. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Linda. I figure if I'm reading a great book anyway, I might as well learn from it!

      Delete
  6. And the second book is good, too! Great breakdown of points.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Did you say "Oceans Eleven?" I'm in. You have such a way to magnetize me toward books, Julie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Minus George Clooney and Brad Pitt *sigh*

      Delete
  8. Julie, I love these writing lessons. While they are masked for YA... I always learn something. Universal messages. Thank you for a great post. And this is a book I want to read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karlene, I totally agree...universal lessons, no matter what genre we write in!

      Delete
  9. Well, you already know how much I loved this story! Glad you read it. It was such a great balance of mystery and emotion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for the referral. I loved it!

      Delete
  10. Great tips. I like these posts because they are kind of a mix of reviews and writing advice. It's different.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beth, thanks so much. I appreciate that!

      Delete
  11. Love this list of tips, Julie. I adored HEIST SOCIETY and Ally does such a fabulous job of making the story pure enjoyment that you almost forget how many strings she pulls behind the scenes. Which, of course, is the best of all things when it comes to writing.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Martina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Martina, you're so right! It was seamless and exciting and such fun to read.

      Delete
  12. That does sound fun and super tips, Julie. The writing not the heisting lol ;)

    ReplyDelete
  13. This sounds good and, as always, I love the writing lessons you pull from it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Such handy tips... love your analysis.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've been meaning to read Heist Society forever. Your wonderful analysis is making me want to dive into it right now. : )

    ReplyDelete
  16. I haven't read this but it sounds like fun. A nice fresh take on the crime caper :-)

    ReplyDelete