Writing Tips: Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder was one of Hollywood's greatest screenwriters (and directors) in my humble opinion. He wrote and/or directed (among many, many others) Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, Lost Weekend, and my fave, Some Like it Hot. 

Here are a few of his writing tips:

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.
Most of these are highly applicable to any form of writing. Number 9 recently helped me fix (hopefully) the end of my second book.   For instance, the end of Some Like It Hot--which by the way is one of the greatest movie endings of all time--is triggered by the mobsters showing up in Miami (as well as by actions of both couples).  And, by the way, the ending will make Wilder's epitaph even more meaningful--and funny.

* From Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe


Sarah Tokeley said...

Some great tips there, and I've just ended up watching a load of 'Some like it hot' clips on youtube :)

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

Really great tips! I especially like number 9--it's a great plotting tip to remember.

Also, his epitaph is pretty fantastic.

Fresh Garden said...

Fantastic! Great tips!

Adam Meyers said...

I love learning from screen writers who really know what they're doing. I won't start the discussion of what they're doing now, but I love learning from the old masters who paved the way. Awesome stuff.

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