Wilder Writing

12 Mar

I enjoyed a workshop that used Billy Wilder’s tips for screenwriting. The facilitator showed how the tips could help in writing fiction. The tips are listed below. A short explanation of how it applies to writing fiction is shown in italics.

Billy Wilder was one of the greatest writer/directors in film history, having co-written and directed such classics as Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, and Double Indemnity.


Wilder’s screenwriting tips: *

  1. The audience is fickle.  Every reader starts out with giving the author goodwill. The reader is excited to be reading a new story and they want to love it. Goodwill can run out if the author doesn’t deliver.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go. No explanation necessary!
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character. Goal or motivation.
  4. Know where you’re going. Don’t ramble or dither. Keep the plot moving.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer. Practice, practice, practice. See #7.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act. Set up your plot so you don’t write yourself into a corner.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever. Respect your reader’s intelligence.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing. Many writers make this mistake and have a character recount what has happened in a previous scene with other characters.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie. Lead the reader to the Black Moment. They know it’s coming and the tension rises.
  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. Once the Black Moment has been resolved, end the book. The reader needs to keep that relief fresh in their minds during the satisfying ending.

* From Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe


These are not new ideas. I liked seeing them in this form. They are short and clearly written. What do you think? Is there a favorite tip of yours among them? Is there one you could improve on?


Posted by on March 12, 2012 in readers, workshops, writing, writing craft


Tags: , ,

19 responses to “Wilder Writing

  1. blankenshiplouise

    March 12, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    #7 — OMGYES. I can’t stand stories where the author force-feeds me every last scrap of information. Leave some mystery!

    Or TV shows that keep flashing back to what happened two minutes ago.

  2. Janis McCurry

    March 12, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    LOL. I always hear about the “dumbing down” of America, but it might be that media of all kinds don’t respect their audience. It drives me crazy when there is a political speech or debate and then two hours of commentators telling the audience what it meant. REALLY?

  3. Liz Fredericks

    March 12, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    I really like these tips – clean and to the point. I’m with you both on #7 – nothing worse than being underestimated. I’m printing the list for my board.

  4. Janis McCurry

    March 12, 2012 at 7:26 AM

    Glad it’s a keeper.

  5. ramblingsfromtheleft

    March 12, 2012 at 8:13 AM

    Janis, as a lover of Billy Wilder films, I truly enjoyed reading this post. My rule has always been … don’t write a mystery unless you already know how to solve it. I’ve written myself into that corner many times … abandoned up to 60K words done … only to begin again because I needed to resolve the third act. I also agree with #7 … I get miffed if the writer acts like I might have forgotten what happened only two pages ago 🙂

  6. Janis McCurry

    March 12, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    Sounds like #7 is really hitting the spot for us! Great rule about the mystery genre. Thanks.

  7. Meredith Conner

    March 12, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Absolutely #7. My other pet peeve is where the author has the heroine do something stupid to move the plot and story along. And it is always the heroine. I don’t know if that would fall into #5, #6 or #7 or all three. I think if the author successfully hides their plot points and sets the stage so we – the reader – can add it all up to a good ending then the author wouldn’t have to throw in the heroine racing out into the dark woods or into the basement to find the killer. Have it be the annoying next door neighbor with the creepy collection of dead insects and keep her brain cells intact!
    Thanks for showing this. Great points and, like you said, well-defined and clear.

  8. Janis McCurry

    March 12, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    You’re welcome. I love to find little nuggets of gold.

  9. gswguest

    March 12, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    I like #5:The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
    Start practicing Mary!

    • Mary Vine

      March 13, 2012 at 2:52 PM

      Janis, I forgot to log out of gswguest after I put in a guest’s blog. Thought you would be curious who this was. Sorry about that!

  10. Janis McCurry

    March 12, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Good luck!

  11. Peggy Staggs

    March 12, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Great tips. Wilder was one of the greats. Love #7. Another list I’ll be keeping.

  12. Janis McCurry

    March 12, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Yes, my area is getting crowded with “keeps.”

  13. Marsha R. West

    March 12, 2012 at 12:05 PM

    Nice post, Janis. Thanks for sharing. Certainly clearly stated. I’m afraid it’s one of those: “easier said than done.” LOL But nice to have the objective in front of us.

    • Janis McCurry

      March 12, 2012 at 1:29 PM

      Yes, it’s always hard to get it just right. Thanks for dropping in, Marsha.

  14. Lynn Mapp

    March 12, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    Janis, I love Billy Wilder. This is a great list, clear and to the point.

  15. Janis McCurry

    March 12, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    He was a great writer/director. And he obviously knew how to tell a great story.

  16. Clarissa Southwick

    March 12, 2012 at 8:21 PM

    What a great list. It’s definitely a keeper 🙂

  17. Janis McCurry

    March 13, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    Thanks, Clarissa. Glad you found it worthwhile.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: