Unleash Your Inner Billy Wilder

9 Tips you can use in your novel.

Billy Wilder broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929. After leaving Germany, he emigrated to Paris, then the US. Among Wilder’s most notable films are Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960) (which won him Best Picture and Director Oscars). 

 Use Wilder’s 9 tips to make your writing shine.

Grab your readers by the throat and never let ’em go.

Here Billy explains to get to the meat of the story right away. Open with action. Don’t start out with twenty pages of back story explaining how the main character got to where he is now.

Hook the reader on the first page. Create an unforgettable scene to start your story with.

What does the character want? As Wilder states, “Drama is the story of a character’s struggle toward a goal or objective that he cannot and will not do without. The story starts with that goal being revealed and then opposed.”

2. Develop a clean line of action for your hero.

Know what your through-line is. This is the primary goal of the hero throughout the entire book. He is always chasing this one thing. The through-line can’t change mid-story. If his goal is to get the girl in the beginning, it has to continue to be that throughout the entire book.

Knowing what your character wants is the key.

3. Create a map for your story.

This can be an outline, a bunch of post-it notes with all the main plot points, or beats of the story. Whichever way works for you, knowing where you’re going will help you get there faster and better.

I use a simple outline, and it helps me shape my vision.

A character may or may not get what he wants. But it’s important that he struggles in a clean line toward his goal throughout the book.

4. Hide your plot points subtly.

There’s the surface story (the psychiatrist struggling to treat a child who claims he sees dead people) and the secondary story (the psychiatrist is dead himself).

The better and more elegant you are at disguising the secondary story, the more your readers will feel a sense of participation in uncovering the plot and assembling the puzzle you have laid out.

5. If you have a problem with your third act, then you have a problem with your first act.

The first act of your book establishes everything. The setting, the character, and the dramatic problem. It entices and teases the reader into the story.

The second act, the bulk of the novel, is where these elements get complicated.

Go back and make sure the first act completely establishes the full dimension of the main character and the premise.

6. Let your readers figure out some things on their own.

As Wilder says, “Stories are patterns that follow predictable paradigms, chronology, and logic. When the pattern has a part missing, or a part that does not seem to belong, we instinctively go in search of the missing piece. Our brains try to complete the pattern: we try to figure out the plot.”

Write in a way that lets your readers add up two plus two. 

7. The turning point that triggers the end of the story.

Near the end of the second act, you should have a pivotal point, an event that determines whether or not the hero will achieve what he wants.

This event will decide the character’s fate. 

Past that moment, there is no going back. Volatile things have changed, and the universe has lined up in a certain way from which there is no retreat.

8. The third action is all tension followed by the climax. 

This is the moment that the whole story has been leading the reader to. All questions are answered, and all problems are resolved.

9. Readers are fickle.

Don’t write to market. Write what you love, what moves you, and what you’re passionate about. Write in the genre you love to read. Write for you, not them.

There are millions of valuable writing tips out there, and I’ll share all I can with you. But as always, use what feels right to you, and disregard the rest. 

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Your friend, fellow writer, and lover of all things magical,

Sherry Briscoe

Reader, Writer, Wordsmith Advisor — navigating the universe of fiction and fantasy, sharing words of wisdom and inspiration. Send coffee.