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Billy Wilder's Rules for Screenwriters

Along with being a legendary director, Billy Wilder may be the best screenwriter of all time. Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Ace in the Hole, Some Like It Hot, Sabrina, The Apartment – all his scripts. So, when Wilder gives writing advice, you listen. Lists of Note has excerpted from Cameron Crowe’s Conversations with Wilder the Hollywood giant’s ten tips for screenwriters. They may be simple, but tidbits like “Develop a clean line of action for your leading character” and “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is with the first act” give great insight into Wilder’s success. Aspiring scribes, take note — the entire list is after the jump.

Billy Wilder’s tips for screenwriters:

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.