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Thank You, Billy Wilder

“Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.” Billy Wilder

I am not going to lie—plot scares the shit out of me. I start over-thinking things. I try to race through it and hit all the marks like a border collie on an agility course. #HitIt

Openings? Scene settings? What’s better than creating a world? Ask God, they’ll tell you. And endings! Those glimmers of completion are pure magic! Cue the end credits.

Wasn’t that delightful?

What do you mean I have more work to do.

The Dreaded Middle

I’m in the “middle third” of my second novel now, the dreaded second act, where you have to take the setup you love so much and put it and your characters into one of those paint mixers like they have at Lowe’s and push START.

Everything shakes! Everything comes apart! Will any of it hold? Will I get to the ending I see in my head and have even plotted out in an outline?

Plot is a four-letter word

Plot—like the fear it inspires—is a four-letter word. And with or without an outline—because outlines aren’t magical, let’s face it—stepping into the second act requires TRUST. Trust in yourself. Trust in your story. Trust in what you’ve built up to that moment and trust in the ending you’re aiming for.

It’s like being on a trapeze platform, and I’m scared of heights.

And that outline? I don’t care if you have scaffolding or not—have you ever stepped onto construction scaffolding? Without a harness?

There’s got to be a morning after

Obviously, it’s easy for me to confuse myself about the whole thing or, as they say, get in my head about it. Structure requires organization. Organization requires thought. So. Much. THINKING.

What sort of writer would I be if I didn’t overthink every part of the process?

But like Dante had Virgil, I have Mr. Billy Wilder to guide me.

If you’re not acquainted with Billy Wilder’s work, Google “Billy Wilder comedies” and then watch everything but especially “Some Like It Hot,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “Sabrina,” and “Stalag 17.” His greatness was definitely not limited to comedies, so don’t miss out on “Double Indemnity” and “Sunset Boulevard.”

Billy is here to help. Not only does he give great writing advice, he also keeps it simple when it comes to story structure for comedy:

  • Step 1. Put the character up a tree.

  • Step 2. Set the tree on fire.

  • Step 3. Get character out of tree.

Well, hell…even I can follow that formula.


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