Fictional Writers

I love watching movies and TV shows that focus on writers, probably because I feel like there’s something about writing that I can learn from them.  Most of the time, the exact opposite is true.  I end up seeing stories about writers of different sorts and the lives they lead rather than the works they produce.  Still, after a while, I’ve come to categorize certain names that always stand out for me, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on them with you; the writers that I love, the ones I loath, and the ones that fall somewhere in between.

Writers I Love

The Ghost (Ewan McGregor in The Ghost Writer):  The nameless protagonist of Roman Polanski’s film about a writer assigned to work on the memoirs of a British prime minister.  The thing I like about this writer is how relatively bland and neutral he is.  He’s a down-to-earth fellow living in a simple apartment and working from project to project.  He doesn’t try inflating his ego, but instead prefers to let the work speak for itself.

Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson in Stranger Than Fiction): I suppose you could call Eiffel a mold writer, one whose works fall into a particular mold, the defining characteristic of her work being that her main character always dies at the end, usually, as she admits, in subtly cruel ways such as a teacher dying the day before getting off for summer break.  She’s depressingly clever, with her research including things such as standing atop her desk trying to imagine what it’s like when a person is about to jump off a building, but also immersed in her work to the point where she can be viewed as crazy such as when she visits a hospital emergency room and asks specifically to see the patients who, for sure, are not going to make it.  At the same time, I think Eiffel is aware of how people perceive her just as many writers in real life recognize that “Oh, my God!  He’s wacked!” look when we talk to non-writers, and this is why she (and sometimes we) act confidently arrogant towards people who simply don’t get what we do.

Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks in Orange County): For me, Orange County is like looking back to when I first wanted to be a writer.  Shaun Brumder knows what he wants to do, and thinks that there is a right way to get there.  More importantly, he feels he has to get away from the hometown with which he has an intense love-hate relationship in order to realize his ambitions.  He has a built-in fantasy of what a writer is, though there is no ideal beside the work, and when he meets his literary idol Marcus Skinner, he learns one of the big lessons of the profession: you don’t aspire to be a writer, you are a writer.


Writers I Hate

Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham in Finding Forrester): If ever there were a writer who should never pick up a pen or would do well to live the life of an illiterate, Robert Crawford is it.  For starters, he’s pompous.  You can tell that from his word choice with procrastinate over slack off, former over last, and anticipate over expect.  Not that these are bad, but when he speaks, it sounds like he’s editing himself, like he’s trying to put himself on a pedestal above others.  This leads me to his second, more troublesome quality: he’s bitter.  Now, it’s true that bitterness can make you a better writer.  If you’re looking at a projec that’s turned out to be a failure, you can push yourself towards making the next story better.  Crawford doesn’t do this.  He could have taken the lessons learned from failing to publish his first novel and applied them towards his second one, but he’s too busy hating writers who are better than he is.

Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion in Castle): Richard Castle is the fantasy all writer nurture.  I wish I could go to a book function and sign the breasts of half-naked twenty-somethings.  Castle has been described as a rock star of literature.  Well, so has Neil Gaiman.  But there’s a big difference: Neil Gaiman actually gets his writing done rather than run around New York solving murders.  I don’t care how smoking hot the cop is.  I mean, I got it early on in the series when he was brought in to consult on a copycat murder based on his own fiction, but then afterwards, isn’t there anyone tempted to say, “Uh, what the hell are you still doing here?”  The only good bit of authorial knowledge Castle dispensed was when he said writing his famous character Derrick Storm used to be fun, but when that fun ended, when the character stopped surprising him, he decided to kill off the guy and move on to his next project.  That was five minutes into the pilot, and it all went downhill from there.

Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro in Being Flynn): Because he’s a real person, Jonathan Flynn shouldn’t be on this list, but De Niro’s portrayal of him bugged me enough to grant him a dishonorable mention.  Jonathan Flynn is a delusional bum who considers himself as great as Mark Twain or J.D. Salinger even though he’s unpublished.  And when he’s confronted by his fellow homeless, he looks down on them.  He reminds me of what I’ve heard about Stephen King’s father Donald who had potential but never developed it.  In fact, Flynn doesn’t consider the criticism he gets for his own benefit.  For example, when he receives a rejection letter from Viking Press, he focuses only on the good parts and overlooks the reasons why they turned him down.  Valid reasons too, reasons that could have been incorporated into the novel to perhaps make it more marketable.  And one more thing: if I ever say “soon, very soon, I shall be known”, I’ll snort lines of toner from my printer, wrap millions of joints from the pages of the books I have on my shelves, and use the power cord of my laptop so I may die in autoerotic asphyxiation.


Writers I Love and Hate

Hank Moody (David Duchovny in Californication): First off, I love Hank.  In spite of the many chips on his shoulders, he’s a man’s man, and I think many of my brethren could learn a thing or two from him.  Hank may be fictional, but his novel God Hates Us All does exist, ghostwritten by Jonathan Grotenstein.  For our purposes here, we’ll blur the line between fantasy and reality and say that the real book exists in the fictional world of Californication.  I’ve read some of God Hates Us All, but not the whole thing.  It’s good, good enough that reading it from cover to cover is on my to-do list.  So while it could be said that Hank’s work is exceptional, his work ethic is not as stellar.  As his agent Charlie said in the first season, Hank has promised his publisher a novel since his daughter was an infant, which means he’s gone for a solid decade without producing anything.  But when his gears start to turn, he can deliver the goods.  My favorite Hank Moody moment is the end of a fourth season episode called Home Sweet Home in which his life seems to be devastated.  He faces trial for statutory rape (goes against my earlier praise, but it’s complicated), and his family is furious when he’s misled them into thinking he’s suicidal.  Hank retreats to a Hollywood hotel and reflects on recent events while smoking and looking out the balcony of his room.  Then he sits down at his typewriter and begins to write, tapping into his own life to find fuel.  There was something on his face, that look of determination and the need to deal with something internal rather than write just for the sake of telling an entertaining tale.

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