How Movies Get Writers Wrong
I feel like the writers depicted in movies paint an unrealistic picture of what we do as writers. Have you ever seen a movie where the writer can’t come up with a story or doesn’t make it big until they take the events that happened in the story, write them down and pass it off as fiction? Then, suddenly, they’re wildly successful writers who just needed real world inspiration to thrive.
I don’t know about other writers out there, but that is not what I do when I write a work of fiction. Sure, I do draw from real life characters, places and events, but I don’t copy them word for word and then try to pass it off as fantasy. There’s a scene in the movie, Inception that accurately depicts what writers do, though, the scene has nothing to do with writing but dream construction. In the movie, Leonardo Dicaprio’s character, Cobb, is training Ellen Page’s character, Ariadne in the art of constructing dream worlds. He tells her to never recreate full places or memories. Take details from those real world scenarios and ground them into a re-imagined setting or situation. “Always imagine new places,” he says. This is what a fiction writer does. We reconstruct reality by blending bits and pieces of real life. When films suggest otherwise, it can cause confusion.
Writers have to be careful when they draw inspiration from the people they know. If they give a villain the physical traits of their mother or use an embarrassing story that happened to their friend as a backstory for a character, for instance, they may find themselves having to explain their actions to these people. It is understandable that someone would think the worst whenever a writer seems to paint their friends and family in an unflattering light, especially to someone who has never seriously written a work of fiction and has wracked their brain to fill in the details of their story. It is not easy to come up with every detail out of thin air, as realistic as the characters or story may seem in their own head.
Still, to suggest that a writer cannot write without copying from real life is insulting to our skills as writers. It underestimates a person’s imagination and ability to twist stories around and pick and choose scenarios to create the best possible story. After all, interior decorators do not create their wallpaper and furniture from scratch. Artists do not make their own paint, brushes, clay or whatever mediums that they use. They use pre-made tools and let their imagination run wild with those tools. So do writers.
It is important that films do not trivialize the work that a writer puts into their fiction. After all, the movies themselves start out as a script on a page, created by a writer (or writers). It seems a slap in the face for a writer to underestimate the work of their colleagues by creating characters in their profession who cannot come up with their own ideas.
What is your favorite movie that features a writer, and how is that writer depicted in that movie? Leave your answers in the comments section below.