How do you feel about the portrayal of writers in fiction, movies, TV, etc.? Having developed as a writer, meeting other writers along the way, I have a bone to pick with two fictional authors in particular: Temperance Brennan on BONES and Timothy McGee (a.k.a. Thom E. Gemcity) on NCIS.

While I've known many authors to be unassuming in person, few if any are shy about their books. Serious authors take pride in, and are proud of, their work. For the otherwise driven Brennan--forensic anthropologist, self-defense expert, marksman--being an author seems superfluous: "Oh, yeah. I write, too." Being an author ain't that easy.

I'm only slightly more understanding of McGee's shyness. He's a Federal agent who doesn't want to divulge state secrets. If that's the case, though, why are his characters so obviously based on his co-workers--a point reinforced by last night's painfully predictable episode "Cover Story" wherein a barrista at the coffee shop McGee frequents is actually a crazed fan who starts killing the people who inspired McGee's characters.

Speaking of McGee's prose, it's pretty clunky. Is that a statement about the quality of today's bestsellers?

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I don't know either of these fictional fiction writers.

But I can say that I've met quite a few writers in the past two years and all of them, every one, is painfully shy. Dusty Rhoades, Duane Swierczynski, Barry Eisler, Dave White, Jim Born...the list goes on. Getting any of them to speak in public is next to impossible.

The hell with these wimpy TV guys. Let's go to the classics.

I'm partial to James Caan as the writer in Stephen King's MISERY (1990) directed by Rob Reiner. He was held captive by crazed fan Kathy Bates.

I also especially like Kathleen Turner's fabulously neurotic but secretly powerful Joan Wilder, the romance novelist let loose in Columbia in the great ROMANCING THE STONE (1984) directed by Robert Zemekis. This one is particularly authentic in its depiction of writers writing in pajama tops and socks and crying at their own purple prose: "If there's one law of the west: bastards have brothers -- who seem to ride forever."

And let's not forget Jack Nicholson's immortal Jack Torrance in Stanley's Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980). "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."
Yes, I echo Meredith's choices. I would add those girly-girly flicks like Anne of Avonlea and Little Women. (Those two stories/movies totally advocate the philosopy of writing what you know.)

The most interesting depiction of a mystery author is in the film SWIMMING POOL. It's a bit flawed at the end, yet still fascinating. The protagonist writes historic cozies and must explore her repressed sexuality when she has to share a European vacation home with a young, swinging single woman. Then the mayhem begins.

Has anyone seen THE HOAX? That should cast an interesting light on the publishing industry.

p.s. Meredith, I also love when ROMANCING THE STONE's Joan Wilder, working on deadline, runs out of toilet paper. Cracked me up. Unfortunately I could relate.
Most writers portrayed in film/television are Conventional Wisdom's romanticized "idea" of writers because watching an actual writer "on the job" is pretty boring. I mean the actual composing of words into sentences into paragraphs into pages. It's passive and internalized by nature, so onscreen workarounds comprise of faux "action" or "business" to dress up what is essentially ineffable, non-visual, and the equivalent of paint drying. Which means that 99% of the time, the character's being a writer is fungible, it's a prop, it's unnecessary to the plot or the characterizations.

Writer's block seems to be a popular workaround -- Jack Nicholson (The Shining), Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love), Jon Turturro (Barton Fink), Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction), countless others. Because watching a writer BE a writer is boring, but watching a writer NOT write, watching one do anything else BUT write, watching one in conflict with himself instead of writing (being crazy, killing someone, drinking, suicidal, chasing girls, Bukowski), is much easier to dramatize onscreen.

My favorite portrayals are the ones that realistically show us the person's life outside of the work, and accurately. Writing as vocation and avocation. As a part of a greater whole. The person "happens" to be a writer, but that part of the character is a vital part. Downplayed aspects, nothing too over the top. Writer not as stereotype, not as a nervous tic or a prop like a cigarette or the inside of a barglass to wipe. Two favorite portrayals:

Jason Robards as Dash Hammett in "Julia," but as a Hammett that was far-gone, alcoholic, self-hating, not having written a lick in years. But in his scant 15 minutes of screen time and mentoring of Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda), he does more to embody the demons, complications, and high standards of being an artist than most performances. "It's worse than bad," he barks at one of her efforts. "It's half-good."

William Hurt in SMOKE was phenomenal. Maybe it was because of the "verite" style, or Paul Auster's "nothing happens meta" imprint, but you just absolutely believed that his movie alter-ego (Hurt) was a die-hard Brooklynite AND a serious writer. His character was grieving and trying to recover from the death of his family (son I think). As he got out of his tailspin and back to his desk -- albeit still an introvert, but now one plugged back into the real life occurring outside his apartment, one ready to observe again and wring truth from outside his life -- you just only ever saw the writer's life in his actions and thoughts and words.

One scene nails it perfectly: he ambles back to his desk with a sandwich. Slowly sitting down and looking over his pages he lifts the sandwich, stops it halfway to his mouth, forgets to take a bite from it, starts typing, then places the sandwich back down on the desk, uneaten, already forgotten, consumed by his work again and tunnel-visioned back into the writing. Hurt's perf is comprised of the very stuff that we see and live each day as writers, which in a way is more breathtaking than most Hollywood treatments of our occupation.
Oh, I remembered another one. Charlie Kaufman in ADAPTATION was pretty darn hilarious. Another writer's block situation. Good observation, Tiffany.
Good one -- as soon as I needed to think of a few for this post all known examples left my brain.

ADAPTATION showcased the two sides that eternally fight each other -- highbrow versus lowbrow, the art versus business of film. The internal monologues of Kaufman (Cage) as dramatized by Spike Jonze are terrific. Kaufman (the screenwriter) is also clutch in not letting the "meta" of the situations or circumstances overshadow the emotions or truths he's conveying in the characters.
All the examples above are good, but by and large I reckon writers writing about writers smacks of an inability to go beyond personal experience (though when that point of view is dramatic and key to the story - as in Misery or Adaptation or even, I'd argue, Romancing the Stone - it can work). When vocation isn't key to the story, yet the protagonist is a writer, that's when I become suspicious. Any good examples of that?
I agree- love this book. For me his most complete novel, probably his most "literary" -- for me it rivaled Twain or Hawthorne.

King in general, and his portrayals and permutations of fictional writers in his canon, casts a long shadow.
I agree with you, Vincent, about writers writing about writers. I prefer to see more imagination in fiction--a writer shaping a character very different from himself, for example.
I watched NCIS last night, and I didn't take offense to the protrayal of McGee as a writer. In fact, I laughed at the fictional writer tidbits that were added. Yes, the episode was predictable but I love NCIS for the characters rather than the plots.

I can't say much for Bones since I don't watch it. :) :)
I'm a fan of NCIS and all the characters, but I don't think any character's personal life should *become* the plot. I like to gain insight into characters by their attitudes toward their jobs/what they have to do. I don't mind that McGee is a writer. In fact, I think it's a good quirk to his character; I just don't think it's being portrayed very realistically, and this sticks out on a show that's mostly believable.

Likewise I don't mind that Brennan is a writer, but I find the execution of that facet of her life lacking.
As John Dishon pointed out, Stephen King writes about writers a lot. Just in the movies there's The Shining and Secret Window, plus "Umney's Last Case" on television. Usually the writing is secondary to other aspects, or serves the plot in a way that distorts the reality of the characters getting words on the page.


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