Stranger Than Fiction: Mandatory Film Viewing for Writers

Okay, calling something mandatory is a little over the top. But seriously. If you’re a writer, you should go see the film Stranger Than Fiction.

It poses an interesting question to writers… What if your fictional characters were real? What if the words you wrote on the page had consequences for an actual human being? What would you do?

Writers of popular fiction are taught to throw rocks at our characters, to put obstacles in their path, to consider “what’s the worst thing that could happen to my character” — and then make it worse, to give a character two choices: sucky and suckier, to make sure every consequence of a character’s actions is the opposite to what they expect.

No matter how you say it, we live to make our characters’ lives hell.

So, back to the film. The premise is fabulous, the performances great and the story worked. For me, anyway. I even bought the attraction between Will Farrell and Maggie Gyllenhall. (That girl can act! I mean, she has my man Peter Sarsgaard at home and she made me believe she wanted Will Farrell.)

Okay, sorry for the Peter Sarsgaard distraction. I find him distracting And he isn’t even in this movie.

Back to Stranger Than Fiction… For most of the film I kept thinking, how are they possibly going to end this? And that’s a good thing. In my opinion, the audience shouldn’t be able to see the end coming, except in films following genre conventions… which this one does not. When I first saw the end coming, I was disappointed. It felt like a cop-out solution out to me. But by the time they actually got there, it worked. I loved it. It moved me. And it makes a comment about happy endings, but I don’t want to explain how, because it will ruin the ending.

I highly recommend this movie, particularly for writers.

What if your characters were real people? Dream come true or worst nightmare?

Little post script… There was a very funny minor character in the movie–a psychologist working at the IRS. He only had one scene, but it was great. I didn’t recognize the actor — and I normally recognize actors (see my Phantom of the Black Dahlia post). And then, during the end credits, one of the main actors listed was Tom Hulce. Tom Hulce, I thought? Mozart from Amadeus? Larry Kroger from Animal House? Who did he play??? So I waited until they listed the cast. He was the hilarious psychologist. Very funny.

  2 comments for “Stranger Than Fiction: Mandatory Film Viewing for Writers

  1. November 20, 2006 at 1:46 am

    This movie is SO on my list. I saw Marie An. on Friday. I should have listened to you. Shame on me.

  2. November 20, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    That is so on my list of movies to see, if I can get babysitters for my two kids. Sadly, and I hate to admit this, Santa Clause 3 is on that list.

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