Those of us who write fiction are strange creatures to most people. We create people, places, plots, and even worlds filled with magic or space ships. “Where do you get your ideas?” is a major question. Another is “What is it like to write those stories?”
I’ve often used the first scene in the movie ROMANCING THE STONE where an historical couple ends an adventure and have a love-forever-after smooch. A woman is narrating the action, then the words “The End” appears. The scene dissolves away to a very happy, weeping modern woman at a computer. She’s in a sloppy outfit, hasn’t showered in days, and she discovers she’s out of cat food. Yes, this is what it’s like being a writer in many ways.
A few days ago, I found a better movie to explain the creative writing process and the business of being a writer. It’s called THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS, and it’s about Charles Dickens’ creation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL from the first idea to the final pages of the story.
No, he’s not just staring at a bare page with a quill in his hand although some of that happens. Real world things like his need for another hit and immediate cash after several flops push him to write a story fast so it can be out by Christmas.
We follow him around London as bits and pieces of the story flow around him and wait to become part of the story. (If you’re familiar with the novel beyond just the plot, you can spot these easily.) A waiter named “Marley,” people talking about poverty and the poor, and a happy dancing pair of shopkeepers start to fill his cast and give them future dialogue. At home, a new housemaid tells his kids ghost stories, his sister’s crippled son is shown, and his feckless parents arrive. More fodder for the story.
Dickens spends a long time figuring out Scrooge’s name then Scrooge himself shows up to taunt and frustrate him. (My characters also become much more real when I’m gifted their names.) And the story and the cast grow as his audience of family members, the maid, and a few friends listen and comment.
Then writer’s block appears, and Dickens must figure out Scrooge’s emotional secret so he can finish the manuscript on time.
I won’t say any more about the plot, but it explains the creative process in a way that makes sense to people who don’t write. And, yes, most of us writers are that bonkers with characters following us around and harassing us, and ideas come from random places and memories. We also isolate ourselves as the story churns within us. As with Dickens, writing is truly hard work, but the business of writing is the worst problem we deal with.
So, the next time someone asks you about the creative process of writing, suggest this movie to them.