I recently had the pleasure of watching Marc Forster?s film, Stranger Than Fiction, which I found to be a delightfully charming, intelligent comedy written by first-time screenwriter Zach Helm. I give it two guitars up. Way up. (Platonically speaking of course).
It?s about an uptight IRS agent, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), who realizes that his mundane life is being narrated by the voice of a chain-smoking novelist played by Emma Thompson. The novelist is suffering from a bad case of writer?s block and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown because she can?t decide the ending to her story.
Going mad with the constant narration in his head that accurately predicts his every move, Crick solicits the help of a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) to help find his voice. To his utter shock and dismay, Crick learns that the voice of his narrator belongs to this eccentric author that writes tragedies in which her heroes are killed off.
But Crick does not want to die! For the first time in his life he is discovering who he really is and what his true passions are. He sets out to meet the author with the determination to alter his fate. And upon meeting, the two worlds collide. The author is petrified to see that her main character has come to life and that he is very real indeed.
I can certainly relate to this movie as a writer working on my first inspirational novel. The movie raises some intriguing questions: What does it mean to be real? To find one?s voice? To express one?s voice? Who is narrating our story? Can fate be altered? Where do the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction collide?
I certainly don?t pretend to know the answers. I can only share my perspective as a writer. One of the challenges writers face is to know their characters inside and out and to have a complete understanding of the world they have created so that everything magically comes to life. As the story-writing guru, Robert McKee, likes to say, ?Not a sparrow should fall in the world of a writer that he wouldn?t know.?
I believe in a sense that we are all writers. We are writers of our own play. In The Hero Soul (http://www.HeroSoul.com), I close the last chapter of my book with a quote from Shakespeare:
?All the world?s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.?
The world is a stage upon which we perform. Each age consisting of the acts and scenes of the play. But it?s our play. We choose how we act in each scene moment by moment. What type of play do you want to write? What type of a life do you want to live?
Realizing that he is going to be killed off, Harold Crick asks the literary professor for advice. The professor gives him a deceptively simple answer, ?Go live your life! Do what you love to do!?
At first, Crick is offended by the professor?s triteness; but he realizes later that he has no control over his mortality and decides to do just that: live his life. He?s always wanted to play the guitar but never really had the time. For the first time in his life he walks into a guitar shop and sees this wicked turquoise guitar starring back at him. He picks up the guitar and begins strumming. In that moment his life is transformed from a tragedy into a divine comedy.
What have we been denying ourselves? What type of play do we want to have a starring role in? Sometimes we act in an ?If Only? play with a bit part in shoulding all over ourselves until we are mired deep in our own pile of dung. I should write a novel. I should exercise. I should be a painter. I should start my own business. I should go on a dream vacation. If only I was younger. If only I was older. If only I had the money. If only I had the time.
In the professional world of writing there is a clause known as the ?kill fee.? The kill fee is a fee paid by the editor to the writer for an assigned piece of writing that is killed off and never published. It?s usually a percentage of the total amount that was originally agreed upon between the editor and writer. Although there can be many reasons for rejecting a piece, the kill fee is often executed because the writing simply isn?t up to par.
When we?re not being our best selves, when we?re not expressing our unique voice, when we?re not being true to ourselves and not doing what we love to do, something inside of us dies. Life then pays us a kill fee: something less than what we truly deserve.
Are we living a life that?s worthy of being published, or will we live a life of mediocrity and accept the kill fee that?s assigned to us?