When You Can’t Finish

Maybe you’ve always been able to finish a book project that you’ve started, if you fall into this camp, you can quit reading this entry and go on to something else since you will not be able to relate to this entry. If you’ve struggled to complete a nonfiction book or a novel, then you are in good company. I’ve had it happen to me often in the writing process. It’s not that I recall these incidents, but my wife certainly recalls them. I will begin the conversation, “I can’t figure out how to finish…” and Christine will cut me off in mid-sentence saying, “Oh, I’ve heard you say that before, go back there and finish.” With this verbal equivalent of a kick in the backside, I return to my chair and finish. It does happen.

StrangerThe writer’s struggle to complete the work is the main premise behind the movie, Stranger Than Fiction. Check out the button characters and the different little fun motions for the gadgets. Author Karen Effiel can’t decide how to finish her novel about Harold Crick, who turns out to be a real person. While I knew this movie was about a writer and several friends encouraged me to see it—I didn’t choose this film. I left it in the capable hands of my wife and her youngest daughter. They looked over the various possibilities and yesterday they selected Stranger Than Fiction and I got to see it too.

It is not a blockbuster sort of film which will top the box office yet to my surprise every seat in theater was filled. The author Karen Effiel (actor Emma Thompson) has some quirky writer habits such as chain smoking cigarettes and extinguishing them with her saliva (or worse) in a piece of paper towel which she holds. Effiel narrates the film and tells her story about Harold Crick, who turns out to be a real person (actor Will Ferrell). Crick begins hearing this narrator’s voice in his head telling me about things as he does them. Increasingly it becomes an annoying experience for Crick and he yells at the unseen voice. He appeals for help from a college literature Professor Jules Hilbert (actor Dustin Hoffman) and eventually he tracks down the mysterious author Karen Effiel (who is a recluse) but Harold Crick is an IRS agent with his own resources for locating people.

Overall it’s an interesting story about the creative process, writer’s block, the difficulty of finishing a long book and some of the ups and downs of the writing life. It’s a bit slow in a couple of places and there is an unnecessary (but startling) scene where Frick and Hilbert walk through a men’s locker room shower. You can close your eyes if you don’t want to see some old guy’s back side. One balancing figure for Karen Effiel is Penny Escher (actor Queen Latifah), who has been sent from the author’s publisher to help her finish the novel (which is late). Escher plays part psychologist and part assistant but encourages Effiel to complete the book. It’s a role that I’ve often played in the lives of writers.

I recommend this film but make sure you take your family members and watch it with them. It may help them understand a bit of where you are coming from in life and how you approach the different parts of your own writing life.

2 Responses to “When You Can’t Finish”

  1. Sharon Hinck Says:

    I really enjoyed this movie. I knew I’d get a kick out of the neurotic writer (and discovering I’m not NEARLY as weird as I could be). But what surprised me was that the themes of the value of life, art, risk, and brave choices were handled intelligently and beautifully and touched me deeply.

    Now back to work on my current manuscript. I’m about two chapters from the end and in the EXACT place you described where I’m not sure I can write another word. 🙂

  2. Cindy Thomson Says:

    I just saw this movie last Friday and said to my husband, “I wonder when Terry’s going to talk about this on his blog?”

    The reason the whole thing happened (that the character heard the narrator’s voice in his head) was because she wrote: “Little did he know…” I loved the college professor (Dustin Hoffman) who said, “I taught a whole course on ‘Little did he know’.” An insider’s joke, I suppose, and a caution about using omniscient pov.

    I did like the movie. But when is someone going portray a writer who is a little more normal? (Okay, I guess I’ve been a little like her at times, researching all kinds of weird things, but without the chain smoking and wild hair!)

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