“Any writer can attest: in the luckiest, happiest state, the words are not coming from you, but through you.”
This past weekend I saw the movie Ruby Sparks directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, starring Paul Dano and Zoe Karan (who also wrote this movie). It had languished unwatched on my DVR for weeks; this viewing was long overdue. A super quick synopsis: main character Calvin is a writer struggling to write new material when…bam! He starts writing about fictional character Ruby and she magically comes to life. I enjoyed this movie very much because I could relate to Calvin. There is a scene where Calvin sits down in front of his typewriter, determined to whip out some pages, and all he does is stare at the pristine sheet of white paper. I’ve been there (several times) and it’s terrifying. What if you don’t come up with any good ideas? As soon as you think of something the nasty self-editor in you shoots it down. You’ve got nothing. Luckily, there are many different ways to get around this and get the creative juices flowing again (go for a walk, people watch, eavesdrop… er, I was just kidding about the last one!). The key is not to give up or beat yourself up too much over your writing, or lack thereof.
The concept of the movie is very intriguing as well. Calvin’s character comes to life! It’s like “what the heck?” And he’s basically in control of her existence because whatever he writes about her becomes reality. Although none of the characters I’ve written have come to life, when I’m writing a story the characters in it live with me and follow me around all day. They are with me as I eat, shower, sleep, and read… you get the picture.
One of the reasons the relationship between Calvin and Ruby doesn’t work is because as soon as Ruby starts to do as she wants and explores her desire and interest, Calvin writes a change in her, manipulating her to remain attached to him. This is a no-no in real life (no manipulating, people) and in writing. As the writer, your role is to give your characters a voice, paint a picture of their world with your words and allow them to live and grow organically. You’d be surprised but characters really do have a life of their own. If you try too hard to manipulate them to do exactly what you want regardless of what the character wants, the writing becomes stressed and can seem forced.
At the end of the movie, Calvin finally comes to realize he needs to give Ruby her freedom. And he does. At a reading for his newest novel, he says the quote at the beginning of this post. When I heard him say this I (internally) yelled “Yes! Exactly!” Sometimes it seems like an idea rocket just explodes on your head and you’ve got this story and you need to write it down right now… “the words are not coming from you but through you”. This is why you should have a writing utensil and paper or if you are all techie, an electronic device, to jot down those completely unexpected ideas. You never know if you’ve hit a gold mine and your own Ruby Sparks comes to life…
I hope I haven’t ruined the movie for those of you that haven’t seen it yet. Watch it, think about it, and maybe share what you thought about it here!