Novelists are sometimes the stars of great stories. We’re not talking biographical movies about Stephen King or JK Rowling and how a boy named Harry Potter came to be. We’re talking about fictional novelists. The ones that always seem to suffer with some form of writer’s block and are always portrayed by great actors like James Caan and his psychological struggle with an obsessive fan, or Jack Nicholson and his mental struggle whilst swinging an axe and shouting the famous line, “Here’s Johnny!” Fictional novelists are strange creatures indeed — unhinged, and unpredictable but without a doubt, brilliantly entertaining. So take a look at the list below.
11. Little Women (2019)
Little Women chronicles the lives of the four March sisters, in particular Josephine “Jo” March (Saoirse Ronan). Jo, a budding writer, approaches an editor with a story. She is subtly reminded that in a male-dominated world only exceptional female writers get a chance. Events then unfold from two entwined storylines, seven years apart, including love, loss, death, and continuous social inequality. Jo uses her life experiences to write a novel that opposes society’s idea that marriage is all that a woman is fit for. Her editor agrees to publish, but only if the protagonist is married at the end. Jo reluctantly agrees, mirroring the same decision in real life, too.
Set in Massachusetts during the 1860s, Little Women explores the problems with creativity and the social divide that stopped women from truly expressing themselves. It has the view that women should be homely, with no encouraging prospects, unless they marry into a rich family, views that Jo quietly fights against.
10. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a novelist, is suffering from the dreaded writer’s block. She just can’t visualize a way to kill off her protagonist. Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a man who asks a stranger for the time, so he can correct his watch, and becomes entangled within Karen’s narrative as the real life protagonist. Harold now has a voice in his head, narrating his life, and the countdown to break writer’s block and kill Harold begins. With the help of a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman), Harold tries to make sense of his “story,” and when he finally tracks down the author responsible, he is all too late and can only accept his fate. Can the author, Karen, finally finish off her book, and kill Harold?
Stranger Than Fiction is an intelligent comedy that forces us to pause and question life and our decisions in general. Will Ferrell tones down his performance to play the typical dead-end office worker, constantly mundane and stuck in the perpetual work/life cycle. Ironically, it’s only when he knows that he is going to die, he finally starts to live and breaks his habitual bonds.
9. Young Adult (2011)
Alcoholic ghostwriter, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), who’s writing the last of a cancelled series of books, receives an email from her old high school boyfriend, now happily married. Thinking it must be a sign that they are meant to be together, she travels back to her hometown to win her man back. However, everyone, including her ex, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), has moved on, and Mavis hasn’t. She is still as juvenile as ever, crass, and now a wannabe homewrecker. Will Buddy really throw away his marriage for Mavis, will Mavis ever finish her book, and more importantly, will she ever grow up?
Young Adult is a refreshing anti-romance which spits in the face of stereotypical reunion and love storylines and dares us to hate the focal character of its plot. Theron rises to the challenge, where many other actresses would decline the opportunity, to portray the worst and desperate traits of misplaced infatuation and the darker connotations of mental health issues.
8. Wonder Boys (2000)
Professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) teaches creative writing at university. He has had success with his first novel, but his second attempt has already run to 2,500 pages, and it seems he cannot see the end in sight. His wife has left him, his affair has blossomed a pregnancy, and one of his students, James Leer (Tobey Maguire), shoots dead the dog owned by his girlfriend’s husband. To cope, he smokes cannabis and repeatedly refuses his publisher Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr) the chance to read his (ever lengthening) manuscript. With no end in sight for his book or his many troubles, Tripp has to make some kind of permanent decision before all is lost.
Douglas manages the portrayal of an intelligent character that does unintelligent things as if he is stuck between childhood and adulthood, whilst somehow keeping it dignified. Great dialogue between Maguire and Downey Jr makes Wonder Boys a type of classic that never was. Although it failed at the box office, it does have style, and the miserable Pennsylvanian snow and rain.
7. Book of Love (2022)
Henry Copper (Sam Claflin), a stiff upper-lipped Englishman, is an overwhelming failure as a novelist. One day, he is amazed to find out that he is a huge hit in Mexico, and his publisher sends him straight there for the much-needed publicity. It doesn’t take long for Henry to find out why he is such a success. His Spanish translator Maria (Verónica Echegui), responsible for translating his book and also responsible for the huge plot changes and “sexing up” of the overall tone. Will Henry accept Maria’s literary view of love and passion, and if he does, will he accept his own about her?
It’s the classic, fish-out-of-water tale. Predictable but charming and pleasant enough to enjoy for a well-constructed romantic comedy that does lean more toward romance than comedy. Claflin provides intelligent English charm, yet oblivious to his own inadequacies as a writer that doesn’t understand the nuances of character, and ultimately love.
6. Before Sunset (2004)
Nine years after the events of Before Sunrise (1995), Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is in Paris to promote his bestselling novel. He performs a reading at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop where he bumps into Céline (Julie Delpy) who he hasn’t seen since their romantic night in Vienna nine years ago. Jessie is leaving to catch a flight, so together they decide to walk the Parisian streets and catch up on each other’s lives. Old romantic feelings resurface, and it begins to look more and more doubtful that Jessie will catch his flight in time.
Set in real time and in the beautiful location of Paris, Before Sunset is a second chance fairytale of long-lost lovers. At only 80 minutes, it is a snapshot of a quick decision of two people to use the time that they have, and the movie’s length helps create that snapshot effect. Completely character-based, Hawk and Delpy add huge amounts of depth to their roles.
5. Ruby Sparks (2012)
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a writer that cannot reach the success of his first published novel due to writer’s block. He also cannot form a significant relationship. When his therapist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) challenges him to write a page about someone who likes his dog, Calvin creates Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). The more he writes about her, the more he falls in love, and unbelievably she becomes real, and his girlfriend. Calvin plays God, changing her to his idealized vision, but her independence becomes problematic, and Calvin questions … can he control her forever?
Zoe Kazan also wrote the screenplay (and what an original screenplay it is). Clever and modern, it explores men’s idealization of women and certain men’s inability to understand what women really are. It’s not sexist in the least, it’s a clever social commentary that is heart-breaking, funny, tragic, and with a great grounding and sense of morals that is lost in most romantic comedies.
4. The Croupier (1998)
Jack Manfred (Clive Owen), an unsuccessful but promising writer, takes on a job at a local casino as a croupier. In no time at all the casino life takes over. He breaks casino rules, sleeping with a colleague, and when he lets his girlfriend read parts of his new novel about a soulless croupier, it becomes apparent that his life is becoming the source material. Jack falls deeper into the seedy world of gambling by getting involved with robbery and betrayal. When his book finally gets published, it seems the biggest twist is still yet to come.
A British Neo-noir set in London with a remarkably genuine feel of an authentic working casino. Starring anti-hero Owen, making his first big screen appearance that gained him recognition in America, The Croupier is a thick atmospheric thriller of a man sucking the experiences out of anyone he meets so that he can use it in his book.
3. Secret Window (2004)
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), has retreated to his lake cabin in Upstate New York after finding that his wife has cheated on him. A man named John Shooter (John Turturro) visits unannounced claiming Mort has plagiarized his story. Mort compares both works and finds they are almost exactly the same, except for the ending. Mort argues his work predates Shooter’s and Shooter demands proof. With the help of the sheriff and a private investigator, it soon becomes apparent that Shooter isn’t who he claims to be, and Mort may have created his most horrifying character to date.
Depp is deep into character as Mort, the author suffering from writer’s block (yup that again), a failed marriage, allegations of plagiarism, and a sheriff who knows exactly what he has done. John Turturro is brilliant as the creepy, murderous stranger who intervenes in Mort’s life. It’s based on a Stephen King novella, Secret Window, Secret Garden.
2. Misery (1990)
Misery Chastain is the central character of novelist Paul Sheldon’s (James Caan) series of Victorian romance novels. When Sheldon has a car accident during a blizzard, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) rescues him and begins to nurse his broken body back to health. She claims to be his “number one fan,” but after reading the latest Misery novel and finding out Misery Chastain dies, Annie’s true colours are revealed. Paul becomes a prisoner and is forced to write a new novel bringing Misery Chastain back to life, and while Paul obliges, he also tries to escape which results in Annie brutally breaking his ankles. Paul seems powerless to escape. With a fan like that, who needs enemies?
Kathy Bates won a Best Actress Academy Award for playing Annie Wilkes, one of the most memorable and disturbingly dark characters ever portrayed in a psychological thriller. From over-polite and starstruck to becoming an evil and abhorrent monster, Bates gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance. This is our second Stephen King adaptation to feature, and one of the best adaptations ever made.
1. The Shining (1980)
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) accepts the winter caretaker position overseeing the Overlook Hotel within the Rocky Mountains. Jack also takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along for a quiet break from the norm while Jack writes his new manuscript. After Jack learns that the previous caretaker murdered his family, Danny starts to have visions of twin sisters. Jack’s mental health deteriorates, he can’t write, and he starts to drink at the bar served by a ghostly tender. More visions, the message “redrum” (murder backwards), and an ever increasingly crazy Jack, lead Wendy into hysterics and the fight of her life, and that of her son’s.
Stanley Kubrick’s adapted, and very different vision of our third Stephen King story, The Shining, has gone down in history as one of the greatest and most significant horror movies ever made. The spiraling descent into madness that the writer Jack undergoes builds an eerie tension alongside the spectral elements and the subtle presence of evil, all within the hotel. It’s number one and regardless if you prefer the book to the movie, it’s the best and the greatest story involving a novelist in our list.
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