This post was accidentally posted at Russel's old blog at theseyameanstreets.blogspot.com. We're updating so it appears here, where it was meant to. With some minor alterations towards the end in answer to a comment by Graeme Powell on the original post.
I can't promise I'll never do it, but one of my pet hates is writers as characters in fiction.
Writers who writer about writers,
Not only is it a weirdly incestuous feeling, it also often feels wrong.
As with all things, there are exceptions:
Stephen King nails it in The Shining and Misery.
And Michael Chabon in Wonder Boys.
But that's about it. Most people when they write about writers, they talk in this weird way that doesn't sound real. They create writers who are succesful, who appear on talk shows. Or they talk about working hard on drafts and sending them out and getting rejected.
And every time it comes off as either wish fulfillment or oddly disconnected from the emotional reality of writing. I rarely read about a writer in a book and think, "boy, that's me!" or, "Yeah, that's how it is."
Maybe its the same for cops who read crime novels.
Or matchmakers who read romance novels.
But then, maybe its because writers focus on all the wrong things when writing about writing. Maybe because we're too close to it and are trying to find ways to communicate the truth to non readers but it just isn't possible to do it.
Or maybe, just maybe, its because writers writing are dull.
When we lose who we are in the words, or when we write frantically to deadline, we do little that is actually dramatically interesting. Honest to God, there's nothing exciting about me sitting around trying to watch that little movie in my head and translate it into the words that then appear on the screen in front of me. And there's nothing exciting about getting cheque that pays off the credit card bill. Or me eating an entire pack of crisps while swinging in my chair trying to think of a witty last line for some poor schmuck before he gets chibbed.
Somewhere there's a sense that writers should be interestong. And some of us are, that's why there are biographies written about them. But they're interesting beyond their writing.
The act or writing?
Its uninteresting and tough to communicate as a dramatically intriguing character trait. When it works, the use of a writer as a character is not just a trait, but something deeper. King's writers are always control freaks. Their writing is about their controlling (the Shining and Misery in particular). When Phil Dick uses writers, he uses them as creators of worlds. Thematically, Dick moulds the profession into something more deeply meaningful. The writing part is not the focus, but more the traits of what makes the character a writer. But most of the time, the use of writers as protagonists comes across as lazy and self-serving. It comes across as unrelated to the reality of actually being a writer (and let's not get started with characters in films who are writers - no amount of montaging will make writing sexy). Or at least, I can't identify with the characters. They appear as stereotypes of writers, which is ironic given that they are being created by writers and even worse, their own writing wouldn't pass muster if written by their creators. That always bugs me. Writers who writer in novels read like writers, rather than real writers who do not, who disguise the effort and artifice with seeming ease.
So please, let's call time on writers as protagonists in works of fiction.
Unless they're interesting*.
Unless they're Paul Sheldon with his missing "e" on that very special typewriter.
*because the thing with all rules, especially in writing is this: don't break them, unless its the right thing to do.