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“Ruby Sparks” is a Great Movie About the Creative Writing Process

August 27, 2012

By John C.

The creative writing process is often filled with personal dilemmas and constant headaches as we strive to create a product that is both easily understood and appreciated by readers.  Movies about this process can work brilliantly, written by screenwriters who know more than enough about their craft to create an entire movie centred around the formation of an idea.  Such is the case with the independent gem Ruby Sparks, which opened in theatres on August 3rd.

Acclaimed author Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) published his first novel at just nineteen, and ten years later is still struggling to write a worthy follow up.  His days are spent suffering from writer’s block in front of his trusty typewriter and having much needed sessions with the soft spoken Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould).  But then he starts writing about a quirky young artist named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) who first came to him in the form of a dream, and she suddenly appears to him in real life.

Fully expecting to be his girlfriend, she has no recollection of the fact that she seemingly didn’t exist before he started writing.  At first Calvin’s brother Harry (Chris Messina) doesn’t believe him, until they realize that they can control Ruby merely by writing what comes next in the story.  As the brilliantly playful tagline for the film reads, “she’s out of his mind.”  But there are also themes of obsession on display, as the socially awkward young writer finally finds a girlfriend that has to do exactly what he wants.

As Calvin starts feeling compelled to control Ruby, the film becomes a clear metaphor for the entire writing process.  Authors often become attached to their characters to the point of not wanting to let them go.  The more you write about them, the more they become your own creation.  The less you write, the more they begin to slip away from you and take on a personality of their own.  Sometimes the characters can only be released once they have been published.  These theories come into play in the brilliant finale of Ruby Sparks, as the film reaches a crescendo that stands proudly alongside the great Being John Malkovich.  Is it really fair to control another human being, even if they are just a character that we have manifested in our minds?

I started working on my own screenplay three years ago this September, and had a completed first draft after about eighteen months.  Now I’ve spent about as long adapting the script into a novel, and hope to have a completed manuscript within the next few months.  After spending several years with these characters existing only in my head, I feel deeply attached to them.  But at a certain point I also want them to be brought into the world by way of a publisher, so that they can become real for other people who read the book.  I don’t believe that my characters are real to the point that they will be able to show up in my kitchen, but they are real in the sense that I have helped them change over the course of the story.  But they are only capable of feeling the emotions that I feel when I sit down to actually write.

Zoe Kazan wrote the screenplay for Ruby Sparks as a vehicle for her boyfriend Paul Dano, which means that she essentially wrote a character for herself to fall in love with.  The film is directed by the husband and wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also gave us the wonderful 2006 Best Picture nominee Little Miss Sunshine, continuing with the themes of writing for romance.  With shades of such modern classics as Adaptation and Stranger Than Fiction, Ruby Sparks is guaranteed to be remembered as one of the best movies about the creative writing process.

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