The film “The Words” starts with a deceptively simple sentence: “The old man stood in the rain.” The old man stands outside, waiting for writer Rory Jansen, played by Bradley Cooper, to finish reading an excerpt from his book. Only it’s not really his book. Jeremy Irons, the gentleman in the rain, wrote the novel that Rory is passing off as his own. Rory knows that the author of this mysteriously discovered novel, left in a tattered briefcase, is certainly a better writer than he is, but he is so desperate to be published that he passes off the novel he has found as his own.

“The Words” utilizes the structure of meta-fiction, a kind of story inside a story. In this instance an author, played by Dennis Quaid, writes a novel where the main character is also a writer. He is a writer who has stolen work from another writer. Viewers are teased throughout, wondering if Quaid’s character has also committed intellectual theft.

The premise of the story revolves around the issue of plagiarism. From my limited knowledge of the publishing industry, it’s very difficult to prove that a novelist has stolen someone else’s writing. Not even titles can be copyrighted, but consider the foolishness of someone who would name their new work of original fiction “Angels and Demons.” I imagine a literary agent would insist on some other title, something not so identified with a specific author. Not only is it impossible to copyright titles, basic plots also do not belong to the writer. The only thing that can be protected is the expression of an idea, and it is difficult even in this circumstance to prove intellectual theft.

I once ran across a young man who swore to me that he had ghostwritten the Harry Potter stories. Suffice it to say I had the impression that this writer was not completely balanced. It does remind me, though, of all the authors who are afraid to send out their work, fearing that someone will steal the best bits of their originality. Hence the neurotic nature of so many novelists.

Then there is the example of the blurring of fiction and creative nonfiction. James Frey, author of “A Million Little Pieces,” tried to sell his novel to publishers as a work of fiction, but was advised to re-market it as a memoir. Oprah Winfrey, for one, was not amused at being duped.

In my mind, “The Words” successfully captures the anxieties and the angst of writers trying to leave something on paper for readers to discover, even long after their death.

The basic plot in “The Words” may have been inspired of the true story of Ernest Hemingway’s loss of all his early work. He was born in 1899, and committed suicide July 2, 1961, but interestingly, everything he wrote before 1922 has been lost. His first wife Hadley packed all his work into a briefcase and then left it behind on a train. It takes a special kind of gumption and resolve to continue on, convinced of your special talents and abilities, even when you’ve lost so much work.

Whether “The Words” was inspired by this true tale is not clear. But the experience of trying to protect original works of fiction rings true for many writers to this day. The challenge is to carry on, firmly believing that your efforts alone in your room late at night have value. To borrow a line from David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

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