Vernon Hardapple, the Muse

There is a scene in the movie Wonder Boys that is hilarious and educational for writers.  Michael Douglas portrays Grady Tripp, a college professor who garnered critical acclaim with his first novel and has been stuck for seven years, unable to repeat his initial success.  Robert Downey, Jr. shines as Terry Crabtree, his editor who desperately needs Tripp to complete his sophomore offering, now a whopping 2,000 pages.  Toby McGuire is spot-on as James Leer, Tripp’s talented writing student whose peculiar quirks are never identified in the movie. 


The three are a motley crew, exchanging thoughts about the current state of the publishing industry and those around them.  Tripp joins Crabtree and Leer in a local tavern one night and the three talk-out a brilliant character profile game.  Their eyes are glued to a man seated in a booth across from them.  As the short, animated man’s arms flail, the crew paints his life before our eyes:


TC: Oh my goodness, do you see what I see? Right there, let’s go, you first!

GT: President of the James Brown hair club for men. He a boxer, a fly weight.

TC: No, no, he’s a jockey and his name is Curtis…Curtis Hardapple,

GT: Not Curtis

TC: Okay, Vernon, Vernon Hardapple. The scars are from a horse. He fell during a race, he got trampled

GT: He’s addicted to pain killers

TC: He can’t even piss standing up

GT: He lives with his mother

TC: That’s right. He’s got a younger brother…

GT: Who’s a groom named Claudelle, and his mother blames Vernon for Claudelle’s death, because

TC: Because…

In creative sync, James chimes in:


JL: He was killed when a gangster named Freddy Nostrils tried to shoot his favorite horse.  Claudelle took the bullet himself. Vernon, over there, was in on the hit.


Since watching that scene, I find myself looking for Vernon Hardapples around me.  This game keeps my creative juices flowing and inspires me to continue writing when I don’t feel like it or I’m afraid.  Your game might not be profiles; perhaps you prefer magazine perusing or eavesdropping.  Fertile writing material is everywhere and there for the taking.  Think of Vernon the next time you’re stuck.