Dennis Quaid plays a famous writer, Clay Hammond, who reads excerpts from his newest book to an auditorium full of people. His book is the story of an aspiring writer, Rory Jansen (played by Bradley Cooper) trying to break into the world of published writers in New York. Rory struggles for three years writing his first novel, while his girlfriend Dora (played by Zoe Saldana) works to support both of them. They can barely make ends meet and Rory has to continuously borrow money from his father just to survive. Even though Rory works very hard, and puts in the effort, his writing is just not good enough.
Rory is forced to take a job as a mail clerk at a literary agency so that he may make connections there to help him advance his writing career. Rory and Dora get married. They honeymoon in Paris. While in Paris, they find an old valise which they buy from an antique shop. While Rory is continuing to struggle to write, one day he notices something in the valise. It is a very old typewritten manuscript of a novel. Rory reads it and he becomes enchanted with the work. He realizes how great the writing is, because it is so much better that his own work. He cannot get the story out of his mind. He types it word for word into his computer, mostly so he can experience how it feels to write really great work.
His wife Dora finds the writing by accident. She reads it on his computer. She tells Rory it is fantastic, one of the best things she has ever read. She convinces him to show it to the literary agent at his work, which he does. Nothing happens for months, but finally the agent reads it. He is overcome with enthusiasm about the book, signs Rory under contract, then the book is published. It is both a commercial and critical success. An old man watches Rory get into a limo on his way with his wife to accept an award for the best new writer of the year. Rory accepts all the accolades from the public, from his friends, from his parents and his wife.
Then the old man follows him to the park. The old man tells Rory that he is the one that lost the book that was found by Rory. Rory's world comes crashing down, not because the old man rats him out, but because of his guilt over what he has done. The old man tells Rory a very sad true story about what happened in Paris. How he was inspired to write the book by his beautiful young wife. They had a daughter together, but the little girl got sick and died. His wife left him to grieve with her parents and during this time of great emotional suffering, he wrote the book. He gave his wife the only copy, which she lost by leaving the valise containing the manuscript on the train when she returned from her parents back to Paris. He gets so upset over losing the book, and the sadness of his daughter's death mixed with homesickness that he leaves Paris, goes back to the USA and never returns.
For years, he regrets what he has done and is not able to write anything at all ever again. Much later, he sees his wife from Paris by accident on a train platform in the U.S. She is with her new husband and child. He watches her kiss them from the train window, then she sees him. They exchange a wave with each other as the train leaves the station carrying him away with it. This story of the life told by the old man to Rory, just makes Rory feel even more guilty. He tries to pay the old man, but the old man does not want money. All the old man can say is that when humans make a big mistake they have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.
Rory confesses to his wife that he stole the book. He also tells his agent. The agent demands he keep it a secret because of the professional damage to the agent's career that would occur should the truth get out. The old man dies and the secret dies with him. Rory still pretends that he is the author, but he takes the original manuscript and drops it in the grave with the old man's casket which is yet to be buried at his grave site.
Thus Clay Hammond the writer finishes explaining the story, to a young woman, who is attracted to him, and gets him to take her home after the public book reading. She does not believe this is the true ending to the story and forces the writer Hammond, to indicate that he could actually have written this story about himself.
Best part of story, including ending:
It is interesting that there are nested mysteries in this story, from the story about the writer who writes the new book, to the story in the book about a writer that stole a manuscript, to the back-story of the writer who wrote the manuscript.
Best scene in story:
When Rory notices that there is a thumbprint in ink on the old typewritten manuscript clearly identifying the writer and that it certainly is not his work. For a brief moment he comes out of his delusion and realizes the seriousness of what he is doing.
Opinion about the main character:
Rory makes a big mistake. When he finally realizes the extent of it, he wants to come clean, but it is not so easy to achieve that.