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50 Fictional Writers, Ranked

The best and worst from literature, film, & TV.

Literary Hub

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Everyone knows that writers love to write about writers. In fact, if an alien had to guess which profession was most common on earth based on our media alone—well, honestly it would probably be Detective, or Cop or something, but Writer would be up there too. So which fictional writers should we most avidly promote to our future alien overlords? I have no idea, but here I’ve taken a look at 50 favorite writers from film, literature and TV (and their many intersections). I’ve limited the list to fictional writers of literature—that is, I have excluded both journalists (yes, even Rory) and screenwriters. This is really only because I had to draw the line somewhere or wind up writing this list for the rest of time, and no one wants that, least of all my family. I also excluded biopics and other works in which real-world authors appear with their real-world names, though if a fictional character is simply based on a real writer, I found that to be admissible. As far as the rankings go, well, it’s not always easy to tell who is a good writer and who isn’t, especially when we’re talking about imaginary abilities. Besides, most fictional writers are either extremely bad or extremely good—at least according to their creators. Let’s just say I’ve gone with my gut.

50. Phil Blackwood, Her Alibi

Author bio: Tom Selleck is a crime writer who has had writer’s block for four years, and starts haunting local courtrooms to look for material. There he finds and falls for a young woman accused of murder and offers to be her alibi—and also starts writing about her, of course. Roger Ebert, who gave this movie .5 stars, sums up Blackwood’s writing style this way:

One of the minor curiosities of the movie is why the Selleck character is such a bad writer. His prose is a turgid flow of cliche and stereotype, and when we catch a glimpse of his computer screen, we can’t help noticing that he writes only in capital letters. Although the movie says he’s rich because of a string of best sellers, on the evidence this is the kind of author whose manuscripts are returned with a form letter.


Representative excerpt: “Despite the dozens of ravishing creatures begging to be part of his life, Swift had lived alone since his wife . . . was incinerated several years before, when the microwave went berserk during a thunderstorm.”

49. Ms. Perky, 10 Things I Hate About You

Author bio: The high school guidance counselor who is only semi-secretly writing the Next Great American Romance Novel during work hours: Undulating with desire, Adrian removes her red crimson cape at the sight of Reginald’s stiff and . . . Judith!

Literary wisdom: “Quivering member. I like that.”

48. Spike, Angel

Author bio: Spike goes through a hell of a transition over the many years of his life and undeath—and I don’t just mean the vampire thing, or the soul thing. As a youth, William the Bloody was mocked for his “bloody awful poetry.” Later, he worked out his feelings by killing a lot of people. But in the very last episode of Angel, facing destruction, Spike finally gets his standing ovation. It’s . . . surprisingly touching! If only that made the poetry better.

Classic slam poem:

My soul is wrapped in harsh repose
Midnight descends in raven-colored clothes
But soft. Behold! A sunlight beam
Cutting a swath of glimmering gleam
My heart expands, ’tis grown a bulge in it
Inspired by your beauty . . . effulgent.”

47. Jughead Jones, Riverdale

Author bio: Of course Riverdale‘s resident misfit gets the job of being the writer—a charming little meta-intrusion. Jughead claims that he is writing “Riverdale’s very own In Cold Blood.” Well, as you can see from the excerpt below, In Cold Blood it ain’t, but his hat is cute.

Opening lines: “Our story is about a town, a small town, and the people who live in the town. From a distance, it presents itself like so many other small towns all over the world. Safe. Decent. Innocent. Get closer, though, and you start seeing the shadows underneath. The name of our town is Riverdale.”

48. Jimmy Shive-Overly, You’re the Worst

Author bio: Jimmy is a British writer and extreme narcissist living in Los Angeles and working on following up his poorly received Congratulations, You’re Dying with a new project, “the first truly literary erotic novel since Portnoy’s Complaint.” Apparently, it has a few too many descriptions of semen on stockings.

Literary wisdom: “Writing is very seldom actual writing. Maybe on the outside it looks as though I’m drinking and playing darts and eating craisins out of a bag in my pocket, but this is part of the process. It’s all writing. And I need you to respect my process.”

45. Noah Solloway, The Affair

Author bio: In the first season of The Affair, Noah is a semi-successful (read: one okay book out) novelist who . . . has an affair. His first book is called A Person Who Visits a Place, to which I can only say . . . lol. In the second season, he publishes a novel, Descent, that gets him nominated for a PEN/Faulkner award, hailed as “the new bad boy of American letters,” and turns him into a bestseller—which is not even the most far-fetched part. The actual most far-fetched part is that he successfully gets a woman’s number with the line “Is there a green light at the end of your dock, Daisy?”, or maybe that his publicist drops the bomb that . . . Jonathan Franzen wants to meet him. Cool!

Excerpt from Descent: “They were driving fast. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an old boat painted blue, resting on the side of the road, dilapidated, rotting as if the air itself was corrosive.”

44. Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

Author bio: Shouldn’t really be on this list, because she’s a whiny newspaper columnist who writes one column a week and somehow lives a lavish, fashionista lifestyle. I guess she eventually turns her columns into a memoir-ish book (and at least according to Wikipedia, she goes on to write several more, with horrible, horrible names like MEN-hattan and I Do! Do I?), and I don’t want to get emails about how I missed her, so here she is.

One of the many things Carrie wonders: “I used to think those people who sat alone at Starbucks writing on their laptops were pretentious posers. Now I know–they’re people who have recently moved in with someone. As I looked around, I wondered how many of them were mid-fight, like myself.”

43. Eli Cash, The Royal Tenenbaums

Author bio: Assistant professor of English literature at Brooks College, who hit the big-time with his second novel, Old Custer. Literary legend has it that Anderson wrote Cash to be a sort of fusion of Cormac McCarthy and Jay McInerney. (Plus fringe, I suppose.) Grew up with a family of geniuses. Especially not a genius. No, she didn’t even have to think about it.

Elevator pitch: “Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is . . . maybe he didn’t?”

42. Jess Mariano, Gilmore Girls

Author bio: Rory isn’t here, so you’ll have to content yourself with Rory’s Best Boyfriend, who also happened to be a writer—coincidence? I think not. After escaping Stars Hollow, Jess writes a novel (which sounds suspiciously Beat-ish), and publishes it with a small press—years later, it is he who suggests that Rory write her memoir. A novelist and a muse!

Literary repartee: “Hey, I’ve read Jane Austen . . . and I think she would have liked Bukowski.”

41. Bernard and Joan Berkman, The Squid and the Whale

Author(s) bio: In middle age, Bernard is a writer gone to seed—but Joan is a writer on the ascendant. Needless to say, they get divorced.

Harsh but fair: “What is it about high school? You read all the worst books by good writers.”

40. Philip Lewis Friedman, Listen Up Philip

Author bio: Misanthropic, young, narcissistic Philip has sold his second novel, and is primed to become a Famous and Important writer. But waiting for it to get published is intolerable to him, and every person or responsibility making demands on his time drives him to anger. Enter his idol, legendary writer Ike Zimmerman, who offers him respite at his summer home. This is not a film that will make you like writers, but if you already know a few, you’re likely to laugh at them.

Advice from Ike: “You’ll need a country retreat if you want to get anything done.”

39. Laurie Garvey, The Leftovers

Author bio: Former therapist and cultist who emerges to write a tell-all book about it (this being more or less the opposite of a vow of silence, I’d say). Her publisher wants more “feeling” but I think he’s probably just being sexist.

The bottom line: “They believe the world ended.”

38. Holly Martins, The Third Man

Author bio: An American writer of pulp Westerns who gets mighty involved in his attempt to clear a friend’s name in Allied-occupied Vienna.

Telling exchange:

POPESCU: Can I ask is Mr. Martins engaged in a new book?
MARTINS: Yes, it’s called The Third Man.
POPESCU: A novel, Mr. Martins?
MARTINS: It’s a murder story. I’ve just started it. It’s based on fact.
POPESCU: Are you a slow writer, Mr. Martins?
MARTINS: Not when I get interested.
POPESCU: I’d say you were doing something pretty dangerous this time.
POPESCU: Mixing fact and fiction.
MARTINS: Should I make it all fact?
POPESCU: Why no, Mr. Martins. I’d say stick to fiction, straight fiction.
MARTINS: I’m too far along with the book, Mr. Popescu.
POPESCU: Haven’t you ever scrapped a book, Mr. Martins?

37. Rat Billings, Adult World

Author bio: A punk literary poet of the ’90s—or so everyone thinks, anyway. Willing to help out needy and deluded young writers by publishing their work in his new anthology: Shit Poems: An Anthology of Bad Verse.

Literary wisdom: “Love . . . love until you hate. Then learn to hate your love. Then forgive your hate for loving it.”

36. Mavis Gary, Young Adult

Author bio: The totally together author of a “disturbingly popular” but soon-to-be-cancelled young adult series who—while on deadline, mind you—decides to jet off on a bizarre pilgrimage to her childhood home, hoping to win back her (married) ex-boyfriend and (presumably) her own long-past young adult life.

Key excerpt: “Just as Kendall hit send, a message from Ryan popped up like magic. It couldn’t be denied, they had textual chemistry.”

35. Hannah Horvath, Girls

Author bio: All through Girls, people wondered: is Hannah Horvath supposed to be a good writer? She doesn’t seem like a good writer—but she gets into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She writes an e-book—but it disintegrates. She gets a job writing advertorials for GQ—but she fails at that. She gets published in the Modern Love column, and in the end, she gets a pretty unlikely job! So, maybe?

So say we all: “My persona’s very witty and narcissistic.”

34. Jack Torrance, The Shining

Author bio: Your typical alcoholic writer type, who accepts a winter position at the Overlook in the hopes of fixing up his life—and (of course) finding time to work. It does not go that well!

Authorial compulsion: “He would write it because the Overlook had enchanted him—could any other explanation be so simple or so true? He would write it for the reason he felt that all great literature, fiction and nonfiction, was written: truth comes out, in the end it always comes out. He would write it because he felt he had to.”

33. Jane Gloriana Villanueva, Jane the Virgin

Author bio: Accidentally inseminated virgin with dreams of writing—who makes her dreams come true, getting an MFA, getting a job at a publishing house, getting discovered, and publishing her first novel, a historical romance based on her own life called Snow Falling, which (like several other fictional novels on this list) you can read (as ghostwritten by Caridad Pineiro)—Nicole Chung even reviewed it at The Washington PostBut that first book was met with middling reviews in-world too, and in season four, Jane fixates on bad reviews and suffers from writer’s block. Life isn’t easy when you’re a writer . . . or when you’re constantly beset by telenovela-style drama at every turn.

The strangely familiar opening to Snow Falling: “Josephine Galena Valencia always did things the right way and in the right order. At the ripe old age of twenty-three Josephine had finalized her master plan, and nothing was going to keep her from accomplishing it: find a job as a tutor, finish a novel, and marry Martin. Or so she thought . . . ”

32. Jo March, Little Women

Author bio: An obvious alter ego for Louisa May Alcott herself, Jo is a strong-willed tomboy who loves to read and write. She writes plays and short stories in her youth, and later goes to seek success as a writer in New York City. In the end, she gives up writing and gets married (though to the man of her choice, not to the man she is “supposed” to be with, which I guess makes it fine), but then again, later, in Jo’s Boys, Alcott tells us that Jo “fell back on the long-disused pen as the only thing she could do to fill up the gaps in the income. A book for girls being wanted by a certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and her sisters . . . and with very slight hope of success, sent it out to seek its fortune.” Well, it certainly found its fortune.

Words to live by: “I like good strong words that mean something.”

31. Kilgore Trout, the Vonnegut oeuvre

Author bio: Prolific but mostly unsuccessful writer of cheap sci-fi novels (including Venus on the Half-Shell, which was adapted from the fragment in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater into a full-length novel by Philip José Farmer), named in homage to Theodore Sturgeon (who was much more successful than Trout), but whose personal details change mysteriously from book to book.

A poem:

When the tupelo
Goes poop-a-lo
I’ll come back to youp-a-lo

30. Roberta Sparrow, Donnie Darko

Author bio: As the author of The Philosophy of Time Travel, she is probably the only person who truly understands this movie.

Essential wisdom: “Every creature on this earth dies alone.”

29. Karen Eiffel, Stranger than Fiction

Author bio: A writer who always kills her main characters, but is suffering from writer’s block when it comes to how to kill her most recent one, is astonished to find that he is a flesh-and-blood Will Ferrell (however that works), but decides for the integrity of the novel—her masterpiece!—she’s going to have to kill him anyway. It is only after Will Ferrell accepts his fate, self-sacrificing in the name of art, that Eiffel loses her nerve and only seriously injures him instead—at the expense of her novel’s brilliance. His watch, however, does in fact die a horrible death.

On her murderous novel: “Like anything worth writing, it came inexplicably and without method.”

28. Gabrielle, Xena: Warrior Princess

Author bio: Once a farm girl, Gabrielle ran away to join the mighty Xena on her travels, and eventually became a good fighter as well as a bard—telling stories, singing, and writing down all of their adventures on scrolls (when Xena doesn’t use her paper for wiping with)—though often with some amount of epic embellishment. Gabrielle’s scrolls were eventually rediscovered by the descendants of her, Xena, and Joxer in the 1940s, and then in 1996, were used to pitch a cool television show called Xena: Warrior Princess . . .

Notable excerpt: “I sing of the wrath of Callisto, the pain of Gabrielle, and the courage of Xena and the inevitable mystery of a friendship as immortal as the gods.”

27. Tina Belcher, Bob’s Burgers

Author bio: A 13-year-old girl who has elaborate fantasies about butts, making out, zombies, and her friends, and often writes erotic fan fiction (or erotic friend fiction) about one, or several, or all of these at once.

An excerpt from “Buttloose,” a piece of Erotic Friend Fiction: “It was lunchtime at Wagstaff. Touching butts had been banned by the horrible headmaster Frond. Suddenly, Tina Belcher appeared in the doorway. She knew what she had to do. She grabbed Jimmy Jr.’s butt, and changed the world.”

26. Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, Orange is the New Black

Author bio: An inmate in Litchfield Penitentiary, and author of a popular (in Litchfield) erotic science fiction series entitled The Time Hump Chronicles, which stars a time-traveling robo-doll named Edwina, who must choose between that “wuss” Gilly and the dual-penised Space Admiral Rodcocker, whose semen is remarkably high in protein. It becomes so popular that the other inmates begin hounding her for more, and even writing their own fan fiction. And it’s not just the other inmates—real life writer Alyssa Cole recreated (created?) some of the Chronicles here.

Summary: “It’s not just sex, it’s love. It’s two people connecting . . . with four other people, and aliens.”

25. Benjamin Purvis, Gentlemen Broncos

Author bio: Purvis is a home-schooled teenager who writes science fiction stories. When he goes to a youth writer’s conference, he gets to meet his literary idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier. He even shows him his manuscript—Yeast Lords—which Chevalier promptly steals, rewrites, and publishes as his own. Two other kids he meets at the conference steal his story too—well, they buy it, but not without some shady business—and turn adapt it into a terrible low-budget film. After assaulting his one-time hero, Purvis is in jail. But never fear: his mom is on her way to save the day.

Excerpt from Yeast Lords: “The Nad Lab was a cold white room. Bronco, the last of the Yeast Lords, lay spread eagle, strapped to a medical pod. Someone had stolen his yeast and he had gone totally apeshit.”

24. Catherine Tramell, Basic Instinct

Author bio: A Very Sexy crime novelist who is being investigated for a murder that oddly parallels one from her fiction. She continues to write novels that very closely hew to the illegal and murderous events of her life, but no one really catches her because she is not wearing underwear.

The kiss-off: “I finished my book. Didn’t you hear me? Your character’s dead. Good-bye. What do you want? Flowers? I’ll send you an autographed copy.”

23. Diane Nguyen, BoJack Horseman

Author bio: A rare human in this universe, who majored in literature and equine studies at Boston University. She is the author of Secretariat: a Life, The Rise and Fall of Strongheart, and Tracing Zippo Pine Bar, a New York Times bestseller, and was also the ghostwriter BoJack Horseman’s autobiography, One Trick Pony, which won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical, even though it was a book.

Explanation for leaking: “I know you’re mad and you have every right to be, but you gotta read some of these comments. People love you! And they’re gonna love you even more when they read the rest of my book!”

22. Marcus Goldman, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

Author bio: We’ve heard it before: a celebrated debut novelist who can’t get his second book off the ground—until he goes to visit his old mentor and professor, who may or may not have killed a teenage girl! Marcus will solve the mystery and mine it for ideas at the same time.

Marcus on writer’s block: “My terror of the blank page did not hit me suddenly; it crept over me bit by bit, as if my brain were slowly freezing up. I told myself that inspiration would return tomorrow, or the day after, or perhaps the day after that. But the days and weeks and months went by, and inspiration never returned. . . I began to understand that glory was a Gorgon whose visage could turn you to stone if you failed to continue performing.”

21. Grady Tripp, Wonder Boys

Author bio: A professor in Pittsburgh desperately trying to write a follow-up to his award-winning debut, published seven years previous, but failing to kill his darlings—like, any of them. (Not to mention the fact that his private life is disintegrating, nor the surrealist crime with which he becomes involved.)

Fatal flaw: “Motivation, inspiration were not the problem; on the contrary I was always cheerful and workmanlike at the typewriter and had never suffered from what’s called writer’s block; I didn’t believe in it. The problem, if anything, was precisely the opposite. I had too much to write: too many fine and miserable buildings to construct and streets to name and clock towers to set chiming, too many characters to raise up from the dirt like flowers whose petals I peeled down to the intricate frail organs within, too many terrible genetic and fiduciary secrets to dig up and bury and dig up again, too many divorces to grant, heirs to disinherit, trysts to arrange, letters to misdirect into evil hands, innocent children to slay with rheumatic fever, women to leave unfulfilled and hopeless, men to drive to adultery and theft, fires to ignite at the hearts of ancient houses. It was about a single family and it stood, as of that morning, at two thousand six hundred and eleven pages, each of them revised and rewritten a half dozen times. And yet for all of those years, and all of those words expended in charting the eccentric paths of my characters through the violent blue heavens I had set them to cross, they had not even reached their zeniths. I was nowhere near the end.”

20. Briony Tallis, Atonement

Author bio: When we first meet Briony, she is a 13-year-old who likes to write; when we last hear from her, she is a novelist in her late 70s. What passes between first appears to be merely the story of her life and her family’s life, but in the final pages, all is revealed: it is she who is the author of what we have just read—and things did not turn out quite the way she said.

On her fixed-up autofiction: “I like to think that it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end. I gave them happiness, but I was not so self-serving as to let them forgive me. Not quite, not yet.”

19. Iris Chase, The Blind Assassin

Author bio: The very unhappily married true author of the novel-within-a-novel, about young Communist Alex Thomas (himself a science fiction author), which she published under her sister’s name—but won’t go to her grave without making the truth known.

On writing her abusive husband: “I’ve failed to convey Richard, in any rounded sense. He remains a cardboard cutout. I know that. I can’t truly describe him, I can’t get a precise focus: he’s blurred, like the face in some wet, discarded newspaper.”

18. Takumi Sato, Woman with a Blue Pencil

Author bio: Japanese-American Sam Sumida is investigating his wife’s murder after the attack on Pearl Harbor. But his world begins to unravel—as his creator, the novelist Takumi Sato, begins to revise it, bending to the demands of his editor, who wants the story to be more palatable to White Americans after the attack. Sato keeps making changes, to Sumida’s story and to the much-more commercial pulpy novel—with an anti-Japanese P. I.—that is replacing it, even from an internment camp.

Every writer’s nightmare: “If you were to consider revising your work to avoid the obvious issues, which would include cutting and replacing not only your Japanese hero Sumida but also the Caucasian villain, I would be willing to take a second look. Of course, I understand that this amounts to your writing a different book. But since you’ve completed only three chapters to date, your investment of time and effort have been relatively small and so re-envisioning may be a viable option for you, Mr. Sato.”

17. Ken Cosgrove, Mad Men

Author bio: Every office has at least one guy who is secretly publishing short stories on the side. Ken Cosgrove elicits jealously when he lands a story in The Atlantic Monthly, but soon he begins to write SF stories under a pseudonym, and a pre-Farrar, Straus and Giroux even wants to publish a collection. Plot of the title story, according to Ken’s wife: “There’s this bridge between these two planets and thousands of humans travel on it every day, and there’s this robot who does maintenance on the bridge. One day he removes a bolt, the bridge collapses, and everyone dies.” He’s also a great tap dancer.

Read his story:Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning,” in The Atlantic (Monthly).

16. Calvin Weir-Field, Ruby Sparks

Author bio: Everyone says that second novel is the hardest—especially when you don’t have any ideas. But turns out this fellow is a very evocative writer at least, because he manages to write his dream girl straight into actual existence. Lots of issues with control and consent ensue, but it’s all fine, because in the end he figures out the right thing to do, and gets another successful novel out of the experience in the bargain.

An excerpt from the book about Ruby: “This is the true and impossible story of my very great love. In the hope that she will not read this and reproach me, I have withheld many telling details: her name, the particulars of her birth and upbringing, and any identifying scars or birthmarks. All the same, I cannot help but write this for her, to tell her, ‘I’m sorry for every word I wrote to change you, I’m sorry for so many things. I couldn’t see you when you were here and, now that you’re gone, I see you everywhere.’ One may read this and think it’s magic, but falling in love is an act of magic. So is writing. It was once said of Catcher in The Rye, “That rare miracle of fiction has again come to pass: a human being has been created out of ink, paper and the imagination.” I am no J. D. Salinger, but I have witnessed a rare miracle. Any writer can attest: in the luckiest, happiest state, the words are not coming from you, but through you. She came to me wholly herself, I was just lucky enough to be there to catch her.”

15. Nick Miller, New Girl

Author bio: Career bartender Nick Miller’s first book was an extremely bad zombie novel called Z is for Zombie, in which he misspelled the word “rhythm” 38 times and also included a word search with no answers. His second book, The Pepperwood Chronicles, seems rather more promising—Schmidt described the main character, Julius Pepperwood, as “A hard-boiled Chicago cop turned New Orleans detective, racing around on fan-boats, drowning that two-faced DA in a bucket of jambalaya.” Nick said the book was a “New Orleans story about a guy fighting with the alligator within,” but also about “race” and “the sexualization of the American handgun.” Ok!

Notable passage: “The sun baked down on Pepperwood’s back as he moved over to the St. Charles streetcar. The driver handed him a brown paper sack. Without opening it, Pepperwood knew what was inside: blood-soaked beignets.”

14. Hank Moody, Californication

Author bio: Good writer, terrible person. Alcoholic, sex-addict, statutory rapist. Wrote a book called God Hates Us All (which now, of course, actually exists, because marketing), watched it get adapted into a movie called A Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Wrote a book called Fucking & Punching, had the manuscript get stolen and published by the teenage girl—the one who punched him. Wrote the script for the film adaptation, after getting out of jail. Wrote a biography of a dead rock star. Wrote a book called . . . Californication.

First sentence of God Hates Us All: “Daphne loved speed.”

13. Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, Erasure

Author bio: A critically acclaimed novelist who can’t seem to get his most recent manuscript published—while Ohio-born Juanita Mae Jenkins’s debut We’s Lives In Da Ghetto becomes a bestseller. So he pens a rebuttal, entitled My Pafology (and published in its entirety within Erasure, under the pen name Stagg R. Leigh—and suddenly is awash in literary fame himself.

From My Pafology: “My name is Van Go Jenkins and I’m 19 years old and I don’t give a fuck about nobody, not you, not my Mama, not the man. The world don’t give a fuck about nobody, so why would I?”

12. Paul Sheldon, Misery

Author bio: The author of the beloved Victorian-set Misery Chastain novels, including Misery’s QuestMisery’s LoverMisery’s ChildMisery’s ReturnMisery’s JourneyMisery’s Paradise, and Misery Unchained. These books must be really good, because his fandom is strong. And handy with an axe.

Literary wisdom: “Writers remember everything . . . Especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels, not amnesia. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is that ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.”

11. Elizabeth Costello, Elizabeth Costello

Author bio: It’s safe to say that Elizabeth Costello is Coetzee’s alter ego—after all, in this novel, she mostly goes around delivering lectures about literature and animal welfare. As David Lodge has observed, the main differences between Costello and Coetzee are gender and age. That, I suppose, and Costello’s most famous novel, The House on Eccles Street, a retelling of Ulysses from the perspective of Molly Bloom.

A taste of lecture: “Seen from the outside, from a being who is alien to it, reason is simply a vast tautology. Of course reason will validate reason as the first principle of the universe—what else should it do? Dethrone itself? Reasoning systems, as systems of totality, do not have that power. If there were a position from which reason could attack and dethrone itself, reason would already have occupied that position; otherwise it would not be total.”

10. T. S. Garp, The World According to Garp

Author bio: The son of a successful memoirist (her A Sexual Subject makes her a feminist icon), T. S. Garp starts out as a tortured wanna-be and finally becomes a novelist in his own right, writing books that reflect his own less-than-ideal life (The Second Wind of the Cuckold, for instance)—in fact, his literary success is really the only thing that is good that happens to him in this whole tragic novel!

Demonstrative passage: “Arden Bensenhaver took the three pieces of the bra from his pocket. He looked at the sow lying beside the men; she had one frightened eye, which appeared to be looking at all of them at once, and it was hard to tell where her other eye was looking. ‘Is that a boy pig or a girl pig?’ asked Bensenhaver.”

9. George McFly, Back to the Future

Author bio: In 1985, after nabbing his dream girl with the help of one Calvin Klein and a mysterious alien, George McFly published a best-selling science fiction novel, based in part on their love story. In 1989, it was adapted into a movie, which USA Today called “a creative misfire as well as a box office bomb,” (maybe because of all the “martial arts elements” and “country western songs”) but as of 2015, Robert Zemeckis was planning to remake it, with a script co-written by McFly himself, who hoped he could convince Zemeckis to cast Christopher Lloyd—as the alien.

Literary advice from the past/future: “Like I’ve always told you, you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

8. Richard Castle, Castle

Author bio: As a child, Richard Castle hung out at the New York Public Library (where a mysterious man once handed him a copy of Casino Royale). As an adult, Castle is a massively popular, best-selling crime novelist and sometime consultant for the NYPD and later, a PI. Pro tip: You can actually buy Richard Castle’s books—they even have Nathan Fillion’s photograph on the back (but they are probably actually written by Tom Straw).

Explanatory Voice Over: “There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking how to kill people: Psychopaths, and mystery writers. I’m the kind that pays better.”

7. Joan Castleman, The Wife

Author bio: Meg Wolitzer’s novel opens with Joan and her husband (once her creative writing professor) on the way to Helsinki, where he will be awarded a prestigious literary prize. For her part, she’s been subjugating her own career for years to support his. Because spoiler alert: Joan is the one who has written all those famous books.

Bitter description:“You might even envy us—him for all the power vacuum-packed within his bulky, shopworn body, and me for my twenty-four-hour-access to it, as though a famous and brilliant writer-husband is a convenience store for his wife, a place she can dip into anytime for a Big Gulp of astonishing intellect and wit and excitement.”

6. Dr. Watson, The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Author bio: Handsome physician and war hero; best friend of one highly neurotic and cruelly dispassionate “consulting detective,” and also his biographer. Arthur Conan Doyle, you see, is only Watson’s literary executor. In the world of Sherlock Holmes, everything was actually written by the good doctor.

The spark of inspiration: “Your merits should be publicly recognised. You should publish an account of the case. If you won’t, I will for you.”

5. William Forrester, Finding Forrester

Author bio: William Forrester won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and then became a recluse, staying holed up in his Bronx apartment. He only pops his head up years later to engage in this white savior narrative! The character is clearly based on J. D. Salinger—and a little John Kennedy Toole

Sage advice: “No thinking—that comes later. You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think!”

4. Ezra Blazer, Asymmetry

Author bio: Basically Philip Roth, but from Pittsburgh.

On that pesky Nobel Prize: “Blazer! You were robbed!”

3. Jessica Fletcher, Murder, She Wrote

Author bio: A retired English teacher who can’t drive becomes a wildly successful mystery novelist—and a top notch amateur sleuth, always besting the police in figuring out the truth behind the many, many crimes in her small Maine town (the only explanation that makes sense is that . . . Jessica was a serial killer the whole time).

Wily understatement: “Lieutenant Ames, I don’t know who or what you think I am, but I assure you, I’m simply a mystery writer from Cabot Cove, Maine.”

2. John Shade, Pale Fire

Author bio: A celebrated poet (“one oozy footprint behind Frost”) who may or may not have been recently murdered by one Charles Kinbote, annotator of his works and self-styled King of Zembla. If you need something to argue about at cocktail parties, try this: while Shade’s poem is no doubt important, and meant to be taken seriously, is it supposed to be good—or supposed to be bad? Or try this: is Shade even real, or “real”?

The first stanza of the eponymous poem:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff–and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

1. Benno von Archimboldi, 2666

Author bio: A writer so beloved and mysterious that academics, catching a whiff of him, might try to follow to Santa Teresa (to no avail). Nobel-nominated, secretly Prussian, born Hans Reiter, obsessed with seaweed.

Bibliography: Extensive.

* Elena Greco, the Neapolitan novels

Author bio: It has been pointed out to me on Twitter, which is apparently good for something, that I forgot all about Elena Ferrante’s alter ego Elena Greco. Lenù is a hardworking student who is starry-eyed at the natural brilliance of her friend Lila—but it is Elena and not Lila who will go on to college, and who will write a story about her life, which becomes a well-recieved book—and leads to more books about her life, and her friend, and the hard world from which they came. Autofiction about a writer of autofiction? What else could it be?

Literary wisdom: “Words: with them you can do and undo as you please.”

Emily Temple is the managing editor at Lit Hub. Her first novel, The Lightness, was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in June 2020.    

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This post originally appeared on Literary Hub and was published May 1, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.