5 (Somewhat) Successful Fictional Writers in TV and Film

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Rohan Elliott
| May 3, 2024
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Being a writer is hard. Between finding the motivation to actually write (something I know quite well after spending 3 years writing my latest short story, Survivors Alley), there’s the fear of getting your work shredded by critics and readers, the fear of not getting any traction for your work and… well, just a lot of fear and anxiety actually.

Nevertheless, we persist for the love of the craft, and some manage to burst through and make a career out of it. Success in this industry is different depending on who you ask. It can be getting critical acclaim, becoming the next literary great, or selling a shit tonne of books. Personally, I feel like it’s a mix of acclaim, audience appeal, and longevity because there’s no point in burning so bright you burn out with your first book.

So, today, I’ll be looking at some writers and judging their success using this hodge-podge method. I won’t be judging actual authors because I’m an abject coward, and it’s much easier talking about fictional characters than real people. 

Paul Sheldon – Misery (1990)

We’re kicking this discussion off with probably every writer’s worst nightmare – the crazy stalker fan. In the film Misery, an adaptation of Stephen King‘s horror novel, romance writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is injured in a car crash and taken in by former nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). The good news is that Paul’s not dead, and his injuries should heal with proper medical care. The bad news? He’s bedridden, and Annie’s the only one who knows where he is… and she’s keeping him locked in her guest room. She ends up using her illicit stash of pain pills to keep him dancing along to her tune, making Paul dependent on her to battle the pain.

It turns out that Paul despises the romance novels that have led to his fame and wants to write something different, so he kills off his main character in one final installment and begins penning a new crime series. Well, it turns out Annie is Sheldon’s number one fan and doesn’t take too kindly to Paul killing off her favourite character. From then, he is maimed, tortured, and held captive by Annie, all while having to write a new story that returns his despised character from the grave.

So all up, he’s an author who hates his novels, got trapped by the world’s worst fan, and lost a couple of appendages. It’s pretty hard to classify that as successful, no matter how you swing it.

Elle Conway – Argyle (2023)

Moving on to a writer that can’t get enough of her characters, we’ve got Elle Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) from the latest Matthew Vaughn film, Argylle. Elle is the author of a critically acclaimed and popular book series following international super spy Argylle on globe-trotting adventures in the vein of James Bond but somehow more conspicuous. She’s written her fourth book and is in the middle of working on the final book in the series when it turns out there’s something special about her books. Her books predict the future, and some nefarious people want her so they can harness the powers of her prose. 

After a series of twists and turns that could best be described as enthusiastic (see my review for more details), it’s revealed that she’s actually a super spy and was Argylle all along. The books were just her memories being processed by her mind after suffering amnesia. In the end, Elle forgoes the world of spies and returns to writing books. We’re never told if she ends up writing any other books, but to have an internationally bestselling series and have them predict the future is something most writers would dream of.

The fact she ends up with Sam Rockwell (be still my beating heart) is another plus. On the balance of probabilities, we’ll chalk Elle up as a successful writer.

Phil Blackwood – Her Alibi (1989)

We’re continuing the theme of spy thrillers with our next writer, the mystery writer Phil Blackwood (Tom Selleck) from the romance film Her Alibi. Phil has been having a tough time of it currently, suffering from writer’s block with his latest writing efforts full of predictable plots and declining interest from the public. To cure this mental block, he attends the local court to get the creative juices flowing. He gets more than he bargains for when he locks eyes on the alluring Romanian defendant, Nina (Paulina Porizkova).

Over the period of weeks, Phil’s creative spark returns in the process of documenting his escapades with himself and Nina, embellishing reality through the eyes of his character and crafting his best piece of work in years. In the course of clearing the writer’s block, he also learns how to open himself up and love again.

Many writers in their careers struggle with writer’s block, and overcoming it for anyone is a great success. Phil Blackwood has been there and done that and come out the other side. If nothing else, that’s the real marker of success.

Joan Wilder – Romancing The Stone (1984)

Keeping ourselves in the 1980s romance niche, we’ve got the romance writer Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) from the adventure film Romancing the Stone. Like many writers in films, Joan is successful, writing best-selling hit after hit, but she doesn’t have a man, so her life is a mess, according to what we see at the start of the film. She’s the atypical cat lady living in an apartment alone in New York City. Enter in some scary gangsters from South America, a kidnapped sister, and an ill-placed truck, and just like that, Joan is introduced to the love interest, Jack T Colton (Michael Douglas), and the film really gets motoring along.

It turns out that the kidnapped sister has clues about this mysterious stone that she sent to Joan, which everyone is after, including Jack. During their jaunt across the jungle dodging police and one determined Danny DeVito, Joan and Jack become closer, and you can almost hear the lovely tune playing in Joan’s head as the dynamic duo survive dangerous encounters and bond over a stack of weed. During it, there’s that lingering doubt about Jack. Is he along for Joan or the stone?

In the end, Joan’s sister is saved, the stone is lost (?), and Joan returns back to New York to continue her life of lonely nights writing and thinking of Jack… oh wait, never mind, he’s here with a suspiciously shiny yacht to whisk her away on the voyage of her dreams. Now, is Joan successful? I mean, yeah, she’s a romance writer in the eighties with eighties Michael Douglas (hoo boy). Yeah, let’s put her in the successful column.

Richard Castle – Castle (2009 – 2016)

Ending our list with one of my favourite writers in fiction (and a favourite actor to boot), we’ve got the ever-exuberant Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) from the eponymous Castle. A best-selling mystery writer with fans all over the world, Castle gets bored and decides to become a police consultant for the NYPD, being paired up with Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) for years and eventually winning her over with his charm. He continues to write during this time and even launches a new series based (loosely) on the detective herself, which could best be described as ballsy.

A lot of writers struggle when going from an established series to something new, be that new characters, settings, or even new genres. Audiences can be fickle beasts even at the best of times with the biggest names in the business. The fact that Castle was able to switch tracks to write a brand new series and still have it sell gangbusters, even while helping the police crack cases as a day job, shows that whatever he’s writing, his audience must love him. That has to be the mark of a truly successful writer and, as such, he tops the list.

Have we missed any fictional writers that could topple Castle? What do you think makes writers successful? Let us know in the comments below.

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