From Carrie Bradshaw to Jack Torrance, We Workshopped TV and Film Characters’ Bad Writing


As you may have noticed from a couple of lists Flavorwire’s published now, characters on TV and in film like to write. Because writers of TV and film clearly like to write about writers like themselves (and writers of blogs apparently like to write about writers writing about writers). But it’s rare that we actually see or hear their fictional written products. Even characters who’re supposed to be “good writers” only appear as such through the praise they receive from other characters, or by their accomplishments within their imaginary worlds.

Sadly, when it comes to the rare samples of their writing we actually see/hear, we get a much less convincing portrait. We’ve captured the writing samples of a series of fictional writers, and ranked them from worst to, well, more-worst. We’ve also given them some “constructive criticism” along the way.

Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), Girls

Dear Hannah,

I must say, I am impressed with your progress over these past few years. From your earlier days of “stunt” journalism, you have greatly improved on both the quality of your prose and the clarity of your voice as a writer. You have learned how to situate yourself in your writing and to rely not on shock tactics but the skilled employment of sentence structure, metaphor, repetition, and specific details. You might consider further refining and following through on your use of metaphor and simile. I look forward to reading your revision. (P.S., is that dress Eileen Fisher? Love it.)

Kenneth Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), Mad Men

Dear Ken,

It’s rare that I have the privilege of critiquing a student’s work that has already been published, and in such an esteemed journal as The Atlantic, practically unheard of. You have a lovely way with words; I particularly enjoyed the phrase, “coaxing the sweetness from trees” to describe maple-tapping in “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning.” However, the reference to the “smooth” taste of Lucky Strike cigarettes in the fourth graf is slightly jarring and incongruous with the tone of the piece. Subsequent mentions of brand-named products such as Secor laxatives, Right Guard deodorant, Bethlehem Steel, Dr. Scholl’s, Vick’s, Clearasil, Belle Jolie lipstick, and something called the “Relax-a-cizor” are similarly obtrusive. In addition, I must point out that a published work of fiction is hardly the place to air petty grievances about your co-workers. I suggest cutting.

Katarina Stratford (Julia Stiles), 10 Things I Hate About You

Dear Katarina,

You present a work of attempted poignancy, but you rely on cliché as a shortcut. That’s not going to fly at Sarah Lawrence College. Since you very clearly attempt to speak to the universal urge for everyone to win back the paint-balling 20-something Australian high schooler they’ve fought with, one would think it’d be easy to relate to this poem. And yet by grasping for trite relationship tropes and cheap rhymes, you undercut the otherwise tender nature of the poem, building nothing but a rampart of repellent sentimentalism. (You, yourself, could follow my lead and use more alliteration.) Of course, one cannot really blame you for this work, as everyone knows you’ve just plagiarized failed poet William Shakespeare. Enjoy your decades of paralyzing student debt.

Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), Jane the Virgin

Dear Jane,

There are a few gripes I have with this piece of writing; the first is that it wants to be a page within a conventional narrative, and yet there’s a wonderful but here inconvenient person named Jane — that’s you! — obscuring half of the text; the experimentalism and interplay between author and subject is fascinating, but is this massive version of you on the page really helping the narrative along? There is an interesting self-critiquing quality here, though, where you reference “clichés that gave her comfort” within a genre built on comforting clichés. Of course, I’m Team Rafael, so do take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Sex and the City

Dear Carrie,

You’ve had major success wondering things in the back pages of the New York Star, but I think it’d do you good to tone down the greeting card philosophy as you move forth as a high society wedding poet. Your writing frivolously evades the truth, à la the beginning of your poem, “His hello was the end of her endings.” Poetry doesn’t shy away from darkness, for it is a truth-seeking art. Do not ignore the fact that if the two lovers don’t divorce, they will ultimately die, and that all that we really have in this life is a stampede of endings. Perhaps you can reframe without totally rewriting. Change the line, “His hand would be hers to hold forever” to “His hand would be hers to hold until they’re separated into respective urns and scattered in places their families don’t deem too inconvenient, perhaps up Metro North, but nowhere past Poughkeepsie.” Etc.

Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear), You’ve Got Mail

Dear Frank,

Setting aside the egregious breach of journalistic conduct in the very fact that you have written this plea to save the charming Upper West Side children’s bookstore Shop Around the Corner — despite the fact that you are the boyfriend of said shop owner — this piece reeks of pseudo-intellectual posturing and uninspired prose. The phrase “cold cash cow,” while pleasingly alliterative, leans too heavily on cliché, and you cite a Herodotus quote that I am unable to find via a simple online search. Please revise with proper footnotes.

Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore), Never Been Kissed

Dear Josie,

While it is true that I’ve instructed all students to “write what you know,” I fear you’ve taken my advice too literally. I did not mean that you could only write about your experience as a 25-year-old copy-editor who has, as you say, “never been kissed”; I simply meant you might tap into an existing pool of experience and emotion to generate fully-formed characters and situations. I did not mean to suggest students enroll themselves in high school so as to relive their formative years under the guise of an undercover newspaper report. May I remind you that a reporter reports; what you have turned in is not journalism so much as memoir. The fault may be mine; perhaps this was too ambitious an assignment for your first newspaper article.

Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere), You’re the Worst

Dear Jimmy,

I appreciate your passion for this project and the speed with which you’ve submitted this draft; I applaud your work ethic. However, I am concerned with what I see as consistently over-the-top hero-worship of your protagonist, who I note shares a great deal of similarities with yourself. And while I appreciate your obvious zeal for the material, I also worry about your tendency to write in long, stream-of-conscious bursts that ramble from one topic to the next. How, for instance, in four sentences, do you get from the horrors of 9/11 to the old Hollywood adage that who you know is as important as the roles you take? Your protagonist is a writer himself; he might suggest you edit your work as enthusiastically as you write it. It would also behoove you to make your work easier to read and remove all watermarks before submitting.

Christian (Ewan MacGregor), Moulin Rouge

Dear Christian,

I don’t know if I’m supposed to be impressed by your ability to type out the lyrics of “Nature Boy,” but I’ve never seen such juvenile antics. Tell it to a diary. Get back to me when you can at least type out the lyrics to “Roxanne.”

Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Westworld

Dear Dr. Ford,

I know (SPOILER ALERT) your real finale was to have Dolores Wyatt-ize and kill a bunch of guests, and you certainly accomplished that. But as writers is it not our need to strive for well-roundedness? Your ability to write pathos is currently lagging behind your ability to write gore and vengeance. How should I invest in the tragedy of Dolores’ (faux) death scene if it’s set to overwrought strings and silhouetted by shlocky moonlight, as your lead philosophizes herself to death with words about the “beautiful trap[s] inside of us?” Also, your choice of genre has always dumbfounded me.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), All the President’s Men

Fake news. SAD. — Prof. DJT

Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh), Veep

Dear Mr. McClintock,

Roundabout, meaningless and reckless political writing like yours paved the way for the likes of Donald Trump. Luckily, now that that’s happened, all you need to do to continue your career under the new regime is to follow the winning 140-word madlib format beginning with an actress, reality show host, or civil rights leader’s name, followed by an action verb connoting something bad, and ending with an exclamatory adjective.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), The Shining

Dear Jack,