As a wannabe writer myself, I spend a fair amount of time admiring the writing of others, through various different media. Though when you consider “writing”, most think of books or in recent years, the internet, but really writing appears just about everywhere. The profession is changing, evolving, with the disappearance of newspapers and physical books through the proliferation of the Kindle and its cousins, but it’s just changing, not disappearing as some would have you believe. There’s always going to be a need for the written word, whether through the spreading of important news, entertainment or just good old fashioned yarn spinning and/or bullshit.
Here are my Top 5 favorite writers, in any medium.
5. Barry Eisler
If you’ve read my blog post on favorite books, you’ve at least heard of the John Rain series. Though these books are published and marketed as boiler plate assassin thrillers, they’re far from it. Eisler, formerly of the CIA, does a great job in weaving in actual world events into his increasingly dystopic shadow world of assassins and highly skilled operatives. They’re taut, tight and a lot of fun…and you might learn something. He’ll might change your perception of the world, if you check out his stuff.
Eisler Must List: The entire Rain series and his blog.
4. Joss Whedon
Yes, I had heard of Joss Whedon BEFORE The Avengers. Though his $207M opening for the Marvel universe’s characters last May have propelled Whedon onto virtually every Hollywood A-list, he’s far from a flash in the pan. He’s the creator and writer of four highly revered television series, including the beloved Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and wrote the original Toy Story, among others. Whedon also accomplished a rare feat in television: after Firefly was canceled, he somehow managed Fox to allow him to do a feature movie with a multi-million dollar budget to give the show at least a semblance of the ending it deserved. He’s a writer who clearly loves language; play on words, irony and (intentionally) awkward conversation are among his hallmarks.
Whedon Must List: Firefly, The Avengers, Dollhouse (have patience with this one; it takes 6-7 episodes for it to reveal itself).
3. Brandon Flowers
The lead singer of The Killers, Brandon Flowers is one of the best songwriters out there. Though often criticized for lyrics that don’t quite make sense or often have an unfinished feel, it’s these exact features that make his songs work. In addition, the lyrics always flow perfectly with the beat and the music, making just about every Killers song at least listenable. His 2010 solo album Flamingo was closer to folk ballads than pure, driving rock like The Killers usually put out, but every bit as high quality. He’s also a hell of a showman, too, if you ever get a chance to go to a Killers concert.
Flowers Must List: All These Things I’ve Done, Human, Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts.
2. Richard Russo
A writer who has made a living telling the heartfelt stories of heartbreak in small towns, Russo is an author without parallel in the world today (though Justin Cronin is nipping at his heals). His characters always amaze; just when you think you have them figured out, they surprise you, just like real life. There’s nothing contrived in his books; everything feels reel. Russo published his memoirs in 2012 with Elsewhere, which, if you’ve read every previous Russo book and story (like I have, multiple times), this is a real treat. You can see virtually major character in any of his books in all the true characters in his life. Russo picked up a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his masterpiece Empire Falls and had his novel Nobody’s Fool turned into a critically acclaimed movie with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith.
Russo Must List: Straight Man, Empire Falls, Nobody’s Fool
1. Aaron Sorkin
It’s funny to think that Sorkin had absolutely no intention of becoming a screenwriter, and only became one because he wrote a critically acclaimed play in the late 1980’s that happened to get made into something of a classic film. A Few Good Men, of course, has gone down in the lexicon of pop culture for its quote “You can’t HANDLE the truth”, yelled by Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise in the iconic court scene. After his only misfire in Malice (which stared Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman), Sorkin wrote The American President. His first draft was so long that he said he knew he was in trouble when he reached page 90 and hadn’t introduced the woman yet (figure one minute per page in a screenplay). After making his break into television with Sports Night (one of the best shows in TV history), Sorkin arrived at a meeting with an NBC executive with absolutely no idea what idea he would pitch for a show. Eventually, he blurted out, “How about the White House?”, and that idea combined with the hundreds of cut pages from The American President formed the basis for The West Wing. Usually, an executive producer doesn’t handle all of the writing duties, but Sorkin’s shows are driven fully by his hyperactive dialogue, a leftover from his playwright days. Unfortunately, this ultimately led to the demise of Sports Night. Sorkin wrote virtually every line for both shows in the 1999-2000 season (and wound up taking drugs to stay sane). He ultimately chose The West Wing over Sports Night, and that led to Showtime pulling the plug on a Season 3 for the latter show after ABC made the mistake of canceling it. Sorkin wrote three straight feature films after leaving The West Wing, winning an Oscar (The Social Network) and getting nominated for another (Moneyball – which, if anything is a better writing job given its source material). Sorkin has finally found his television muse with HBO’s The Newsroom, his third show (of four) focusing on the behind-the-scenes of a live television show.
Sorkin Must List: The West Wing Seasons 1-4 (specifically Two Cathedrals, the best episode of television ever), The American President, Sports Night, The Newsroom