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Ghostwriter

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A person who writes using the name of another writer.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
Malady on Aug 26th 2017 at 6:37:21 PM
Last Edited By:
Malady on May 1st 2018 at 8:14:39 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

A ghostwriter is someone who writes under the name of another writer, passing off their work as the work of the other writer.

It may be a Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job.

A part of Playing Cyrano, where a Love Letter or some other written token of affection is written by someone to be passed off as written by someone else.

Different from writing under a psuedonym, as in that case, the writer is the same person, but under a different name, instead of pretending to be a different writer altogether.

A part of Extruded Book Product schemes, when combined with rapid throughput and likely Strictly Formula.

Not to be confused with the TV series, Ghostwriter. Also not to be confused with any author who writes about ghosts. Also not the film, The Ghost Writer, which is about one, however.

It may be an Uncredited Role, but sometimes they are credited.

Connected to Pre-Approved Sermon, whose speaker takes the credit for writing a ghostwriter sermon's, as the ghostwriter wants the sermon and its message to seem authentic, by making listeners think that the sermon was the message of the speaker, instead of the ghostwriter.


Examples

Anime and Manga

  • In Jubei-chan, Sai Nanohana, father of the heroine Jiyu, is a ghostwriter of Jidai Geki novels about samurai. He proves to be dangerously Genre Savvy whenever the plot allows him to find out about the battles his daughter is involved in. In the sequel series, a major subplot involves Jiyu asking him to write an original novel, in a different genre, under his own name. He has to struggle with Writer's Block, and also has to try to keep his daughter from learning that one of his clients got him to do One Last Job as a ghostwriter.

Comic Book

  • In the comic book run of Ghostbusters, Egon "wrote" a book by using a computer program to "Calculate an almost random pattern of words that positively stimulate the human brain" as an experiment. It was apparently quite well received.

Film

  • In Young Adult, Mavis Gary ghostwrites for an extruded YA series called Waverly Prep, using it to relive her own high school Glory Days.
  • The Ghost Writer: A ghost writer is called in to pen the autobiography of a British politician, only to discover that his research material includes things that politician really doesn't want in the book.

Literature

  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, books for the proles are literally formulated by machine as a form of Bread and Circuses.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • The main character of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls produces these for a living, generally of the romance variety, and the narrative digresses for a bit on the subject of these. Notably, at one point he notes that he tried writing war stories instead, but his experience as a soldier got in the way because he tried to make them too realistic to be decent stories. He also admits to cribbing the plot for one of his books from Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
    • The "Unmarried Mother" from Heinlein's —All You Zombies— has that nickname because he churns out stories for confession magazines, presumably by pseudonymous unmarried women.
    • Heinlein knew whereof this character spoke. Outside of his science fiction efforts, Heinlein himself was a writer of extruded book products for several houses, most notably a series of stories about an overweight teen girl with self esteem problems known by the nickname "Puddin'" — whom Heinlein later reworked into the eponymous protagonist of his young adult SF novel Podkayne of Mars.
  • Roald Dahl's short story "The Great Automatic Grammatizator" focuses on a machine that can do this — but then they start buying out the real authors to corner the market...
  • The Steve Hely novel How I Became a Famous Novelist, which revolves around writing such a book simply so its author can stick it to his ex-girlfriend at her own wedding for dumping him, is shown at the book convention where they sell it.
  • In the third book of Gulliver's Travels, one of the absurd projects undertaken by the members of the Grand Academy of Lagado was a device to mechanically combine words, enabling books to be written with no input but raw mechanical effort.
  • The main character of This Tragic Universe is a ghostwriter for a series like this in order to pay the bills while she attempts to write a "proper" novel.
  • In Paris in the Twentieth Century, theatre has descended to this level, with plays mass-produced by teams of specialists who each contribute some small aspect, such as slapstick or romantic lines. Writers who are proficient with action or sex scenes are especially valued.
  • In Artemis Fowl, this is one of Artemis' many enterprises. Having used his genius to perfect a formula for creating the maximally sell-able romance novel, he types these up in his free time between running a multi-national criminal enterprise, managing his family's legitimate businesses, designing a new opera house for Dublin and writing academic texts on the pathology of the criminal mind.

Live-Action TV

  • The season 6 episode of The Avengers, "Love All", centered around romance novels of this sort. When visiting the publishing house, Steed learns (though unrelated to the actual plot) that the novels are actually generated by a piano-shaped computer. During the climactic file, it's accidentally activated and spits out a new manuscript.
  • An episode of Clarissa Explains It All has Clarissa use a computer program to churn out a poem for her English class. Much to her horror, her teacher loves the poem, and insists on having her read it in public.
  • Mad Men: In Season 7, Episode 1 Time Zones, It turns out that Don is acting as a ghost writer for Freddy.
  • In the Jonathan Creek episode "Ghosts Forge", the titular house contains five copies of a novel by Gerald Eastland, leading Jonathan to deduce that the former owner "ghosts for G.E."
  • Jane the Virgin: Petra asks Jane to be the ghost writer for her lifestyle book she's publishing, because of Petra having severe writing block, and she was busy dealing with the case of the death of her sister Anezka.

Newspaper Comics

  • Jaded slacker Jeff Redfern of Doonesbury tries to wriggle out of writing further escapades of his fictional hero, the Red Rascal, by hiring a ghostwriter. Jeff is too lazy to proofread the draft, and hands it off to his publisher. She soon notices the story makes a Genre Shift from Vigilante Man to vampire romance, and calls Jeff out on it.

Tabletop Games

  • Barely anyone in the Shadowrun Verse reads anything more complicated than a take-out menu anymore, but the Shadowbeat supplement reveals this trope applies to TV scripts and pop music, both of which are cranked out via computer programs that regurgitate formulaic material to spec. Producers can even select how upbeat, stimulating, controversial, family-friendly, and so forth the finished product should be.

Theatre

Webcomics

  • There was a time when Achewood's Cornelius Bear was an acclaimed writer of children's books. These days he makes the rent by writing crap romance novels and subtitling porn.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Book Job" (guest starring Neil Gaiman), features Lisa finding out that all the young adult books (including her favorite "Angelica Button" series) are really just based on market research by the publishing companies and then written by teams of writers desperate for work. The "authors" who have their names on the book are just made up, backstory and all, and are represented by actors. After finding this out, Homer and Bart assemble a team to create their own hit young adult novel, using Lisa as the author to be credited.
    • In "The Front", Bart and Lisa write scripts for new Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, but because the studio doesn't accept scripts from kids, they decide to use Grampa's name.
  • The first season of BoJack Horseman has Diane being hired to be the ghostwriter for BoJack's much-delayed autobiography. When it finally gets published the following season, Diane is credited as the author.

Other

  • Joyce Grenfell had a routine where she played a children's author, churning out almost identical books about kids having adventures. "I never rewrite, and I never read what I've written". By a curious coincidence, this skit had some similarities to an actual interview with Enid Blyton, in which she said writing a novel took about a week.
    • Grenfell never confirmed the connection (and indeed only used the character rarely, and for just a few years due to the uncomfortable obviousness of the parody) but the children's author character emerged shortly after Grenfell attended a literary lunch at which Blyton was a fellow guest.

Real Life

  • This is particularly common for autobiographies written by celebrities. The books are heavily influenced by the featured person, but the actual writing is done by a professional writer rather than the celebrity themselves.

Feedback: 26 replies

Aug 26th 2017 at 6:42:51 PM

Would a Group Ghostwriter be a subtrope? ... Hmm... No? Most people who use ghostwriting employ mass numbers of them as a matter of course.

Extruded Book Product is a subtrope, so I can't raid that...

Although, given how I redefined the Laconic... I should lead a clean-up there... As some don't fit...

Aug 27th 2017 at 3:03:00 AM

Maybe this could be trivia?

  • Many of the Animorphs novels were ghostwritten, as the author, KA Applegate, was dealing with the birth of her son and also writing Everworld. Said ghostwriters are credited in the dedication page of each novel.

Aug 27th 2017 at 3:50:24 AM

Also not to be confused with any author who writes about ghosts.

Aug 27th 2017 at 5:15:29 AM

^^ - So, then is Extruded Book Product, Trivia as well? Or a Trope?

And EBP was basically used as this, so there are things to raid... Moving examples over...

Gonna Folderize via folderizer once this is Launched...

Is there a trope for computer generated literature? Where the earliest version would be in Literature.Gullivers Travels...

Aug 27th 2017 at 6:03:03 AM

No? Or yes? I dunno. Some people credit their ghostwriters, some don't. I'm not sure what's typical.

Aug 27th 2017 at 6:44:58 AM

The Ghost Writer is about one of these, I think. I haven't seen the movie though, so I don't know more.

Aug 27th 2017 at 7:33:38 AM

That it has one is all I need to know. Although, if this is just Ghostwriter exists, then it's sorta PSOC?

Aug 27th 2017 at 8:15:57 AM

At the very least, I would expect this trope and Uncredited Role to frequently overlap.

Aug 27th 2017 at 3:59:59 PM

I propose splitting the examples into two categories: Real Life examples and In-Universe examples.

Oct 12th 2017 at 3:40:55 PM

Newspaper Comics

  • Jaded slacker Jeff Redfern of Doonesbury tries to wriggle out of writing further escapades of his fictional hero, the Red Rascal, by hiring a ghostwriter. Jeff is too lazy to proofread the draft, and hands it off to his publisher. She soon notices the story makes a Genre Shift from Vigilante Man to vampire romance, and calls Jeff out on it.

Oct 12th 2017 at 4:18:01 PM

You may also want to consider adding that this is particularly common for autobiographies written by celebrities. The books are heavenly influenced by the featured person, but the actually writing is done by a professional writer rather than the celebrity themselves.

Oct 12th 2017 at 8:58:20 PM

If there's no one meaning to ghostwriting, then should this be a supertrope to many ghostwriting tropes?

Oct 12th 2017 at 9:00:06 PM

I think the example list needs a rule saying that you have to specify who is being impersonated.

Oct 13th 2017 at 6:18:26 AM

I propose this article to split into a trope article and a Useful Note article.

Oct 13th 2017 at 8:41:14 AM

^ What would the Useful Notes hold? An explanation of what Ghostwriting is, an a list of Real Life examples, I guess?

Oct 13th 2017 at 9:03:55 AM

This seems like a trivia item for the same reason Uncredited Role is. The aforementioned trope, Extruded Book Product, isn't really the same thing as this, since this is talking about the writer and not the kind of plot such a writer might create. That is, you can tell from the work itself that Extruded Book Product might be in play, but you cannot tell from the work itself that it was created via a Ghost Writer.

Oct 13th 2017 at 9:52:25 AM

  • The first season of Bo Jack Horseman has Diane being hired to be the ghostwriter for BoJack's much-delayed autobiography. When it finally gets published the following season, Diane is credited as the author.
  • The Simpsons: In "The Front", Bart and Lisa write scripts for new Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, but because the studio doesn't accept scripts from kids, they decide to use Grampa's name.

Oct 16th 2017 at 9:30:56 AM

What connection, if any, is there, to Pre Approved Sermon, which has a redirect of Ghostwritten Sermons?

Feb 5th 2018 at 8:33:13 AM

Since it was revivied, there's another draft of this, but the examples are mostly Real Life examples, which are already covered by Uncredited Role. Exported from there that should be here instead:

Film

  • The Ghost Writer: A ghost writer is called in to pen the autobiography of a British politician, only to discover that his research material includes things that politician really doesn't want in the book.

Live-Action TV

  • In the Jonathan Creek episode "Ghosts Forge", the titular house contains five copies of a novel by Gerald Eastland, leading Jonathan to deduce that the former owner "ghosts for G.E."

Feb 5th 2018 at 1:57:33 PM

^ Thanks! - I should remove the Extruded Book Product part, but right now, EBP doesn't require house-names like Trivia.Ghostwriter says it does... So I'm keeping mine, until the information is correct in that other draft.

Also, can anyone find a way to simplify my description of the connection to Pre Approved Sermon?

Maybe merge this with the other draft, if there's no precedent for a Real Life / In Universe split of tropes, via different names?

Feb 6th 2018 at 5:46:00 AM

As I said in the other one, maybe just renaming the other draft and make it Sister Trope of this with a change of name. Also, another example from there (in comments) that fits better here:

Live-Action TV:

  • Jane The Virgin: Petra asks Jane to be the ghost writer for her lifestyle book she's publishing, because of Petra having severe writing block, and she was busy dealing with the case of the death of her sister Anezka.

May 1st 2018 at 8:30:24 AM

^ - Added.

Also Grabbed Nominal Coauthor TLP, as a similar concept.


Hmm... If I make this for In Universe examples only, and Real Life examples as Uncredited Role, would that work?

Nominal Coauthor being the writer who has their name used, as the listed author, if they're a real person...

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