Goodreads recently hosted a web chat with the bestselling author of Gone Girl. Members who had read the author’s book were invited to the chat and could also submit questions. Suffice to say, the chat served as an interesting glimpse into Gillian Flynn’s artistic process.
Flynn started off by saying reader response to Gone Girl blew her away. The author knew she’d written a book she liked, but she had no way of knowing she had just written her breakout book. It debuted higher than expected and hit number one on July 4, just one month after being published.
In response to readers wanting to know if the author always knew how Gone Girl would end or if it evolved as she wrote it, Flynn explained how her process usually starts with characters or images. Gone Girl began as an image of a wide open door that a husband comes home to. A door swung wide, and not in a someone is taking out the trash kind of way, but rather swung wide in a foreboding way. Flynn emphasized she would never want to plot out a story too much since doing do would take out the fun of seeing what the characters eventually do and which ones end up taking over.
People often tell Flynn they hated the end. So she then asks those readers what they wanted to happen. Readers usually say they wanted justice, but she says nothing in the context of the story hints at justice being likely. The book is about a toxic relationship. The ending is about two people who are each other’s match for better or worse.
Also, Flynn’s female characters tend to be not likeable or sympathetic. She never personally reads hero stories or to see a character overcome great odds. She reads to find how characters will react. The author recalled how she never wanted to be the princess, but always the witch, because we all know the witch is much more interesting. We can all relate to the curiosity involved with wondering why the witch become so bad.
Gone Girl is also about the impact of the economic collapse on individual lives. Flynn began writing the novel at the height of the recession, and the author herself was a former journalist who had been laid off from her job. Entire industries were succumbing and Flynn wanted it to be a larger symbol of the state of the married couple and how they, like many others, were coming to the end of many things.
Upon further reflection of the novel’s ending, Flynn stated she still loves it. She likes endings that leave the reading feeling uneasy. The sensation of wondering what’s going to happen next to the characters even though the book is finished. She likened it to the end of Rosemary’s Baby final note of “Hey the devil is in the world, goodbye.”
Flynn also admitted to thinking about her characters a lot, and she doesn’t think things would go too smoothly with Nick and Amy in the possible future. However, that doesn’t mean a sequel is in the works, but never say never.
Another interesting aspect of Gillian Flynn’s video chat came out in how we all put on personas to some extent of what we think are our best selves, especially when we start dating and getting to know each other. Gone Girl is largely a book about storytelling and self-mythologizing. Nick and Amy are both professional story tellers who take pride in their ability to spin and manipulate reality. At its heart, the novel is largely a story of he said she said given how it incorporates both viewpoints.
Writing the first draft is what Flynn finds most challenging since she doesn’t like to outline. The frustration is partly her own fault when it comes to hitting roadblocks and getting a sense of when something can’t happen. Largely, her first draft bears little resemblance to the final draft.
With three published books now under her belt, Flynn advises: “Don’t do the research, just write the book. You can trick yourself you’re doing research, but really you’re online just wasting time.” Toward the very end is when she will check necessary facts.
A young adult novel is a bit down the road, and the author playfully threw in, “No vampires!” Her next book for adults will be a psychological thriller driven by personality, but she’s not quite ready to talk about the plot. However, it will be another dark, psychological thriller. Flynn admits she can’t seem to get out of nasty people’s minds.
What dark, psychological thrillers have left their mark on you?
You can also read Utter Depravity my review of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
Image Credit: The Broken Heart by Виталий Смолыгин
Interesting author. Not sure it’s my style for reading, but most definitely interesting. 🙂
Cheryl, one aspect of the chat which I found interesting (which I did not include in this post) was how Flynn would do creative writing exercises in order to get to know her characters better. Hardly any of that stuff makes it into the finished product, but it really does pay off in the end. Too many books are out that which are full of meandering prose.
That was an interesting read. The creative process is always unique to each individual. She has found a way that seems to work for her, not many have been so lucky. The best part is, it really works. I haven’t yet read her work, but it does sound intriguing
Susan, it definitely gives me hope when I read about how so many published books bear so little resemblance to their initial drafts. I do know that drafting my first novel is teaching me many lessons about what not to do next time. Each form of writing entails its own process that is for sure.
An interesting take on an author’s writing process. I haven’t read the book, and I doubt I will, but good for her success especially after getting laid off.
Denise, not too long ago I read a statistic that the sales of her first two books went from 200,000 combined copies sold to over 600,000 now that Gone Girl has been so successful. I’ve yet to read those first two books, but since I found Gone Girl rather appealing, I hope I can pick up her other titles someday as well.
I completely understand what she means about research. I’m always afraid to start writing, so I’ll allow myself to get stuck in the planning as a (seemingly productive) way to procrastinate.
Adrienne, I definitely do the same thing as well when it comes to getting research done vs. actual writing. The art of procrastination is definitely my Achilles heel.
The description of her process sounds very familiar. My first drafts are usually nothing but mess. The work I tend to put off is digging through the mess to make something out of it.
Jon, I envy that you can slog through a draft. My problem is the opposite. Too much self-editing going on, though little by little, I am getting better at embracing writing crap so I can mine for gems later. With one chapter to go in my first draft, I’m pretty excited that I can start to revise soon.
I think its so interesting that this author doesn’t focus on a “hero” or on the main character overcoming something as so many stories do. I like that her approach is different and she is more interested in how the characters react to each other and to the situations. However, I myself never feel positive about a book if I put it down at the end and feel uneasy. I think so many readers had problems with the ending because as human beings we long for that resolution in our own lives and in the fictional characters we invest in through reading.
Kelly, you make a very good point about readers’ need for resolution. I can’t say I was ultimately satisfied with the end of Gone Girl, but I can say that I don’t mind books that leave the reader feeling a bit dissatisfied. If a book really resonates with me, it will have a “what if” factor that keeps me wondering what happens with the characters when the book ends. So in that respect, I do have something in common with Gillian Flynn.
“Don’t do the research, just write the book.” I love that, and I’m exactly the person for whom that’s good advice. I sat on a novel for years, and planned and plotted and did little dribs of writing. Then on October 31 last year, one of my writing buddies said “Your outline is beyond ready. Do NaNoWriMo.” I did. By the end of November, I’d written over 70,000 words, and by January 5 the draft of 145,000 words was done. There’s such a thing as over-planning.
Max, I can bet a bit guilty of over-planning as well. I hope to participate in NaNoWriMo this November for the first time. I will be amazed if I can pull of 50k in one month!
Wonderful book, but if you like closure, you won’t like the ending of this one. Awesome read for anyone who loves crime and mystery books!
Shows that we never know if and when we will succeed. We hope but have no idea if what we are doing will be a hit. And that’s part of the beauty of life. Imagine how boring it would be if we knew in advance.
Sounds like an interesting book.
Catarina, I think you would enjoy Gone Girl quite a bit. It’s a fast read. You’re so right that knowing in advance how things will turn out can make like boring. The excitement comes from all the possibilities.