On Tuesday, Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects treated fans to a Reddit AMA. Flynn is just coming off of writing the screenplay for the much-hyped, David Fincher-directed film version of Gone Girl, and had plenty of comforting words for fans and aspiring novelists alike. She patted our heads and assured us that Gone Girl‘s script won’t differ too much from the book, and gave us lots of insight into her process for both writing and getting into her characters’ twisted minds.
Read on for the top things we learned during Flynn’s AMA, but be warned: you might really want to hang out with her afterward.
1. Amy Dunne’s “Cool Girl” speech started out as a writing exercise.
Flynn doesn’t outline when she writes (“that would take the fun out of it for me”); instead, she spends time with her characters, “figuring out who they are and what led them to whatever awful situation I’ve put them in.” To make Nick and Amy Dunne believable, she made iPod playlists and Netflix queues for them, and wrote childhood scenes for each of them from other peoples’ point of view. Says Flynn, this was “stuff I knew I’d never use, but would help me flesh them out.”
2. On the differences between Gone Girl‘s screenplay and novel: “Those reports have been greatly exaggerated!”
“Of course, the script has to be different from the book in some ways,” Flynn says. “You have to find a way to externalize all those internal thoughts and you have to do more with less room.”
3. She wrote her first book, Sharp Objects, entirely without an agent, and is extremely protective of it. Stay tuned for a potential movie…
Sharp Objects was a hard sell — she was often told it was “too dark” — but the agent who finally liked it is still with her today. The book has also been frequently passed over for movie deals, but Flynn says, “I’m happy to report it has been optioned again and is in very good hands, so I may have news to report in the next few months.” Of her three books, she says Sharp Objects “would actually be the easiest to translate to film and could be wildly creepy.”
4. Her next book is “a big, sprawling American folkloric tale of murder.”
She’s also currently reading Raven, “an excellent biography of Jim Jones,” an admission she knows will make her sound “suitably creepy” — but what better way to get into the mindset for another creepy tale?
5. And after that, she’s writing a YA novel!
“No vampires,” she promises.
6. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song are her “comfort food books.”
“Comfort food books,” Flynn says, are “those books you grab when you’re feeling cranky and nothing sounds good to read.” She re-reads Executioner’s Song once or twice a year: “I find something new in it every time. It really haunts me, that book.”
7. Actually, she reads a lot.
Flynn answered at least three questions about what she reads, even though they were basically the same question. The woman loves to talk books — and we’re not complaining! Here are the writers on her reading list: Joyce Carol Oates (“I will read ANYTHING she writes”), Margaret Atwood, Patricia Highsmith, Martin Amis, Joy Williams (“The Quick and The Dead is a thing of disturbing, hilarious beauty”) Arthur Phillips, Karin Slaughter, Megan Abbott, Judy Budnitz, Marcus Sakey, Harlan Coben, and Karen Russell.
“Whenever I think I’m well-read, I discover a new writer and realize I’m not well-read at all,” she admits. Us too, Gillian. Us too.
8. Her first short story will be published in George R.R. Martin’s anthology, Rogues, coming in June.
9. She’s okay with unlikeable characters — as long as they’re funny.
“Libby Day, Nick and Amy Dunne — they do awful things, but they’re very self-aware and fairly funny at times,” she says. “I think you can forgive a lot if a person makes you laugh (even if you know you shouldn’t be laughing).”
10. The Talented Mr. Ripley helped get her in the mindset to work on Gone Girl‘s screenplay.
Beautiful blondes, identity shifting, and murderous sociopaths? Yeah, we can see how these two are connected. Other ways she prepped for the process: watching all of David Fincher’s films and reading all his screenplays, re-reading Gone Girl, and listening to Gone Girl on audiobook.
11. She treats writing like a regular 9 to 5 job (including the built-in time-wasting).
A 9 to 5 job in which I actually work about 6 hours and wander around the house thinking about working the other two. My goals are never to hit a word count — I’ve tried that before and for me it leads to sloppy, panicked writing. I try to think in terms of scenes: Where am I in the book and what scene would I like to get done today? I never wait for the inspiration to strike. That would be a long, sad wait. Successful writing is one part inspiration and two parts sheer stubbornness.
12. And she wants her novels to help you with your time-wasting!
“The goal of every writer is to make people forget to feed the cat or run the errands,” she says.
13. She originally wrote the first half of Gone Girl just from Nick’s POV.
When she decided to have alternating chapters and dueling narrators, it “scared the hell out of me, because I knew if it didn’t work — the diary entires, the twist — it would REALLY not work.”
14. She swears by advice from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, especially when she was writing her first novel:
I had to kind of sneak up on it and not let it know it might be a novel. No opening line, no title, nothing. Anne Lamott has an absolutely fantastic book about writing called Bird by Bird. The title means to look at one piece of the novel at a time, not the Whole Big Novel because that will feel too daunting. I agree: I take it page by page. Don’t worry if you spend a whole day and read what you’ve written and realize it’s absolute crap. That’s STILL work. Sometimes you have to get the crappy ideas and the awful, cliched writing out of your system in order to get to the real stuff. My entire first draft of a book is just me figuring out what the hell it is I’m actually interested in and trying to get at: What the point of the book is.
15. And finally, Flynn’s writing fuel? Coffee and candy.
“Chewy Sprees, of late,” she says.