Something that I love about Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA) threads is how, with the right questions, their content can span from general inquiries to specific insights. Take Gillian Flynn’s Q&A: Ostensibly to promote the forthcoming Gone Girl movie (out October 3), the AMA also gets the thriller author to talk about how to humanize unlikeable characters, the YA novel she’ll eventually write (!)… and why she doesn’t think thrillers should be counted as genre fiction.
How she wrote Nick and Amy’s narratives—one character at a time, or in sequence? “My writing process was tricky for this one: I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what form to tell the story in. Originally, Nick owned a bar in Chicago and Amy had come from a family that made their money in a high-end online matchmaking service. And that didn’t work.
Once I decided they had both been writers, everything clicked for me. I knew I wanted it to feel like dueling narrators, two people who were good at spinning a story, so that when you were with Nick, you sided with Nick, and when you were with Amy, you sided with Amy… so that’s when I decided on the alternating chapters and Amy’s diary entries. Until then, I had written the first half just from Nick’s POV. So that decision changed it a lot and also scared the hell out of me, because I knew if it didn’t work—the diary entries, the twist, it would REALLY not work.”
How she adapted Gone Girl for the movie: “I read tons of screenplays and watched a lot of movies. Since my director was David Fincher, I read all the screenplays and rewatched all the movies—that was not bad homework. I also watched movie adaptations I really respected, like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Then I went to town with my book. I read it one last time; I listened to it on audio so it could wake up my brain in a different way, and then I didn’t look at it again—except to grab certain lines of dialogue—so I could let it become a movie.”
The impetus of Amy’s Cool Girl speech: “For Gone Girl, I knew Nick and Amy had to be very believable, so I made iPod playlists for them, and knew their Netflix queues. I wrote scenes of them in childhood from other people’s points of view: A scene of Amy in high school, written from her friend’s POV, or Nick’s kindergarten teacher writing about parent-teacher conference night. Stuff I knew I’d never use, but would help me flesh them out. I do that a lot when I’ve hit a writer’s block—it keeps me writing and sometimes helps solve a problem. Amy’s Cool Girl speech started as a writing exercise, but that one I liked so much I kept it for the book.”
Her next projects: “Last year was all about the Gone Girl screenplay, so I am only just now leavingGoneGirlworld and having room in my brain to start the next novel. It is a big, sprawling American folkloric tale of murder. I also, oddly enough, am doing a YA novel after that. No vampires.”
How she endeavors to make unlikeable characters at least relatable: “As for unlikable characters: I’ve always said I don’t mind if a character isn’t likable as long as he or she is understandable. Do I get why these people are doing the awful things they do? I think that’s why I often include backstories about childhood—if you understand what circumstances or people created a person, I think you have more empathy. And humor. Libby Day, Nick and Amy Dunne—they do awful things, but they’re very self-aware and fairly funny at times. I think you can forgive a lot if a person make you laugh (even if you know you shouldn’t be laughing).”
Whether she would ever try her hand at literary fiction, instead of her usual thrillers: “I’d like to try all kinds of fiction. I love thrillers, and don’t regard them as genre—some great American writing is being done in the form of thrillers, and to me, that’s just how the story is being told and doesn’t make a good book any less of a good book. I do think at some point I’d do a non-thriller, non-mystery. It might actually be easier: Plotting is the least of my strong suits, and thrillers take a lot of plot—I usually build that in afterwards.”
Her favorite authors to read in her spare time: “My list is long: Joyce Carol Oates—I will read ANYTHING she writes. Margaret Atwood, Patricia Highsmith, Martin Amis, Arthur Phillips, Karin Slaughter, Megan Abbott, Judy Budnitz, Marcus Sakey, Harlan Coben, Karen Russell… I could go on forever. Whenever I think I’m well-read, I discover a new writer and realize I’m not well-read at all.”