Writing the Good Stuff: Gillian Flynn visits Shorewood High School
This afternoon, at Shorewood High School Gillian Flynn told a group of juniors that she’d always been interested in dark topics.
As a third grader she wrote a story called “The Outhouse” about a pioneer girl who, in the end, was eaten alive by wolves. The group gasped.
“I know!” she said. “My parents were probably like who is this creepy person?”
Writing had been a strong interest early; in high school she wrote for the school newspaper and it was after college that she went into journalism. She liked that there was this opportunity to make a living at writing and her job for Entertainment Weekly gave her the chance to pull together everything she loved: books, music, and TV.
Being forced to write every day as part of her job was the greatest training in being a writer.
“A lot of [the work of] writing is just making yourself write. When you write the bad stuff it’s your brain trying to get to the good stuff.”
Flynn shared that she did a lot of extra writing to get to know her characters and the situations in her novel Gone, Girl: Nick from the point of view of his kindergarten teacher during a family visit, characters’ iPod playlists, Netflix accounts.
“I have a questionnaire for my characters. Do they eat breakfast? What do they eat?” Her advice to young writers is to find different ways to get into the heads of their characters.
“When a character is real and starts doing their own thing, that’s when you know you’re doing the job right.”
Which Flynn clearly did. She didn’t expect Gone, Girl to be such a hit, but through word of mouth it succeeded in reaching millions of people.
“You can kind of forget that you’ve written it,” she said. “You are by yourself with your lap top and it gets released into the world and suddenly it has its own life.”
After learning that the “most A-listish actor” in the upcoming film would be Ben Affleck, the boy who initially asked this question asked threw his hands down onto the desk. His excitement was palpable, and it made the rest of us pretty excited too.
“That’s crazy. He’s going to be doing the thing, that’s the thing you made.”
He asked again, a bit later what it took to become a Ben Affleck worthy writer?
“Part of being a writer is the sheer stubbornness,” she said. Writing could really be a drag sometimes and you got to show up every day and work your way through.
“If something gets you back into the chair, it’s worth it.”
A student wanted to know, with all of this work, did she feel attached to her books? How did she transition from book to book?
“Usually, I’m so sick of the book by the time I’m done with it[… ]but I do spend enough time with the characters that I get attached and I’ll catch myself thinking: I wonder what so and so is doing.”
Another girl timidly raised her hand.
“I chose to study you for an English project,” she said.
“What did you find out?” Flynn asked.
The student learned from an NPR interview that much of her time was spent thinking about the perfect crime.
“What lead you to writing about them, rather than performing them?”
“I’d be too chicken,” she said, laughing. “My character’s are bolder, so I let them handle it.”
Gillian Flynn is speaking tonight at Town Hall starting at 7:30. Q&A moderated by Maria Semple.