How We Plotted "An Anonymous Girl" -- An Essay (and best-selling novel) by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Chris Schluep on February 06, 2019

anonymous.jpgGreer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are the writing duo behind the hugely popular novels The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl. Their best-selling psychological thrillers are known for surprise twists and excellent pacing. But how do two writers--who live in different cities--work as a team to achieve one storyline, one voice?

We asked them and here's what they told us:

How We Plotted An Anonymous Girl

By Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Logistically, we plotted An Anonymous Girl in much the same way that we worked on The Wife Between Us. Although we live in different cities (Greer in Manhattan and Sarah outside Washington, D.C.), we conceive every storyline and write every single scene of our novels together. In order to do this, we rely on Google docs so we can work together in real time - looking at the same screen - and Google hangouts, so we can simultaneously talk.

For the major structural plotting of An Anonymous Girl, we took turns visiting each other’s cities for 24-hour brainstorming marathons. We stayed in hotels that have restaurants and a gym, leaving time only for brief walks outside. Otherwise, we worked around the clock and through every meal. We always bring along giant Post-It notes and cover the walls with them - detailing character notes, ideas for scenes, and the narrative arc of the book (one difference between us - Sarah likes the walls so messy that Greer has nicknamed her “Carrie” from the show "Homeland," whereas Greer prefers them to be neat). We get an enormous amount of work done during our getaways - but as usual, our only enemy is time. We never have enough of it!

Creatively, it’s tricky for us to pinpoint exactly how we plotted our latest, because our ideas percolate over a long period of time. Every day, we come up with about a hundred suggestions - and the next day, we reject 99 of them. But there are a few key elements we can point to that inspired part of the foundation of An Anonymous Girl.

We wanted to create a sense of intimacy for the reader, so in addition to having Dr. Shields’s voice be in the second person, we structured the ethics and morality quiz that Jessica took in a way that allows readers to consider how they would answer the same questions. This interactive element was really appealing to us, and we’ve heard from a lot of early readers that they loved answering the ethics questions and learning how their friends or book group participants would respond.

And one of our favorite parts of writing An Anonymous Girl was researching the psychology experiments we incorporate into the novel. Greer was a psychology major (and English minor) and her mother was a practicing psychotherapist for many years, so this is an area of keen interest for her. And Sarah majored in journalism, with a minor in psychology. In fact, in college, Sarah was actually a guinea pig in a bunch of experiments through NIH (the National Institutes of Health) to earn extra money. At first she did pretty innocuous tests, but the ones that paid the best were a little more invasive. The final one she did involved being given something that made her super groggy - then her dad found out about it, and that was the end of her time as a guinea pig!

One of the best parts of our process is that sometimes, our plots take on a life of their own. We may think we know the direction our novel is going in, but somehow, our characters take us on a different path - and those are some of the most exciting moments we experience as writers.

--Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

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