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Q&A  •  24 August 2022


Jennifer Lynn Barnes shares the secret to satisfying plot twists

We chatted with Jennifer Lynn Barnes, author of The Inheritance Games series to learn about her writing process, academic background and upcoming third book, The Final Gambit.

You began writing at only nineteen years old and sold your first books while in college. Where did this passion come from? Did you always know you’d be a writer?

I decided I wanted to be a writer in the first grade after writing a story about a little girl whose older brother discovers how awesome she is and vows to never tell her she can’t play with him again. I continued writing stories throughout my childhood. By the time I was in my early teens, I’d gotten in the habit of writing the first few chapters of a new, exciting story, then forgetting about it, then starting another new story. My last year in high school, when I was seventeen, I decided that I wanted to actually finish a complete novel, so I made a rule for myself that I couldn’t start a new project until I’d finished the one I was working on… and I did. For a couple of years after that, I wrote constantly. The summer I was nineteen, I wrote my seventh completed novel, and that later became my first published book.

You also have degrees in psychology, psychiatry and cognitive science. How does that background help you when writing characters?

Writing and psychology are both ways of getting inside the heads of others and developing a deeper understanding of emotions, motivations, and relationships. My PhD was in developmental psychology, and there is so much that I learned that plays an integral role in how I develop characters. I pay a lot of attention to things like attachment style, formative experiences, personality, and the effect of the family system on each individual in that system. Beyond that, I’m always looking for ways to bring my psychological expertise into my books, be it the psychology of “mind-reading,” an understanding of psychopathy, or even animal cognition. On top of all of this, I spent years as a psychology professor whose research lab was dedicated to understanding the psychology of fiction and the psychology of fandom. My expertise is basically why we as a species like stories, the effects that stories have on those who consume them, and what it is about some specific stories that lead them to inspire large, passionate, and engaged fandoms.

You were a Fulbright scholar, you’re currently a professor of psychology, and you’ve been constantly churning out books. Where do you find the motivation to do so much?

I always wanted multiple careers. Even as a small child, the goal was never just “writer.” It was “writer and…” I loved having a dual career and am, to this day, so passionate about the science of stories! That said, in Fall of 2021 I realized that just because a person has the passion to do SO MANY THINGS doesn’t mean they necessarily have the capacity to do them all, all of the time. So I made the difficult decision to step away from being a professor and focus on writing and my family.

Do you have a consistent writing routine and if so, what does it look like?

My writing routine and process are always changing! The one constant currently is that I tend to spend a good chunk of my day on what I call “pre-writing,” so when I first sit down to write, my focus is on making a list of the scenes I want to write, journaling for a bit about what I want those scenes to achieve in terms of both plot and character, and so on. The last thing I do before actually opening up my document to write is to hand-write the dialogue for the scenes. After I have all of the dialogue, then I open my document and write the whole scene, using the dialogue I’ve written.

Now, let’s get into The Inheritance Games. Did you have the entire series planned out when you started writing, or did you let the story guide you?

When I started writing the first Inheritance Games book, I didn’t know if my publisher was going to want a sequel, so I wrote book one with two plans: this is what I’m doing if the book is a standalone, and this is what I’m doing if they greenlight a sequel. I got the go-ahead on the sequel just as I sat down to do the revisions on book one, and the book got a new ending that pulled at threads that I had already planted, just in case! With The Hawthorne Legacy, I again didn’t know whether or not I would get to write a third book, so I did much the same thing — I wrote a book that I thought would serve as a great series ender while simultaneously planting EVERYTHING I needed to execute my ultimate ending. Getting to write The Final Gambit was so satisfying because that was when my grandest plans—and things that I had been working toward for two books, without knowing if I would get to write a third — came to fruition.

Which character was your favourite to write and why?

I love writing Xander. He’s just so smart, hilarious, and one of a kind. Any scene automatically becomes easier to write when Xander is in it because he has SO MUCH ENERGY.

What kind of research did you do while writing the books? Were there any strange Google searches along the way?

There were A LOT of strange google searches, mostly in the form of “most expensive X in the world.” You can do a search on pretty much any iteration of the phrase (most expensive cars in the world! Most expensive chess sets in the world! Most expensive lawn furniture in the world!), and the results are just a rabbit hole of interesting! I also spent a lot of time on real estate sites over the course of writing this series, as I constructed Hawthorne House in my mind (and later did the same for some of the Hawthorne vacation properties).

The Final Gambit – just like the rest of the series – is full of twists and turns. In your experience, what is the best way to surprise readers?

I think there are several tricks to surprising readers — for example, a surprise is just as much about the timing and pacing of the reveal as it is about the reveal itself. I like to stack reveals, so you think you’ve read the twist and aren’t necessarily expecting ANOTHER twist right away. Or, if I think readers will be expecting something, I make it happen in a different place in the book (usually earlier) and thread a new question in at the same time. Ultimately, though, I’m a firm believer that the best twists aren’t a result of the things that an author does to surprise the reader; they’re the result of the things the author did to make it possible for the reader to guess the twist in advance. The clues have to be there for the twist to be satisfying!

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Read a lot, write a lot, and find things that you love to do that aren’t reading or writing, both so you have an escape when you need one AND so that you’re bringing a greater wealth of experience and knowledge to the table when you write.


Need a refresher? Check out this Inheretance Games recap.

Feature Title

The Final Gambit
The thrilling conclusion to the global bestselling, BookTok sensation, Inheritance Games trilogy, where Knives Out meets One of Us is Lying.
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