Monica Gallagher: Five Things I Learned Writing Part-Time Princesses

Working as costumed princesses at the local amusement park is a nice gig, but it’s not what Courtney, Amber, Tiffany, and Michelle want to do with their lives. These queens of high school have their own plans for life post-graduation, and they do not involve fixed games and fried pickles.

But when all their plans fall apart, what are the girls to do? Left with no other options, they decide to keep their part-time jobs as princesses — for the moment. But even that plan is threatening to fall apart, thanks to the sudden and increasing muggings plaguing the park and chasing away customers.

With their back-up jobs in peril, the girls have no choice but to fight back and take matters into their own hands. But the more they work to save the park, the more their part-time jobs become full-time, and the more their carefully planned futures get pushed to the wayside. Will these princesses ever get their lives back on track?

Will they even want to? 

* * *

Embrace Your Own Weirdo Process

I’m a wee bit obsessed with process, always bugging people about HOW THEY DO IT. I had this idea in mind that every book you write brings you one step closer to the ultimate, streamlined beautiful way in which you Do Things. When in reality, every single project I’ve done has morphed into some weird beast version of what I’ve done previously. For this one, I wrote out a full script first, then went back and thumbnailed all the pages as I viciously re-wrote the script. Then I sat on a lot of it (not literally) and then (okay my cat did literally) rewrote the whole middle to end. I didn’t know what I was doing – what I DO know is, if it fits, it ships! And by that I mean, if it works for you, it WORKS. Don’t stress yourself out trying to mimic someone else’s process. Figure out how you do, and roll with it – and don’t be afraid to keep switching stuff up if it’s not working. Write in that kitchen, write in that closet, write while only wearing THAT ONE WEIRD HAT. No one will judge.

Screw Outlines, Scenes are Where It’s At

One thing I’ve always super struggled with when I’m writing is having no idea how this durn story is gonna end. I used to think writing was all about a pretty, sequential outline that your characters magically flowed through in a linear fashion, exactly how you intended them to. I’ve tried to write that way, and it’s bored the potatoes out of me and everyone within a 50 foot radius. What I do like about writing, what keeps me going, is daydreaming about characters and the scenes and interactions they get involved in. I used to think this was must be the wrong way to do it – that’s just a big ol’ mish-mash that doesn’t go anywhere. But if you trust in the scenes, and minimally nudge your characters as you listen to them, they’ll get to an end. That sounded like a threat – oh THEY’LL GET TO AN END. And sure, you can tweak that end or throw SURPRISE bombs at them along the way, but if those scenes ring true and keep you interested, then the rest of the book will start to join hands and connect. Also, I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing, where he talked about coming up with scenes and characters first and BAM — I feel entirely validated.

Your Characters Will Beat You Up If You Don’t Listen To Them

When I set out to write PTP, I knew I wanted my characters to all be complete jerks. I struggled a lot with how this would work in a story. Obviously I wanted people to be interested enough in them to keep reading the story, and even root for them, but how to do that without making them LEARN A LESSON at the end and going against everything they believed in? In life I haven’t seen THAT much of a turnaround happen, especially with four girls who’ve been comfy being superficial jerks their whole lives. It wasn’t so much about creating the oh so hot-right-now anti-hero as much as how to let these characters have a journey without completely flip-flopping.

As I was writing, I discovered one of the ways I could make this change was by focusing on their interests evolving rather than their personalities. In the beginning, they start out wanting very much what a lot of little girls like me grew up thinking/being told we wanted — to be an actress, a model, a cheerleader (A PRINCESS). As these girls are forced to explore other avenues, they unwittingly open themselves up to other experiences and realize they have other potentials. That forces them to evolve, and their personalities get dragged along in the mud along with them.

Also, two of the characters let me know halfway through they were gay. They just flat-out told me, didn’t even let me guess. “Oh, do I have to go back and change what I wrote in the beg–” “NOPE, we’ve been gay this whole time, it’s in there”.

Make Yourself Do The Thing You Fear

I love drawing people. They’re crazy and have insane faces and they’re my favorite! However life isn’t just made up of crazy faces lining the streets, because I think we can all agree that’d be a bit unsettling. Backgrounds and sets and objects have to be part of the question, and do I enjoy drawing them? …. ehhhhh not so much. In the past I’ve specifically self-censored myself by having every character I’ve ever written only talk to each other in an empty field or in a room that has zero furniture. I’m smart enough to know that that wouldn’t fly for a story set in an amusement park. For a while I seriously considered self-censoring myself – I wanted to do a story set in an amusement park, but there was no way I could draw that, so perhaps I should ….. EFF THAT. The only way to get better is to do, and the only way to write the story I want to write is to get in there and draw that flipping ferris wheel. It might be ugly, you might hate it, but those characters (and your readers) NEED that background, that substance, that whatever you’re hiding from to ground them so you sure as hell better provide.

It also super helped me to check out a few of my favorite artists along the way and see how THEY made backgrounds lovely and enchanting. My biggest influence by far for this book was the work of Eyvind Earle. If you’ve never heard of him, check out his ridiculously gorgeous geometric landscapes – he’s the man responsible for one of the most beautiful sets of all time – i.e. the environment of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

How does this compare to prose novels? I feel the same way about drawing the things I fear as I do doing research. I’m AWFUL at research and I hate it. I’m awful at drawing trees and I hate it. But you know what? Once I shut up and got my nose into some research/trees (and Eyvind Earle), I found something fun, something interesting I could grab ahold of. And that got me through the drudgery that almost stopped me from plowing ahead.

For the Love of Spreadsheets

This is the unsexiest of all sexy writing parts, even if you’re like me and get a weird, sick pleasure out of tracking metrics. When I set out to start doing the physical drawing of my book, I mapped out how long each part would take me (thumbnail, pencil, ink, finalize), how many pages I had in the book, and therefore how many hours/weeks/months until completion. The writing part I pretty much rolled into the thumbnailing section, but of course I discovered I pretty much wrote the whole time, even during pencilling AND inking stages,

What did all this tracking do besides stress me out in OH DEAR GOD SO LONG TO GO? It gave me a way to physically SEE that I had, in fact, made some progress that I could proudly chirp to others. “34.5% today!” I’d yell at my coworkers and their blank stares. Of course, as I approached the end of the book I was spiraling down a hill with Westley somersaulting after me yelling “AS YOU WIIIIISH” and nothing was really going to stop me at that point, BUT man did minute progress reports help me in the beginning two thirds of the book. Plus it gave me something more concrete to tell people rather than (in 2012) “I’m working on a book!” (in 2013) “Still working on that book!” (in 2014) “Remember I’m doing a book? Stilllll goin’.”

The spreadsheet also gave me a physical date to tack on to when I’d finish my book, as long as I stayed on track with how many hours a week I planned to put into it. If I didn’t like the date that Google Spreadsheets spit out at me, then I knew I needed to get more done each week. For me, the spreadsheet was a way to add structure to a process that could easily become too overwhelming and brainstormy and trap me in its eternal web of edits forever. One of the best things I ever learned about ANY project was that eventually it must end. You chop it off, you kick it into that hole in the ground, you END IT, you end it before it ENDS YOU – you don’t poke and torture it by editing it to death. Plus, going backwards and lingering on pages rather than plowing ahead would’ve meant arguing with the spreadsheet . . . and you do NOT argue with the spreadsheet.

You do not argue with the spreadsheet.

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Part-Time Princesses: Amazon | B&N