'Pretty Little Liars' Author Sara Shepard Talks Ending Her Beloved Series, Starting New Ones, and Seeing Her Words on TV
It's been a major year for Pretty Little Liars' Sara Shepard. Not only has she put the finishing touches on her famous series with December's Vicious, she somehow found the time to start not one, but two new series. There's The Heiresses , centered on the fictional prominent Saybrook family, and The Perfectionists , essentially pitch-perfect for PLL fans who are sad to say goodbye to Aria, Hanna, Emily, Spenser, and yes, even Alison.
Shepard somehow found the time in her schedule to talk with Bustle about closing out the Pretty Little Liars series, what's coming next for her new series (hint: we might be seeing more Shepard books on our TVs), and what it's like to see her characters on the television.
BUSTLE: What was it like closing the book on Pretty Little Liars, the series that you've been working on for so long, with this month's Vicious?
SARA SHEPARD: It was pretty sad. It's kind of funny, though, I've had this conversation before because I thought the series was going to end at book eight, and with the popularity of the show, we got to do eight more books. But at that time I was really, really sad because I loved writing about the girls, I loved writing about A. Alison had just come back, too, and I thought that was really interesting, and I could have written lots more books about that — and I did! This time, though, there's part of me that could continue to write more books about these girls, but I think the story has been told and I'm satisfied with where it has ended up. So, while I'm sad about it, I'm also pretty satisfied.
Clearly the show deviates substantially from the original book series, but has the show ever influenced or inspired plot lines or character arcs while you were writing the books?
It took a turn in book eight because it came out right around when the show came out, so when the show became popular, it brought it all new readers to Pretty Little Liars, so we wanted to take advantage of that and write more books. So it wasn't really as if the show gave me new ideas, but it was just capturing those new readers.
But, there have definitely been things in the show that I have really wanted to use in the books, and I've had to really try hard not to. For example, the characters that have stayed around in the show, I've thought, "Oh, I should bring them back in the books." The best example of that is Ezra.
Ezra came back into Aria's life in the books, and I think the readers were kind of mad at me because I only brought him back for one book! Most everything else they're doing in the show, I've tried to stay away from doing in the books because I want them to be separate things. If I could have brought Toby back, though, I would have, because I love what they've done with him in the show and I'm sad that he died in my books.
Have you known how you wanted to end the Pretty Little Liars series for a long time now, or did it just kind of come naturally as you were writing?
Once I knew that we were going to do more books after book eight, then there was a huge outline of where the next books were going to go. I think, working with my editor, we outlined for five books, so it's kind of amazing it went to eight ... So I knew where I wanted to go with it. Definitely with A and unraveling who A is, you kind of have to work with a group of books, instead of a single book, and have a vision for a lot until you get to the reveal.
I've had a pretty good idea of all of it from almost the beginning. It's just a matter then, of how to pace it and how to make it all make sense from book to book.
It's been probably just a crazy year for you. Not only with Pretty Little Liars, but you've started two new series with The Heiresses and The Perfectionists. Myself, I'm a big fan of The Perfectionists book, and I was hoping you could give readers a peek into what's coming next in that series.
The next book in The Perfectionists series is actually the final book — I'm almost sure, because it does wrap up and you find out what is going on. I know there's a small possibility of it becoming a show, and that always gets publishers reinvigorated, but I want to say it will be the last book of that story. And it's interesting that it's a two-book series because you don't have to wait around for 16 books to find out what's going to happen to these people.
The five girls, who have become friends and are kind of conspirators, they had had this discussion in film studies class about the perfect murder and who would deserve that, and they mention this one common enemy. And we find that he is killed in exactly the way they had planned, and they said they didn't do it. Well, they named some other names in that conversation as well, and it's really scary because bad things start happening to those people too. We're in all these girls' heads, and we know — or we think we know — that they're not behind this stuff, but they start to not trust one another and we're not really sure what's going on. And at the end, there's this pretty big fun twist that I hope people don't see coming and I hope people like.
You mentioned also TV options. I know The Perfectionists was optioned for TV by ABC Family and Marlene King, and The Heiresses is in the works on Bravo. You've had a lot of experience with this, so what is it like to see your work and your words transformed onto the screen?
Oh, it's great. I think the purest version has been Pretty Little Liars . I remember watching the pilot, and I read the script thinking, "Oh this is just like book one!" But then seeing it played out and seeing Hanna at the mall stealing the sunglasses, and Aria and Ezra meeting at the bar — all of these things that I remember making up — it was amazing. ... I still can't really believe that this is going on, especially Pretty Little Liars that has had so many seasons.
The Lying Game was also a show for a little while, but it was a little bit different. The writers took a different turn with it. In the books, one of the twins is dead and one is alive, but they both chime in. But in the show, they were both alive. I thought it was interesting, but it was less of "Oh my gosh, there's my book!" It was just a good show to watch, but it wasn't the same feeling.
So we'll see what happens. I don't know what will happen with the other two because it's hard to get shows on the air, and I think I got really lucky with both Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game, and I don't want to expect that anything is going to happen. But it would be fun even reading a script of either of those because it's just interesting to see what people do with your material, because something playing out on a screen is every different than reading the same thing in a book. It's fun to see what decisions they make, what character traits they keep, and what scenes they decide to use. It's a lot of fun.
Is it ever difficult for you? Do you ever think, "Gosh, I hope they get this right?"
...I think I decided not to take it too personally early on. I just want to try to enjoy it. It's just an opportunity that doesn't come along every often. But I know it can be hard. It's your baby, and you want it to be exactly like you wrote it.
There's one book, one that I wrote when I was pretty young, called The Visibles that wasn't really autobiographical, but it was personal. And that one, maybe, if I saw it being made into a show and they changed it all around, it might be hard.
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