Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Writing lessons learned from DIVERGENT

Obviously I'm a bit slow, because I finally just read Divergent, by Veronica Roth. As a matter of fact, I broke my own rule and saw the movie first--only because I was part a group of 9, and they all wanted to see that movie. Because I saw the movie first, I almost didn't read the book. But I'm so glad I did. It's amazing.

Fun fact: Shailene Woodley, the actress who plays Tris in the movie, is the daughter of my sons' former elementary school principal!

Here's a quickie description from Goodreads:

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

Here are some cool writing lessons I learned from Divergent. Warning! If you haven't read this book, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further :)

  • The world is the way it is--The book opens in futuristic Chicago. Factions were created to keep the peace. The author didn't bog the story down with long-winded explanations of why the world is the way it is. It just is. She trusts the reader to accept it the way it is, knowing more information will follow. I liked that.
  • Not all parents are lame--In some YA lit, parents are idiotic, horrible, or lame walk-on characters. Which makes sense, because in real life some parents are idiots, horrible, or lame. Not so in Divergent. Tris loves her family and longs for them. Her parents are portrayed as noble badasses. Veronica Roth's dedication reads, To my mother, who gave me the moment when Beatrice realizes how strong her mother is and wonders how she missed it for so long.
  • Don't rush romance--In many books, especially romance, it's important to introduce the love interests right away and start cookin'. In this YA dystopian, it was appropriate to make the reader wait, especially since the romance is a subplot. The romance with Four was a slow burn but totally worth the wait. *sigh*
  • Unique inner dialogue--While reading this book, I noticed Tris' inner dialogue was unique: she doesn't use contractions. We make our characters unique when we attach identifying quirks, dialogue tags, and inner thoughts.
  • Physical growth matches inner growth--Tris' body morphs from weak and skinny to lean and muscular, just as her character is changing from fearful newbie to brave leader. It was a cool parallel that physically illustrated her character growth.
  • Story problems widen beyond the main character's initial worries--Tris' story problems change and grow. At first she worries about leaving her parents. Then she worries about her rank, and surviving Dauntless training. But then BAM! Those worries are swept away when war leaps to the top of her worry list.
The print version also had fun back matter, like the faction manifestoes, details on how the author came up with faction names, and topics for discussion.

What do you think of these writing lessons? Have you used any in your own fiction? Have you read Divergent? What did you think of it? And a fun question: which faction would you choose?

Bonus tip: has anyone else been having trouble receiving blog posts via email? For about three weeks I didn't receive my own blog posts, and many others, in my email inbox. After some digging, I found this forum thread. I made a couple of adjustments and now I'm back in business. I hope the link is helpful!


  1. Awesome about the actress in Divergent being the principal's kid. What a small world.

    I really liked the slower romance in Divergent too. I like that type of romantic build up best.

  2. Not my style of read, so know nothing of the story.
    Sometimes things just are and that's fine. I don't need an explanation for everything.

  3. This was a great's been a while since I've read it, but your post brought back all the bits I liked about it. I'll have to revisit it on my Kindle...thanks!

  4. Thank you so much for the writing lessons! I always learn so much from you. The making each character unique is a challenge when you have many. But so much fun when you can pull it off!

    I also love that she trusts the reader. Far too often we don't and it's so apparent. Thanks for a great review!

  5. Awesome. I haven't read it either. I know. I'm a rebel. It will happen one day, but I loved the lessons you extracted. I think I've learned most of them from all the other books I've read--which is why we're supposed to read a ton if we want to be good writers, eh?

  6. I enjoyed all three books. I recently finished Allegiant and...I won't say anything, but yeah, great series.

    As for the faction I'd choose...hmm, not Dauntless, that's for su8re cuz there's no way I'd do most of they stuff those kids did - unless I was sixteen again, then I might :)

  7. I still haven't read yet, Julie but I love when you do these lessons!!

  8. I too loved the way the setting was there without a ton of backstory! So many great lessons from a great book. Haven't seen the movie yet and am not sure I will - I'm always so leery about movies from books :)

  9. Brilliant takeaways. I resisted reading it for a long time because the faction idea seemed strange to me, but after reading it, it made a lot more sense to me, especially in the later books. How cool that you have a connection to the actress!

  10. I think I'd pick Erudite, but I think that's partly because I've been in grad school for a long time; I figure it'd give me the chance to keep learning and studying. I haven't read Divergent, though it looks interesting.

  11. I love learning writing techniques from visual media. You certainly took away some gems from Divergent.