With the release of her new novella less than a month away, Veronica sits down with the folks from R29 for an exclusive interview!
“I am obviously a totally different person from when I was 16, but I think I was really determined that I wanted to be a badass — even though I only ever got a lunch detention for forgetting my gym uniform. Not really true, but I probably would have chosen Dauntless because I would have wanted so badly to believe that I was tough enough.”
What was your inspiration for picturing a post-apocalyptic Chicago?
“I think I kind of came into it backward. I didn’t really set the rough draft of Divergent in a particular place. It was sort of a generic urban landscape. But, when I did a revision, I thought it could really use a more distinct sense, so it felt more real and more grounded. So, I have this city, where the trains run all the time — you didn’t really know who was operating them — and this marsh. I realized that it was set in Chicago already, simply because it’s the city of which I’m most familiar. I think it just kind of crept into my brain, and I just decided to go with it.”
Was the process of writing a prequel difficult, or did you have the idea all along?
“It was easy in some ways and difficult in others. In the really, really rough draft ofDivergent, the first piece I ever wrote comes from Tobias’ perspective. It’s just a couple of pages, but he didn’t work as the narrator because he wasn’t as surprising as Tris, a small, mild-mannered girl who chooses Dauntless. That felt like a really urgent story to me. But, Four/Tobias was someone in the back of my mind as someone who had a story to tell — a story I almost told. When I went to write the prequel, I already had an idea of his history, so it was just a matter of putting it down on paper. But, the tricky part is that he and Tris have a very similar character trajectory: They choose Dauntless and one of their friends dies significantly earlier in the process. So, I had to find ways to make their stories feel as different as they are, which was a big challenge.”
So, would you say that’s why you choose to explore the character of Tobias Eaton inFour?
“Yes, I think in Allegiant, writing from his perspective helped me to see him in a different way. And, it felt important to sort of dismantle this mysterious-man thing that kind of surrounds him. Meanwhile, I love that just as much as the next person. I also think he’s an interesting, well-rounded character. He appears on the page as more of a real person, so I enjoyed exploring his back story. It was good for me; I hope it’s good for everyone else.”
How and why was it good for you?
“In a lot of ways he was the easiest character to chose because I knew so much about him. But, also, his story is totally different from Tris’ internally. She’s trying to become self-actualized, the person she’s always meant to be, and he’s just trying to reconcile with people around him and learn to rely on others. So, that was a completely different story to tell. There’s something really exciting and compelling about that to me. It was also a bit of a challenge because I’m so used to Tris at this point.”
“I’m glad you asked this. I think young-adult books are an awesome place to explore this issue — rather, this part of life. Especially because it’s the time in your life that you’re making this very personal decision. It’s only yours, only you get to make it, and books are a really safe space to look at characters who are making all kinds of decisions. So, I think it’s important to have a wide range of sexual experiences in young-adult books. I don’t believe in pretending that these feelings or decisions or acts don’t exist — I think that’s crazy. But, as far as Tris and Four go, my goal was really to be very honest about what they were thinking and the decisions that they are making.
“Tris is raised Abnegation, where they are not that into physical intimacy. And, she’s also very protective of her body. She is through the whole series. But, she has big desires, she’s attracted to Four, she trusts him, and they are growing in their relationship. So, balancing those two things is a huge thing for me. But, I just wanted to make sure that no matter what, it didn’t feel like Tris was being forced into doing it or not doing it by some kind of external force. She was making a decision as she went about what she felt comfortable with, and she tried to communicate that to Four as clearly as possible. I never thought about ‘Oh my god, am I going to make the teens happy and the parents angry,’ I just thought about what would Tris do, what would Four do, what would this be like.”
Thanks for explaining that. We’ve come a long way from the Babysitters Club series back in the day!
“[Laughing] “Yeah, really! We’re definitely for a younger audience, too, even though the trajectory has gotten a lot older. I think teenagers are smart. They don’t just read a book and do whatever that books says they should do.”
Without giving any spoilers, can you give us any hints about what we can expect from the three additional scenes from Divergent we’ll read about in Four?
“Some of those are spoilers in themselves if you know the series well. They are significant lines that Four speaks to Tris, and it’s just a scene written from his perspective instead of hers. So, it’s a lot of firsts: The first time he sees her. It’s the first time he recognizes her strength. And, it’s the first time that he, you know, starts to flirt with her a little bit.”
How long do you see these characters evolving into additional books/stories?
“I don’t really have any plans for the future right now. I felt like Four was a story I needed to write, and I haven’t really felt that way about any of the other characters in the series. So, you know, it’s not out of the question, but for the moment I feel like it’s time to move on to something new.”
Any idea what that something new is yet?
“I am definitely in the ‘lets play around with a bunch of ideas” mode! But, I do love writing for teens, so I think it’s going to stay in the same age category. Teenagers themselves are an incredible audience. You’ll never find other people who will scream at you one second and then say something really wise the next second. They have such huge enthusiasm and a huge capacity for emotion. But, also, they are becoming adults, so they have all these really interesting thoughts. So, I just think I would miss them if I couldn’t write for them anymore. But, that’s pretty much all I know right now — it’s all still happening with the movies and such.”