Divergent by Veronica Roth

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Plot Summary:

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.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I really did not like this book. This is a truly interesting world presented with a clear voice within the writing – the writing was good enough that I could not put the book down (even though I really, really wanted to). But it is almost completely devoid of compelling characters. Four is amazing, Tris’ parents were both very interesting, but Tris herself was a whiny neutral mask sort of character who only ever succeeded in pissing me off. On top of that, there was not much depth presented within the factions of the world. The following review will contain slight spoilers for the entire series (but I keep away from major events).

“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it.”  

See? Good writing!

Tris has a tendency to whine about how difficult her situation is in this book. She acts as if she’s surprised that succeeding in Dauntless is difficult and the characters around her are painted with disdain when they try to tell her she’s be unreasonable. While I understand that this is a natural thing that many people go through, it’s not something that I can entirely stomach reading. It kind of cemented this as a YA novel, giving us a protagonist that was such a stereotype of a teenager that it forgot to remind us that not all teens are dumb. I don’t want this to seem scathing, but Tris, as a character, was weak. She was presented as this strong woman, and there were very real times where she could not be strong, and that was nice. There were very real times where she had to be selfish, where she had the right to be a little annoying. And there were times when she was being ridiculous and no one was willing to call her on it. It very well could just be me and my perception of her, but most of the time Tris made me want to throw my book across the room. And Four, arguably the strongest and most compelling character in this book, was not strong enough to redeem the entire book. As, for me, a book is only as strong as its characters.

On top of that, the book is filled with unnecessary deaths. Not unnecessary in the frame of war, unnecessary in a literary and practical sense. As in, someone gets shot in the face where they could have easily been shot in the knee and knocked out. And then the author framing said senseless murder as justified and in self defense, even though there was no reason for that person to be shot in the face. And Then, Tris’ reaction to these deaths vary to the point where she goes between 100% understandable to 100% robot in the space of only a couple of chapters. Which can also be understandable, but it doesn’t make sense in the way that the story and the character were framed.

 

I did consider reading the rest of the series, but I was so upset by Tris that I wasn’t sure. So I read ahead, talked to many who had read the books, and decided that I did not need to see more of this world. Why? Because the villains of this world come in one shade, and that seemed to be Erudite. There is not a single Erudite character within this series that is not a completely asshole. And, so you don’t have to check back up there if you don’t already know, Erudite is made up of the intelligent. It is the faction that was created under the belief that ignorance is the root of all evil. As a Ravenclaw, I do take her treatment of this faction a bit personally. They were all robots, which I understand. But they were also all selfish and generally framed as the bad guys. Not one of them stepped forward to say what their faction was doing was wrong. And, if that happened, there isn’t a single die-hard fan I’ve talked to who can remember it. In this world, Erudite is treated like Slytherin. And I have a problem with both. Roth’s treatment of Erudite completely undermines the main idea of the series – that people can’t be categorized like that. Her argument seems to be that people can’t be categorized like that unless they are logical thinkers – those guys are the worst. I can’t get behind that.

Overall, I did not like this book. It was definitely an interesting read, and I do (sort of) understand how so many people can love it. If any of the points discussed above bother you, you probably won’t like it. However, if you’re a fan of The Hunger Games or Twilight, you might really enjoy this.

As a final thought, I don’t want it to seem like I think people are wrong for enjoy this book or the other books listed above. To each his own. I’m only saying that I didn’t get much from it, and ‘I’ has never been synonymous with ‘everyone’.

Good day.

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Q & A: I have a story in mind. How do I write a good novel out of it?

Q & A: The new series in which I answer questions from around the interwebs (mostly Quora) of or relating to read and writing.

The Question
I have a story in mind. How do I write a good novel out of it?

The Answer

Writing a ‘good’ novel can take years of effort. Writing a novel is one hell of a process. Having written one myself, I feel like I can give some advice in that regard.

The write a good novel, the first objective you must have is to complete a first draft. As many writers might confirm, this is actually the most difficult part of the process. I struggled with it for about three years, giving up completely once or twice. So here are some things you could do to make it easier on you:

  1. Figure out your process
    Some people (and I am not one of those people) can just sit down and write with a vague idea of where they want to go in their mind and the story just evolves and plot points arise as they write it. Other people (like me) need to map out the story down to every last detail before they can even dream of starting the story. Story mapping ‘just to be safe’ may not help either – as it could cause people to feel constrained within their outline. So it is very important to figure out: do you need to plan or don’t you?
  2. Give yourself a break
    Many will tell you that you need to write every day and you need to create your own inspiration and all that. While it is important to discipline yourself, if you force yourself to write a story you will eventually start to resent it. It will become and chore and then you’ll never genuinely want to do it. If you miss a day of writing, it’s fine. And if you need a break from your story, take a break.
  3. Never forget: The first draft is SUPPOSED to suck
    The first draft of a book is like the first draft of most anything. It’s messy, the plot development and character development are all over the place, and the writing – it’s a stone’s throw away from garbage. <b>Don’t you edit a thing</b> until you finish that first draft. There is a lot that is going on while you write that draft, and you can make changes, you can move things around. Let the story evolve. But don’t really start editing until you get through that important draft: the shitty first draft.

So when you have something that may someday be a book, and you want to make it good, there are a few things you’re going to want to focus on. For me, the most important thing is the characters.

I can forgive shortcomings in a plot if I love or connect with the characters in some way. Alternation, if there isn’t a single character I can connect with then I quickly lose interesting. You want to write a story full of complex, compelling characters. They don’t just need to seem like real people, they need to be real people. To the creator, at least. There are many things you want to avoid when writing character, like too much power or the everyone-loves-me-even-though-I’m-aggressively-average syndrome or the my-life-is-hard-so-I-get-to-be-an-asshole fallacy (See: Mary Sue and Gary Stu). But there are also many things that you need to pay attention to. The question you have to ask yourself is: Why should people care about my character? And it’s your job to answer that question.

The process of creating a character can quickly become very similar to getting to know a person. Once in creation, you need to give your characters room to breath. If you smother them too much, you could interfere with the natural flow of the story and suddenly Neville and Luna don’t end up together. It’s a tricky balance, that is. There are a lot of really great character questionnaires out there to help you get to know these people, but my favorite right now is The Ultimate Character Builder. The questions are simple, but they go deep. You can really get a lot out of something like that.

After the characters comes the plot. You want your story to be interesting, you want it to seem new whether it’s a new take on an old idea or something you haven’t seen before. The most important part of a story is that you, as the author, loves that story. It is your story to tell, and if you don’t love it then it will be evident in your writing. On top of that, you probably won’t be able to finish a draft in the first place. If you can’t love your story, you can’t expect anyone else to love it either and it 90% isn’t worth pursuing.

There is a lot to be said about the plot of a story. But if you want to make it ‘good’, if you want to make it something that people will praise, then you want to do something different. It doesn’t need to be totally new (very few things are, these days) but you will want it to feel fresh. Don’t become obsessed with this ideal. if you do, it will probably come out lacking. What you want to do is let your own quirks fly out onto the page. You have a very distinct experience in the world in that no one else has ever been you. I’m not saying it’s okay to rip off the plot of Star Wars because no one’s seen it quite like you have – I’m saying that if you have and idea, and you love it and you nurture it, that fresh feeling will usually just come right along with it.

As a final thought, when crafting your story and your characters there are a few questions you’re going to want to ask yourself:

  1. Why is that particular character the protagonist?
  2. What is the catalyst of the story? What got these characters started on this path? What changed everything?
  3. What is the climax of the story? What is your story leading up to?
  4. What id your protagonist’s goal? What are they trying to accomplish?
  5. What is stopping him/her/etc.?
  6. How does he/she/orwhathaveyou change over the course of the story?
  7. What are you trying to say? Why are you writing this story?

If you can answer those questions, you can get a whole lot closer to making something good. Now, this sin’t a magic formula, i haven’t imparted on you some great wisdom. It’s your story, it’s up to you to tell it. You need to trust yourself, you need to trust someone else and ask them to be honest with you, you need to take criticism, but you need to be confident in your work. Don’t be afraid to finish it.

stop letting fear hurt your progress. there are other things in life that deserve fear. this is not one of them. we’re making art, here. it’s supposed to be fun. -raspil

Write well, my friends.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

51ZwSFC2vpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Plot Summary:

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative fiction

Publication date: 1980

This is a truly unique book. Unlike the majority of the science fiction genre, Wild Seed deals with the biological. On top of that, it takes place in the past; between about 1740 and 1840. While the majority of the story takes place in America, the opening of the story takes place in Africa – the homeland of both Doro and Anyanwu. It deals with themes of control, gender roles and connects heavily to the ideas of Natural Selection and Evolution.

“When her enemies came to kill her, she knew more about surviving than they did about killing.”

When I first read the plot summary of this book, I was intrigued. I have always been a fan of speculative fiction and biological science fiction (Children of Men is one of my favorite movies), and this is extremely reflective in my own writing. I haven’t been able to much much biological science fiction out there (Peeps or Parasite Positive by Scott Westerfeld is a good one), but this one is definitely a gem. The writing style is simplistic; Butler is not attempting to bury her themes under piles of words. Rather, the events and the dialogue within the story are chosen carefully to get across her point. The result is a beautifully crafted story about many, many things.

The characters also have a wonderful interplay with each other and in the eyes of the readers. Doro, the oldest of the characters (he is more than four thousand years old) is too old and too powerful to be considered human anymore. He is generally viewed as the ‘bad guy’, but I look at him as more of a representation of control. He is certainly not a good person, but he is also a very complex kind of of character. The catalyst of the story is when Doro find Anyanmu. At more than 300 years old, she has had many children and many husbands and has had to watch all of them die. She has very high morals. Often viewed as the hero of the story, I view Anyanwu as a representation of nature, Doro being the force trying to control her. Coming between these two characters is Doro’s mortal son, Isaac. A good man, he loves both Doro and Anyanwu. And though they are both many times older than he, he serves as the humanizing center and the voice of reason between the two. He is the force that balances them. Together, they can be viewed to make many statements about control and colonial life.

As a whole, the book was wonderful. If you like biology or Toni Morrison (or both), you will probably really enjoy this book.