Monday, November 7, 2011

Divergent Inspiration

(I did a lot of bloggery this morning-- I have a post about Harry Potter and humor and writing and whatnot on YA Highway today, too, if you want to check it out!)

What inspired you to write Divergent?

Without a doubt, this is the most frequently asked question of all the frequently asked questions, and that does not surprise me at all. I always want to know where my favorite authors get their ideas. And it seems pretty simple, because there was a precise moment when the writer started the story, and so it seems like there had to be a precise moment when they came up with the idea for it.

The thing is, for a lot of writers, it's more complicated than that. For those of us who didn't have a vivid dream, or ask ourselves a "what if" question, or any of the other concrete ways that ideas come to people, it's actually difficult to answer. That's why I give a different answer in every single interview I ever do-- because at the moment that I am asked the question, I think of another, equally important, source of inspiration.

So in order to answer it, I'm going to give you the overly detailed explanation. But I'll say, first, that Divergent really happened when a bunch of these pieces of inspiration suddenly coalesced in my mind as I was writing, and I got about thirty pages of a story from Four's perspective down, and then set it aside because it wasn't so good. It was only when I discovered Beatrice that I was able to write the full book, four years later.

Bits of inspiration for Divergent:

1. Psychology 101

I was taking it at the time. In Psych 101, you get an overview of the study of psychology, so you go through many things very quickly. I had just learned about exposure therapy in the treatment of phobias. Wikipedia explains this better than I do: "Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy intended to treat anxiety disorders and involves the exposure to the feared object or context without any danger in order to overcome their anxiety." This is where the Dauntless initiation process comes from. I thought that a group of people whose primary goal was to overcome fear would probably use this technique.

I was also beginning to learn about social psychology and the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, which made me think about how malleable our supposedly strict moral codes become in the right conditions. Something that Divergent grapples with.

2. That Damn Song

I was driving to Minnesota (I spent my freshman year of college at Carleton College, before transferring to Northwestern), and I get really stressed when I'm driving at high speeds, so my back was throbbing. I had to plug in the heating pad I had brought with me into the cigarette lighter thing, which mean I had to unplug my iPod, which meant I had to put in a CD instead. And the only CD I had was "The Open Door" by Evanescence.

Don't get me wrong, I really like Evanescence. But I was not fond of one song on that CD in particular: "Sweet Sacrifice." I listened to it anyway, because I knew I would be hearing the CD for awhile, and as I heard these lyrics: "fear is only in our minds/but it's taking over all the time," I got this picture in my head of a person jumping off a roof to prove their bravery. And when I started to think about why a person would do that, I came up with Dauntless.

3. Division Into Groups

I have a thing for groups, and I always have. It interests me in speculative fiction, whether it's the houses at Hogwarts or the armies in Ender's Game or the houses in Kushiel's Dart (which I didn't read all of, because it made me blush too much, but the house thing kept me going for awhile). I also have a long-time (now abandoned) obsession with personality tests, especially the Meyers-Briggs personality tests (depending on the day I'm an INFJ, INFP, or an ISFJ. I've forgotten what all those mean, though), and the enneagram (I'm a number 1: The Perfectionist. Now that one never changes. Ha). And I've always been interested in government systems that stick people in classes or castes (even if I'm also pretty horrified by them), or high school cliques, as depicted so well in Mean Girls:

So: groups. It was bound to happen.

4. Tris

I've said before that I always wanted to write a character who could convincingly deliver these lines from Agamemnon, by Aeschylus: "My will is mine...I shall not make it soft for you." And I also wanted to write a character who used only as many words as she needed to say what she needed to say. This is pretty much how Tris appeared: a smart, somewhat humorless girl with a voice that wouldn't leave me alone. And eventually, I decided I couldn't tell any other story but hers.

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