(Note: this post will be packed full of Divergent and Insurgent and surprisingly, Harry Potter, spoilers, so don't read it if you don't want to be spoiled!)

(Also, there is no reason to infer anything about book 3 from this post. Just responding to a bunch of questions that have popped up in my tumblr ask box recently. To quote Conan O'Brien: keep cool, my babies.)

stringdance(source)
Many people ask me variations of this question:why did soandso have to die? A couple times I've also been asked: Why don't you just kill minor characters or ones we're not attached to?

Let me address that last one right away: I think it's a good thing that the characters I "kill" are ones we're all attached to, so that those deaths are not gratuitous. Why? Because I don't want the books to be like Grand Theft Auto, where people get killed all the time but no one really cares or thinks about it. (That game can be fun, by the way, but it just wouldn't make a thoughtful book!) Even though I write violent books, I don't want to make people desensitized to violence, ever. That means that when someone dies, I want to feel it, and I want you to, too.

(Whether I have succeeded in that goal, by the way, is up for the readers to decide. But I'm just talking about what I try to do, not what I do perfectly!)

But my real philosophy of character death in the Divergent series is that the world Tris lives in is supposed to be messed up. And there's a war going on. And from all I've ever learned about war, if you're involved in one, people you care about will be killed, and it won't make any sense to you, and it won't be fair, and it will be at all the wrong times, and some people will lose more than other people, and that's just how it is.

It would be far too convenient for Tris to retain all her friends and family while all these other people are losing theirs. Especially since Tris's friends and family choose to directly involve themselves, perhaps more than others, in violent and difficult situations. I try to be just as unfair as the world is; I take away characters when I have to, and I don't really think about whether it's balanced. Tris loses both parents; Tobias and Christina lose neither. Tris gets to keep her boyfriend; Christina's is taken from her. It's not fair either way, and that feels honest to me.

I think I learned this lesson from Harry Potter. Would we would really, truly have believed that Voldemort was a heinous villain if no one Harry loved had died? Would we have believed that his world was being pitched into darkness? Would his sacrifice, in book 7, have felt truly necessary to us? I really don't think so. I was very attached to the characters that died. I remember crying like a baby in my bathroom before school when I read book six. (Big mistake, reading the end of that one before school. Seriously.) But their deaths made Harry's world, and the state it was in, so much more real to me; they made his search for the horcruxes and his defeat of Voldemort feel so much more urgent. Those books wouldn't have been the same without Rowling's willingness to make sacrifices. That, more than anything, made me decide that if I was going to be an author, I had to be willing to make sacrifices too.

As for why certain characters over others, well, I don't know. I think people-- even writers themselves!-- sometimes have the impression that the authors of stories are completely in control of those stories and the characters that inhabit them. That really isn't true for me, though. I know it sounds crazy, but I create the characters and they become real to me and then they do whatever the heck they want. (Especially Peter. Whoa.) And when characters die, it's usually because I hit a point in the story where I don't feel any danger anymore, because no one Tris cares about is in peril, and then someone goes. BAM. Who that is depends on the moment in the story. It's often a shock to me.

In any case, what I'm saying is: I don't have that much control, and I try to follow each character's nature. (IE: the Abnegation will be more likely to die because they have that impulse to throw themselves in front of others. The Dauntless are more likely to die because of unnecessary heroics and recklessness. Etc.) I also try to be real with myself about what kind of world Tris lives in. She is not immune to its corruption or its violence. (And frankly, I think it already requires some suspension of disbelief that she didn't die in Insurgent.) All that I can do is try to have her react to her losses as realistically as possible, which often means that she's unlikable, as grieving and guilt-ridden people sometimes are.

So, that is my Official Writer Philosophy of Character Death.

In other news, will I ever be able to write a blog post without referring to Harry Potter? I'm not sure.[image error]
 •  flag
20 comments
60 likes · like  • 
Published on May 31, 2012 07:54 • 2,468 views
Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)    post a comment »
dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I really enjoyed reading this. I actually really like the way you described Tris dealing with lose as it makes her unlikeable. That's the thing about her character she feels very real to me, her unlikeableness is a part of that. I just waanted you to know that when I recommend this book to people its because of her. She's one of the first hero or protagonist that felt truely flawed to me. Shes not the prettiest fastest or strongest but shell kick your ass inspite of those things. I think that's why i'm so connected with the books is because shes sooo real.


message 2: by Bethany (new)

Bethany Veronica, this is a style question from a proofreader. Do your publisher's copyeditors follow your own basic style decisions (the ones you made in your first Divergent m.s.)?

For example, I noticed that Insurgent included the second "s" after the apostrophe in the possessive when the character's name ends in an "s" (Tris's, Tobias's), and I've noticed it again in this post. Was that your personal choice or do you start to follow guidelines the publisher decides? Let me know!


message 3: by Micheline (new)

Micheline This is a brilliant blog post, thank you for writing it. I lol-ed at how I can utterly relate to Harry Potter bleeding into every aspect of one's life (especially where writing, fiction, and inspirations are concerned. And I absolutely agree with your conclusion that Rowling needed to make sacrifices for her series to carry as much emotional investment as it does. And I commend you for doing the same. It's what makes a book about war and revolution more believable and more consuming.

I applaud you for taking the time to answer to fans like this and explain your reasoning. Thanks again for sharing and seriously; keep up the awesome work!


message 4: by Cheyenne (new)

Cheyenne I have Insurgent on hold at the library. Ugh! It just takes soooo long. The wait is unbearable!


message 5: by Jessie (new)

Jessie I have to agree with you. Life isn't fair and in a war situation it would be too unrealistic if everyone survived up till the very end. Death affects people in drastic ways, and I feel that the deaths were very much needed in the storyline. Thank you for your books, I couldn't put them down. I just wanted to drink up more and more of Both divergent and insurgent.


message 6: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Cheyenne wrote: "I have Insurgent on hold at the library. Ugh! It just takes soooo long. The wait is unbearable!"

My advice, buy your own copy. That's what I did. I got it the day it came out.


message 7: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I like the way you write, Veronica. It makes sense. Any sort of writing that doesn't make sense in some way (even if it is fantasy,:) ), shouldn't be written. Death is a part of our world, and books don't always make that obvious. No writer should favor any character.

So, I found this very informative. (See, my friends all tell me that in college I should be an English major and then become an author because I read so much.)

I am also curious as to the "s's" situation. It isn't technically proper grammar. It is supposed to be done "s'".


message 8: by Veronica (last edited May 31, 2012 01:11PM) (new)

Veronica Roth Bethany wrote: "Veronica, this is a style question from a proofreader. Do your publisher's copyeditors follow your own basic style decisions (the ones you made in your first Divergent m.s.)?

For example, I notice..."


Good question. No, with basic grammar and especially punctuation I defer to my proofreader and copy editor. Every house has its own system and follows a different style manual. I believe the rule you're referring to is somewhat flexible depending on the manual you use. When I was a proofreader for a publisher I used two "s"s per the house's guidelines, I believe.

I do sometimes insist on keeping things the proofreader wants italicized in roman, because of how tris's voice and inner monologue work, but that's about it as far as rule bending goes.


message 9: by Bethany (new)

Bethany Veronica wrote: "Bethany wrote: "Veronica, this is a style question from a proofreader. Do your publisher's copyeditors follow your own basic style decisions (the ones you made in your first Divergent m.s.)?

For e..."


Very cool. Thanks!


message 10: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Veronica wrote: "Bethany wrote: "Veronica, this is a style question from a proofreader. Do your publisher's copyeditors follow your own basic style decisions (the ones you made in your first Divergent m.s.)?

For e..."

That's so interesting! Thanks!


message 11: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Micheline wrote: "This is a brilliant blog post, thank you for writing it. I lol-ed at how I can utterly relate to Harry Potter bleeding into every aspect of one's life (especially where writing, fiction, and inspir..."

So true for me as well! Every time I think of bravery I return to HP 7 where Harry chooses to meet V in the Forbidden Forest. Yes, Tris demonstates her bravery throughout both books.


message 12: by Skyla (new)

Skyla Davis thanks that was helpful, i just have a question... was lynn a lesbian, was she IN LOVE with marlene???


message 13: by Audrey (new)

Audrey Ok so this is random but i feel like every thing leads back to your book for example: "if you were wearing black and white u would look a little dull"-Candor is what pops into my head. Or "you should be selfless"- Abnegation! Or "that was so brave"-Dauntless! This happens so much!


message 14: by Taryn (new)

Taryn This is awesome. I love how an author can blog and talk to her/his readers, and vice versa.

I finished "Insurgent" a few days ago, and it was great. Now everyone is trying to figure out who (SPOILER!!!) Edith Prior is. It kind of reminds me of how we were all musing about who "RAB" was in the Harry Potter books. If you read book 6 in school, then we're probably of similar age.... Yeah, I *almost cried* in that one, and kind of did a bit for book 7.

Anyway.


message 15: by Daphne (new)

Daphne Delacroix ALL HAIL VERONICA ROTH! AMEN TO HER, GREAT WOMAN! Such a true and strong reason given for character deaths!


message 16: by Margarita (new)

Margarita I really love the way you write. It makes everything so real and so powerful. while reading divergent and insurgent I found myself so involved with them and they felt so real to me. i just love these books <3 !!

thank you veronica, you´re my hero !!


message 17: by Melody (new)

Melody McBride Haha, I love Harry Potter.

And I'm glad you wrote this. Sometimes it's hard to see where these deaths come from, or if they were really required, but it wouldn't be as realistic if it happened that way.


message 18: by Aspyn (new)

Aspyn i live in a small town so i was the first to buy divergent on my kobo then a year later every girl in my town had borrowed my kobo to read it (btw it took some beatings)and then i was the first to buy insurgent (i got it and read it the day it came out) and now my kobo is going to take some more beatings. veronica thanks so much for writing these i cant wait for "detergent" lol


message 19: by Olivia (new)

Olivia Please don't make Tobias die!!!!!! I would cry for DAYS!!!!!!


message 20: by Aspyn (new)

Aspyn i agree wt olivia


back to top