Veronica Roth says of the three books in her Divergent series, the second instalment, Insurgent, had the most complicated plot. In this recent interview in Los Angeles, she talks about the trust she has with filmmakers, the questions cast members have for her and the joy she has when young fans greet her.
CraveOnline: Hi Veronica. It’s impossible to make a movie that is an exact replica of the book, but how do you feel when the writers, director or producers come to you with an idea that’s different to what you wrote? Is there any hesitation that they’re taking your baby?
Veronica Roth: Well, I don’t think of it as my baby. That’s what has made my relationship to the movies easier. I think when your book is released you have to start letting go—when people start reading it, they interpret it in different ways, and you want them to take it and run with it because it should make them imagine things. I’ve been letting go of it for a long time. With Insurgent I was especially prepared for changes because of the three books it probably has the most complicated plot with the most confusing or complex character motivations. I knew it would have to be simplified for the screen just for it to make sense and not get bogged down in its own mythology.
What about the box in Insurgent? That’s new.
The box seemed to me to be a pretty good way of combining a few of the ideas of scenes from the book – Tris’ simulations when she’s confronting herself, the simulations where she is encountering her mother again – those simulations are now in one place. There’s one climactic action sequence that’s really emotionally satisfying. When I saw how well it worked, I was really on board with it. There is always a part of you that’s like, ‘This isn’t quite what I imagined,’ but I try to let go of that part – you want the movie to work as its own independent thing.
So you have to really step back and trust the filmmakers?
Yeah, it requires a lot of trust. I have found the best way to let go is to trust the actors, I find when Theo, Shailene, Ansel or any of the actors deliver a line, because they understand the characters and are talented, inevitably it feels right.
When did you first start writing stories?
I started writing almost daily when I was 11-years-old. So this has been a longtime hobby of mine that I later turned into a career. It’s a little bit weird for a young person to do that instead of interacting with other humans, but I was always interested in doing it for fun. When I decided to take it more seriously and see what I could do, for me, internally the stakes were low, whether people wanted to read it or not. I was surprised by the feedback I got for it. I got an agent and she pitched the book to publishers.
Was that when you were studying at Northwestern University?
Yes, I was a senior when it was happening – late in my senior year. I felt it was great timing, but it was also a lifetime, or half a lifetime, of hard work on the writing process.
Was it always the same story?
No. I’ve gone through a sea of stories, but Divergent was the second story I finished. I think a lot of young writers have trouble finishing things because they get distracted or because they are afraid of it or they don’t know how to write a story yet. Divergent was a complete unit and I thought there was something there I could fix up. I never think with a rough draft, ‘This is gold. Put it right on the shelves’, because, man, it needs some editing (laughs).
Were you an avid reader growing up?
I did read a lot of books that were age appropriate like Judy Blume, a lot of science-fiction. My first dystopian book was The Giver by Lois Lowry. I went on to read 1984, Brave New World, Ender’s Game, Harry Potter and of course, all the books you read for school. A little later I was introduced to Marilynne Robinson who wrote Gilead, Housekeeping, Lila, and Home. Those books are incredibly beautiful and totally different. Mostly, though, I gravitated to genre fiction.
Were prepared for this level of success?
I didn’t expect this to happen. That would have been delusional. My mission is to write a good story and stop thinking about how it will do. I read recently Yes Please by Amy Poehler and in it, she talks about how the one common thing successful people in creative fields do is detach themselves from the results of their work. Not ambivalence to the work, but how it will do. I think that’s something I try to cultivate in myself. You have to let it go because you can’t control how people react.
People must recognise you and stop you all the time?
Once a sweet, 12-year-old girl recognized me in an airport bathroom. That was a little awkward. I was thinking, ‘Let me just wash my hands’ while she was asking, ‘Can I take a picture’ and I had to say, ‘Not in front of the toilets’ (laughs). Usually when people recognize me they are sweet, young people. It’s great actually. I love it that young people are reading.
Your characters often are forced to face their fears. What are your fears?
Gosh, I’m afraid of everything. Bugs! If I ever have a nightmare, it is a bug infestation.
What’s your writing routine?
I don’t have a routine, but I try to write every day. I try to write in the morning because it sets you up for a creative day. I also think it’s important for writers to learn the art of not writing, and going out in the world and discovering new things.
I understand that you are writing a new duology, do you have a complete outline for it?
This time I do (laughs). I learned a lot from Divergent. There were some plans with Divergent, like I knew the ending, but I didn’t have all of the worlds planned out when I started and got myself into trouble a few times.
Of the cast members, who asks the most questions?
For the first movie it was Miles because Peter is a little hard to read. In the second, it was Ansel because Caleb becomes a little more complicated. Is he a villain or a good guy? And Shailene has really great instincts for Tris. She’ll tell me, ‘This is what I’m thinking’ and I’ll say, ‘…Yeah!’. That’s how it usually goes (laughs).
Do you interact with them on the phone, email or on the set?
Usually on the set.
So you don’t get any midnight phone calls.
No, thankfully. I’d be like, ‘What are you doing?!’ (laughs)
Do you feel the actors have done justice to the characters’ development?
It’s a huge task in Insurgent to get Tris’ emotional struggle. To get it right. She’s a flawed character. She’s not fragile, but is struggling. It’s a tough line to walk and Shailene walks it very well. As characters become more complicated as the series goes along I’m really impressed how the actors bring out different parts of the characters in ways I didn’t imagine or interpret. It’s just a really talented cast – could we be any luckier?
Available for digital download in Foxtel Store + Box Office from 12 August/now.
ULTIMATE LIVE FAN EVENT: Saturday 15th August will be a HUGE day for Australian Insurgent fans, if you’d like to join a live Twitter party celebrating the release of Insurgent, simply press play on your copy of Insurgent at 8PM AEDT on Sat 15th, following @DIVERGENT_AU and tagging you tweets #INSURGENTSLEEPOVER on Twitter. You will then experience live commentary, trivia, prize giveaways, and VIP stars joining in the fun!