Veronica Roth, the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of the Divergent trilogy and a world-renowned literary star, dissects how to create a fictional universe, become a published author, and approach revision with thought, productivity, and value.
Veronica Roth published her debut novel, Divergent, at the age of 22 after she graduated from Northwestern University. She wrote the book on winter break of her senior year, and the novel was an overnight success — soaring to the number 1 spot on The New York Times bestseller list and inspiring two more sequels, Insurgent and Allegiant, both of which also made the list. The book trilogy was adapted for the big screen after Veronica sold the film rights to Summit Entertainment. Veronica shares insights from how she was able to capitalize on her creative prowess to reach literary success.
How To Write Like A Bestselling Author | Veronica Roth
“I only learn to be better by getting ripped to shreds, repeatedly. I tend to think big, um, like, I have this big idea and it’ll be this thing and really, that doesn’t work with writing, you have to get specific cuz specificity is universality, kind of.
So, people won’t connect to your story unless it feels real to them and the way that you make it feel real is by making it detailed and thoughtful. I have to narrow my idea down to like, okay, don’t think about writing a book, think about writing a scene and that’s where I start and I just will write all the scenes that I have in mind and then, even if they’re not in order, and then I kind of like connect the dots in between them.
That’s generally how writing books works, but with Carve the Mark I wrote, like I’d write a scene and like, I’d write 2000 words and then I’d delete 1000 of them. So I was like moving forward and moving back, moving forward and moving back and it was very frustrating.
I do think setting is super important. It could become like, a huge part of what makes story work. They have to work together and I feel like sometimes people get really, like, in love with their world and they forget that we need to be propelled through that world. Like, not everyone will see it in the way that you do. So, what we need is a character with an interesting struggle that will, like, carry us through it.
So, I think they need to be held in tension with each other. For me, I guess like story is like just a little bit higher on the priority list, but I also write like super commercial fiction, so it depends on like, what kind of story you’re writing.
In rough draft, just throw everything in. When you’re done, you figure out what the story needs and what the world needs. Take all the ideas and trust that you will have enough for the next story that you wanna write. That’s how stories work, right? They’re like a mountain. Like uh, they build, build, build, build, build, reach a peak and then like decline. Mine always go like, err err rrreer, err. Um, so I don’t think it needs to be so strict, I guess, but it does help me.
I map things out on the mountain, so i don’t do this during rough draft phase. In rough draft phase, I just like get it done, I don’t think about this and a lot of people get stuck in their story and they can’t finish a rough draft and that’s really hard cuz you can’t fix something that isn’t there. So you need it to be done first.
That’s kind of like my first piece of advice, but then I’ll map the story on this like graph thing to make sure that each scene that I’m putting in is building me toward where I need to go and you have to know where you’re going. What’s your big climactic moment? What’s the emotional like peak of your story?
So figuring that out kind of helps the beginning of each scene and the end. Like, there needs to be a change. So a scene either goes from positive to negative, whatever. No hand motions. Or a negative to positive or a negative to more negative, but whatever happens like it has to have a change in it. Otherwise, what’s the point of it? Like, what is it doing for you and you can build world and build character and build all kinds of things inside of plot.
Trying to be efficient with space is one of my favorite things about revising. It’s just like, let me figure out how many things I can make this scene do for me. Um, but like, you know like all that said, I do that after. “