Thursday, April 24, 2014

Divergent's Romance

A year or two out of my teens, I heard about bodice rippers, a term used to describe Harlequin Romance novels. I had apparently walked past the end-of-aisle grocery store displays without registering the books or their covers featuring a handsome man with finely cut abdominal muscles clutching a beautiful woman, her long hair drawing attention to cleavage as well defined as the man's six-pack. Once having heard about them, I read a few and quickly saw the formula:
  • Female protagonist must make her way in difficult circumstances such as being a stranger in a strange town, a new graduate embarking upon her career away from all support she’s known and loved, or an orphan.
  • Male protagonist is often the female protagonist’s new boss or a person with some power over the female.
  • Both female and male protagonists have some secret deemed important enough to withhold and powerful enough to complicate their relationship, one of attraction and restrained impulses that inevitably result in misunderstandings.
  • An abrupt departure or distancing between the protagonists is a direct result of failed communications, secrets, or misunderstandings.
  • Love clears a path, overcoming all obstacles, inspiring candor and honesty, bringing the two protagonists together for the satisfying climax: a confession and declaration of love.
These romances are the step-children of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. The protagonists are Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane Eyre and Rochester. Their stories prove that Love is indeed a Conqueror. More important, they demonstrate that true love restores people to a state of well-being, enriching their lives and enhancing their happiness.

Divergent’s protagonists are two among the many Romance descendants. Each one has a secret. Tris is Divergent, a rare breed endowed with the gifts of Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Four is also Divergent. In fact, (SPOILER ALERT!), many among Abnegation are Divergents, and all Divergents know they could be killed if others learn of their gifts because Divergents are capable of selflessness, a type of courage that has little to do with strength training, sharpshooting, or the ability to take a gut punch and keep fighting. Those who are brave and selfless more easily rebel against fates and forces seemingly more powerful. They are capable of changing the order and balance of power for a greater, common good.

But, of course, Tris and Four don't know their true natures. That is their story: the gradual unfolding of their character, brought to life in part by circumstance and in large measure by love.

Four is Tris’s mentor, her boss, and her leader as she strives for full membership in and respect from Dauntless. When Four is stern and unforgiving, Tris doubts her worth, but as Tris proves her resolve to succeed, Four coaches her, giving her confidence and hope. In the novel, Roth has the luxury of fully developing the budding attraction that pulls Tris and Four together as well as the mistrust that drives them apart. Tris's innocence and inexperience further complicate their relationship. She doesn't realize she could be desirable and attractive to a man as able and handsome as Four so when he remains aloof in public, she is sure he doesn't care for her, but when he leans upon her after sharing his fears in the Simulation Room, she quivers with anticipation and affection.

In the end, Erudite tries to overthrow the new order, and in doing so, overcomes Four’s resistance with a chemical injection that steals his will, including his alliance with Tris. Four even tries to kill Tris, but their true natures overcome the chemical used to blind Four to his feelings for her. True love brings the lovers together again in an attempt to save the world from raw ambition and inhumanity. As the two leave Chicago together and make their way into the unknown, they are stronger, more whole because they are free of secrets and free to love each other.

Reading Challenge:

For another take on Romance tales, read the current guidelines for writing a romance.

Writing Challenge:

Choose one of the Harlequin guides and begin to draft your novel.