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DIVERGENT Story Structure Breakdown

2 April 2014

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 April 2, 2014
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Hey Everyone–

Holy post apocalyptic Chicago—it’s another dystopian YA novel come to life on the big screen! This one replete with sexy romance, violent cliques, and de-humanizing darts to the neck.

Though Sci Fi is not my favorite genre, I enjoyed DIVERGENT. Shailene Woodley is a fine actress with mean kick boxing skills, the story is solid, and the whole enterprise moves along at a nice clip. It’s not Kate Winslet’s fault that they wrote the same scene for her over and over again and she had to deliver it repeatedly while holding a folder to hide her pregnancy.

We still love you Kate!

Here’s a Three ACT Breakdown of the movie…

SPOILER ALERT! I am about to reveal all the major plot points in the film.

ACT I

ORDINARY WORLD—Chicago is divided into five factions in order to keep the peace. Erudite (the smarty pants people), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (they tell it like it is), Dauntless (crazy brave protectors), and Abnegation (selfless.) In this world, there is nothing worse than being factionless. We meet our heroine, Beatrice, as she prepares to take the test to find out which faction she belongs to. Her parents are in Abnegation, and you can tell, they hope she and her brother Caleb will be too.

As she walks to take the test, she admiringly watches the Dauntless run through the streets. The rule is that no matter which faction you get during the test, you can choose which to belong to. But once you choose, you can’t change your mind.

INCITING INCIDENT—Beatrice takes the test. Holy crap. The woman administering the test tells Beatrice she’s “Divergent,” a combination of all the types and very rare. They are feared because they can’t be controlled. She warns Beatrice not to tell anyone.

At The Choosing ceremony, her brother Caleb chooses Erudite. Beatrice chooses Dauntless.

ACT II TURNING POINT—Thrilled, Beatrice runs with Dauntless through the streets, and after numerous acts of derring-do, volunteers to be the first to jump down into a bottomless hole.

ACT II

TRAJECTORY CREATED BY THE FIRST TURNING POINT—Beatrice jumps and falls down into the deep world of the Dauntless, where she will be trained to be a warrior. She picks a new name, Tris, and we meet her new friends.

Tris also meets Four, one of her trainers. And Lord Help us. Here comes the romance. He’s strong, silent and surly. He also won’t reveal a thing about his past.

Tris begins her training, and because she’s not a good fighter, she starts to move down the list. If you don’t pass the test to be a Dauntless, they throw you out and you’re factionless (stakes!) Tris works really hard. She and Four bond. He starts to teach her.

Kate Winslet shows up and makes trouble. She’s a member of Erudite and they’re hunting down Divergents because Erudite is trying to unseat Abnegation from power and they need to be able to control everyone.

As part of her testing, Tris has to fight a guy. Four gives her advice, but she doesn’t listen. She loses, and is seriously injured. She’s OUT, has failed to become Dauntless. But she must be Dauntless deep down, because she drags herself out of her hospital bed and chases the train they’re on. (of course, Four helps her board.) That night there’s a training exercise between two teams. Tris is on Four’s team. She spies a tower, starts climbing it. Four follows. Cue sexy moment where she finds out he’s afraid of heights. Sexual tension!

They don’t kiss (dang-it) but because of Tris’s stellar scouting skills, their team wins the exercise. Tris is the hero. All the Dauntless party. Four congratulates her.

MIDPOINT— Tris sees her mother who tells her she’s in terrible danger and that if she’s Divergent, not to tell anyone and to trust no one. This is the stage of training where she will be the most vulnerable.

Back in Dauntless territory, Tris has to take a test where they go inside your mind and see how you react to fear. She takes the test and it proves she’s Divergent. Luckily, Four is administering the test. (You only get one dumb convenient contrivance in a movie, people. This is theirs.) He asks her what her early test results were. She lies and tells him Abnegation.

Worried, Tris goes to see her brother at Erudite. She tells him she doesn’t fit in at Dauntless. But he’s drunk the Erudite Kool-Aid and she can’t trust him either. Kate Winslet pops up with her belly folder and warns Tris, “It’s faction before blood.”

Tris sneaks back to Dauntless and is attacked, almost killed, by one of her friends in the faction. Four saves her. The next day her friend apologizes. Tris refuses to accept his apology. He kills himself.

Four tells Tris she’ll have to take her final fear test in front of the “leadership.” He trains her to take the test so she appears to be Dauntless. To do that, he has to let her inside his head (ooh, how Freudian.) She discovers his darkest secret. He was from Abnegation too, and his father (the leader) beat him. He reveals to her the tattoo on his back. It has all the factions. Is he Divergent too?

Sweet Jesus. Finally. They KISS!

She takes the final fear test in front of Kate W. She passes. But things are escalating. Kate W starts injecting everyone with a serum that makes them all suggestible, controllable.

BIG GLOOM—The Army is dispatched to murder the factionless. Tris is about to be killed, but her mom shows up, shoots the attackers and saves her. We discover her mother used to be Dauntless. As they race to the Abnegation hideout, Tris’s mother is shot and killed. Tris, sobbing, has to leave her mother’s body behind.

ACT II TURNING POINT— Tris makes it to the hideout. Her dad is there. So is Four’s dad (the man who beat him.) Tris tells them they have to break into Dauntless, stop Kate W, and “wake” everyone up.

ACT III

RACE TO THE CLIMAX—They fight their way to Kate W’s control room. Tris’s dad sacrifices his life to help them get inside. Once there, Tris discovers that Four has been “turned” by the injection. She fights him, but using what she knows from being inside his mind, she gets through to him and wakes him up.

CLIMAX— Tris faces Kate W who is still ordering the slaughter of people. Kate refuses to shut down the program. Tris shoots Kate with her own serum and controls her. Tells her to shut it down. All the people “wake up.” But still, there are enemies afoot.

BRIEF RESOLUTION: Tris, Four, and Four’s father have to escape. They hop on a moving train. Four’s father can’t catch up. After a moment of doubt, Four helps him.

They ride off into the sunset, heading straight into Franchise Land, part two.

THE END

DIVERGENT fits the Three Act Structural template cleanly. It also can be plotted out according to The Hero’s Journey. The film is a great example of a movie that embraces all the conventions of its dystopian sci-fi genre and yet holds at its center a strong love story.

I’m pretty sure it’ll be nominated for best “Best Back Tattoo” this year at the MTV Movie Awards.

Take Action! Are you writing a straight ahead genre story? Are there strong interpersonal elements holding the audience/reader emotionally to the narrative? Could you have a love story or a strong mentor/student relationship to elevate and deepen the stakes of your action sequences?

Head to the comment area below and let me know a favorite movie that has lots of action, but a love story at its center!

Also, which faction would you belong to?

xo Pat

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