I generally try to avoid posts on hot topics like this, because everyone and their mother’s brother’s cousin’s sister’s aunt has been writing about it… and well, because it seems like a cheap way to boost the number of people clicking on the link. Rest assured, that was not my motivation. But, here you are, reading this anyway!
At the moment, I’m in the middle of a rigorous course of study (directed, taught, and advised by myself) on the art of writing. As a part of this study, I’ve assigned myself just about every decent book I can get my hands on as well as hours upon hours of writing time each week – yes, it’s awesome!
So, after reading the The Hunger Games, I decided to ask my-writing-student-self this question: Why did the Hunger Games make it?
These are my five reasons (in no particular order…)
1) POV and Tense – In case you’re not familiar with writing abbreviations, POV stands for “point of view.” First, hats off to Suzanne Collins. I would never have considered writing in first person present before (and I probably won’t now, because that would just seem like a cheap knock off of the Hunger Games) but it definitely worked for the Hunger Games. I found it a little… strange… at first. But as I got further into the story, and especially once Katniss was in the arena, I realized why Suzanne Collins chose to write it this way.
The point of view allows the reader to experience everything at the same time as Katniss. It allows you to get into Katniss’ head and thoughts in a way you never would be able to otherwise. It is perfect for action and battle scenes where every second counts. It increases the suspense – since you’re reading it as it’s happening, you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. (1st person past POV at least hints that the “narrator” lived long enough to record what happened.)
The Hunger Games would not have been the same story if written in a different POV or tense.
2) The Action and Impossible Odds – Suzanne Collins employs page-turning, paper-cut-causing, gotta-read-the-next-chapter techniques. Relentless action, a plot that just won’t let up, and a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter ensures the reader stays hooked. I finished all three of the books in less than 15 hours reading time.
And, anytime you pit your character against impossible odds, you instantly gain reader sympathy. More so when every attempt to fight the odds just stacks them up even higher. Suspense? Yes.
3) An Intriguing Premise – Admittedly, the premise of The Hunger Games is horrifying (children forced to fight to the death on national TV) but it grabs your attention. And though the books are violent, Collins did not glorify the violence. Instead, it’s seen as something horrible.
Add to the intriguing premise America’s decay into the nation of Panem, the decadence of the Capitol in contrast to the poverty of the Districts, and one girl who is willing to sacrifice her own life for her sister, and you have a very captivating story.
4) Likable and Realistic Human Characters – As frustrating as Katniss could be at times, I found her very likable (another plus of the POV and tense). I always knew where she was coming from, I could sympathize even if I didn’t always understand or share her thought process.
Katniss was nothing if not human. She was not perfect, no cardboard cut out of a hero pasted into a story. She certainly made her fair share of mistakes. She was selfish at times, and at other times utterly selfless (example – volunteering as tribute in Prim’s place). In fact, she felt so real that I was sometimes surprised she didn’t walk off the page. The same goes for the other characters as well – Peeta, Prim, Gale, Cinna, Haymitch, etc.
5) Active Characters rather than Passive Victims – No matter what difficulty faced her, Katniss was always working to surpass it, to overcome, to survive. She was not a passive victim of circumstance, carried this way and that by whatever horrible situation faced her.
Even when unable to change her circumstances, Katniss was an active participant in and driver of the plot. She made decisions, took her chances, and the readers were carried along for the ride. And that, I think, is one of the foundations of good character building. A victim may earn sympathy, but such sympathy will be short lived if the character does nothing to improve his/her circumstances. Complaining does get tiresome after a while. And, although Katniss was not above feeling sorry for herself, she never gave up doing. Tenacity, perseverance, and the will to carry on against impossible odds are all qualities that will endear a character to readers.
What do you think? What are some reasons you think the Hunger Games made it, from a writer’s perspective? Are there any things you learned from the way the Hunger Games was written? Any things to avoid? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!