Friday, October 7, 2011

Writing lessons from The Hunger Games

I've just finished The Hunger Games (late to the party, I know). Reading as a writer, I noted these techniques by Suzanne Collins that I particularly admired and appreciated:

There were realistic consequences to things. There's violence in this book, but it's not cartoonish. Collins acknowledges that explosions can cause ear damage, wounds can get infected, limbs can't always be saved, and sometimes death is not mercifully quick but painful and lingering. I suspect this is a result of the POV attributed to Collins on the jacket flap: "... she continues to explore the effects of war and violence on those coming of age." The truth is, war and violence ain't pretty. Or neat. Or free of sequelae.

The internet was abuzz for months with the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle, but it didn't strike me as a love triangle. In fact, I like the different spin Collins put on Katniss's relationship with the boys; to her, they are mostly friends. Other feelings stir her on occasion, but the deception and play-acting necessitated by the game thwart her ability to know her own truth. I'm especially glad she didn't fall blindly, inexplicably, or suddenly in love with anyone. It'll be interesting to see how these relationships develop. (I already know something of how the series ends--it was difficult to avoid Mockingjay spoilers--but I know very little of what happens in the middle.)

The main character was, thank goodness, smart. When the reader could tell that a certain situation was a trap, Katniss did not go blundering stupidly into obvious trouble. Her actions made sense. She found plenty of trouble, of course, but it always seemed unavoidable. I didn't find myself smacking my head and saying, "Why didn't she just do such-and-such, it would've been so much easier and safer?!"

Collins allowed the supporting cast to shine. In some books, secondary characters only seem to serve the interests of the main character, and having no motivations or talents of their own results in thin cardboard personalities. Katniss openly admires several of her competitors, especially Rue, Foxface, Thresh, and the boy from District 3. I liked that these characters had their own merits, that sometimes they outshone Katniss, that she wasn't always better at everything than everyone else.

The game in the book ends within the book. I was so glad of that. I know it's a trilogy, and I thought the game might drag into the next book, but it didn't. This book has an ending. There are certainly unanswered questions and reasons to read on, but the reader is not dangled off too big a cliff. More and more, I'm coming to appreciate the skill of a series writer who can give a satisfying ending to a single book, who has the confidence that the book's world itself and the bigger problems seeded within that world will be enough to bring readers back. And for this book, they are.

source of recommended read: library


  1. What hooked me and kept me intrigued throughout this series, was how Collins was able to keep us sympathetic to a character who had to kill everyone else in order to survive. In my opinion, she handled this beautifully.

  2. Angelina: My LiveJournal readers got into an interesting discussion of the moral choices made by the main character in book 1, and how the author orchestrated those.

    The comparisons to the Roman Empire are obvious, but I hope people make the larger connection to oppressive societies and rule by force and who really pays the costs of violence. That is, it's not just ancient history.

    I think one reason Katniss is sympathetic is that she has no bloodlust (at least, not so far, by the middle of book 2). When forced into action, she is resourceful and clever and determined, but I bet she would rather have lived out her life in the woods, if she'd lived in a peaceful society where that was an option.