September 6, 2011
Collins covers all the basics Maass discusses and does it so well you can't help but applaud her virtuosity. Even a rough overview shows Collins has a stellar grasp of what makes a novel work. Let's look at how she does it.
North America has been replaced by the nation of Panem, which keeps its twelve districts in line by forcing them to send children to participate in a fight to the death on live TV. A big idea that's absolutely chilling—talk about gut emotional appeal!
When Katniss Everdeen volunteers to fight in her younger sister's place, she's putting family above personal safety. That's something any reader can relate to. And the personal stakes increase when the actual Games begin. But there are public stakes, as well. If Katniss wins, her district will be feted for an entire year, a huge honor where poverty is the norm.
Kat's decision to protect her sister immediately endears her to us. We want her to succeed, even as we know she can only do so by killing. Oh, the dilemma! The love triangle? Not as compelling (though I can see its appeal to younger readers), but Collins provides enough depth to Peeta and Gale to help us understand Kat's indecision. Minor characters are fleshed out with personality details that give each even the unlikeable ones substance and individuality.
Collins has four of the five basic elements:
1. a sympathetic protagonist, one known in detail (see above);
2. a complex conflict (physical, intellectual and emotional issues, all wonderfully intertwined);
3. complications (internal and external twists deepen the story);
4. a climax (Kat and Peeta defy expectations);
5. a resolution (yes, Kat returns home in triumph, but the story doesn't really end).
Where to start? Loyalty to family, staying true to yourself while engaged in a seemingly hopeless battle, trusting your instincts, etc. Questions about humanity, ruthless governments, and moral integrity abound. This isn't a read-it-and-forget-it story.
Broken down, it looks pretty straightforward. But it takes a writer of Collins' caliber to put all the pieces together in a way that keeps us glued to the story.
And get Maass' book! Your novel deserves his insights.