September 6, 2011

Why I Love The Hunger Games

During my blogcation, I re-read the first book in Suzanne Collins' mega-selling trilogy and was impressed anew, especially since I approached it via the principles in WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass. (If you do not have this book, buy it now!).

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North America has been replaced by the nation of Panem, which keeps its twelve districts in line by forcing them to send children to participate in a fight to the death on live TV.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);
What's missing?
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.

So what are we to take away from all this? If your story is coming back with comments concerning a lack of connection, pacing issues, or flat conflict, take a look at how one author met those challenges.

And get Maass' book! Your novel deserves his insights.


  1. Yes, I thought it was a great book, but I don't think I could read MockingJay again. And it isn't because I didn't like it, but it was so intense.

  2. Good idea to analyze the book pairing it with Breakout. HG is such an amazing novel, and Suzanne did so many things so well we can learn a ton from her!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  3. I vow to read The Hunger Games before the movie comes out. I'll be the last person on earth to do so, but I will make it my mission.

  4. Ladonna: Haven't read that one yet, but I did hear it was very strong conclusion.

    Angela: I think it's one of those instances of synchronicity. I had just finished Breakout before re-reading HG and it gave me a new perspective on how Collins made it all work. Now I need to see if I can do the same with my stories.

    Stephanie: You've got until March, 2012, and then the follow-up film, CATCHING FIRE comes out in November, 2013. Don't know about MOCKINGJAY, which I'm still waiting for at my library.

  5. I have a craving to reread the trilogy--before the movies come out.

    Love the breakdown according to Donald Maass's book. I don't own it (I've read it). I do, though, have the workbook. It's great too.

  6. Stina: I've heard good things about the workbook, too. I understand there are 591 tasks involved if you want to do it all. Yowsa!

  7. I finally bought Maas's book last week, after balking at getting it for so many years. Sometimes just getting at the very basics of putting together a book is what I need.

    I haven't read the Hunger Games but my 13 year old son is asking about it. Do you think it would be appropriate for him?

  8. Heidi: Depends on whether you think he's ready for it. The concept is garish--kids killing kids--but not as gory as you might expect and woven into the bigger idea of how the government uses the Games to keep the populace in line. And then there's the romantic triangle. So it might lead to discussions about individual freedom vs. institutional restrictions, personal morality, manipulating others to get what you want, etc. Hope that helps!


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