Wednesday, 8 February 2017

What I Learned Reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The bull has been taken by the horns (pardon the passive voice) and here is my first blog post for this my new writing platform. Howdy, readers, and thank you for stopping by.

Today I would like to kick off a long-standing series (I promise) of posts entitled 'What I Learned Reading...', and I have decided to give first place to, dum, dum, dum... The Hunger Games!

Why, you ask?

Short answer: It's awesome. Longer answer: I resisted the gravitational pull of society and did not read this book (or watch this movie) until the end of last year. My thirty-something brain had it branded as a soppy teenage book (even though I like reading YA), so yeah, I snobbishly held off.

Then, something happened.

I started writing fiction.

This happened about a year ago, overnight. Literally. I had a dream and it was about an awesome superhero girl who could fly and rescue people from tall buildings. I think the building in my dream could have been the Empire State Building. Random. I've only been to New York City once, and that was in the last millennia.

Soooo, after this dream, I decided to write a book about this awesome superhero girl, who, I discovered, did not have a goal, did not have a backstory, did not have an antagonist and did not have a point. A long and difficult year later, she found all those missing things. (And lost the ability to fly.) Or should I say, I found them for her, through many many hours and days and weeks and months of Learning The Craft.

(Small diversion here: The World Wide Web is amazing. How did people self-learn anything a generation ago?)

In my plentiful readings I kept coming across The Hunger Games, most often referred to as a great example of This, That and The Other.

So I read it. Then I read Catching Fire. Then I read Mockingjay. Then I watched the four movies.

Now I get it.

I'm not saying these books are perfect. (After all, what is, except maybe a fluffy little raspberry macaroon?) But they are pretty darn awesome in many diverse ways. And one thing I learned from Suzanne Collins is...

Character Reactions.

So you're going along in your story and something big happens. Massive. It could be shocking, surprising, scary, whatever. Your awesome protagonist has to react. Sure. So, what? She says 'I'm shocked?' Nah. She looks shocked? Yawn. Her jaw drops and her heart pounds? A little better, but pretty clich├ęd.

SPOILER ALERT for anyone else with a snobbish thirty-something brain who has not read The Hunger Games.

At the end of chapter one, Prim's name is called. She is going into the arena. Needless to say, Katniss, her sister, is shocked. She's scared. Worried. Whatever.

But this is how Ms Collins starts chapter two:

One time, when I was in a hide in a tree, waiting motionless for game to wander by, I dozed off and fell three meters to the ground, landing on my back. It was as if the impact had knocked every wisp of air from my lungs, and I lay there struggling to inhale, to exhale, to do anything. 

That's how I feel now, trying to remember how to breathe, unable to speak, totally stunned as the name bounces around the inside of my skull. Someone is gripping my arm, a boy from the Seam, and I think maybe I started to fall and he caught me. 

I love this. Collins cuts away from the present in the first paragraph, and gives a brief but clear description of a past event, then ties it into the present again. It is a visceral reaction, serves to bring in backstory, characterizes Katniss perfectly, foreshadows future events in trees, and speaks volumes as to how she is feeling right now.

I am attempting to apply this beautiful little nugget of writing to my own Work In Progress. It's harder than it looks, but I'm trying.

Chasing my tale.


  1. I loved hearing how your WIP first started. And you make a great point. Collins seamlessly inserts flashbacks throughout the story, and they all pay off, too. Looking forward to your second post! :D

    1. Thanks, Jay! Yes, the flashbacks are strong in all three books, as well as all being pertinent to the plot.