As mentioned in my last post, I have a new literary love. It is the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay), and it is what I hope to someday be able to create. Immediately upon finishing it, I wanted to pick up the first book and start again. I wanted to read it a million more times with pen in hand, shredding it of all its secrets. I wanted to write fan fiction, for god’s sake. I am irrevocably in love with this series.
I didn’t want to write about it right away, though, for a number of reasons. Mostly, because it’s hard to be objective about a story while you’re still caught up in the afterglow of reading it. The Hunger Games has some of the best plotting/pacing I’ve ever seen in a novel, which made it about impossible to put down (just ask my coworkers–I skipped lunch for three days to read my book instead), but also impossible to escape. That’s why I need to read it again. I need to figure out what Collins was doing that sucked me in, and then I need to steal all of her knowledge.
Now that I’ve got a little distance on it (though not nearly enough–that fan fiction bug is still there), I’ve concluded that there are 3 things Collins did brilliantly that I’m going to strive to repeat:
- Plotting/Pacing – As mentioned before, there is not a single moment of down time in this series. Never once did I feel complete when I had to put it down. Even at the end of books, I had no catharsis–just a burning desire to move on to the next bit. When I finished the second book, I literally swapped it for the third one and started reading right away. Even simple conversations are loaded with tension and unspoken emotion and anticipation for what could happen next, and you’re constantly trying to guess what’s going to happen, and yet always surprised. Brilliant.
- Characterization – As with any good novel, Hunger Games has brilliant side characters. There are a few that stand out in particular–Haymitch, Finnick, Cinna, and of course Peeta. They aren’t all brilliant. Some are even downright stereotypical (Prim, Gale…), but the brilliant ones more than outshine the rest. Never once does the story dip into Peeta’s head or reveal Haymitch’s motivations, and yet I feel I know them as well as I know Katniss. Which leads me to…
- Narration – Best. Female. Main character. Ever. That’s not to say that Katniss is particularly winning, or that I would be friends with her. She’s cold and calculating, sometimes downright bitchy; she’s reactionary; she’s naive; she hurts people; she’s overly self-critical; she’s constantly on the brink of losing her mind and her thoughts are never far from pure survival. And yet. And yet, she’s brilliant, not in spite of those flaws but because of them. She isn’t a bland shell for girls to project on to (coughTWILIGHTcough). She’s a clearly defined female narrator who manages to paint an entire world around her, without ever overstepping her own personality. She doesn’t read people well, but leaves enough room so that the reader can, while still maintaining headspace for herself. You can’t predict her. She is forever betraying your expectations (and often her own), in a good way. I’m sure the writers out there know how impossibly difficult that is–to write a story from inside the head of a naive, reactionary character, and yet show nuance and subtlety in everyone she meets, and even allow her space to surprise you. Genius. Pure genius.
I don’t have my own copies of Catching Fire or Mockingjay yet, but they are going to be in my possession just as soon as I can get my hands on them, and I fully intend to tear them apart. There’s some magic in Hunger Games that I want more than anything to be able to emulate and adapt to my own purposes, and my only regret is that I did not pick it up sooner. I haven’t been this excited about a book since the first time I read Cat’s Cradle.
Seeing as I only finished it last week, though, I will probably have more to say about it later. Particularly after I’d had at it with a pen. But, until then, I’m just going to wallow in my admiration. So I guess what I’m saying is, read the Hunger Games. Do it. Now.
“Here’s some advice. Stay alive.” -Haymitch
P.S. Seriously, why are you still here? Go read the Hunger Games!