#TopTenTuesday: 10 Things The Hunger Games Taught Me

Morning!

At the end of January I was part of a cover contest on Shannon Mayer’s blog. I didn’t win :( But my new friend, Guy Harrison DID win and since meeting him I’ve found that he’s fantastic! I’m really looking forward to the release of his book Agents of Change, coming February 13th, yep next Monday! Watch out for it because I’m sure it’s good!

That being said, Guy wanted to take over my blog today for a little bit of Hunger Games fun. So without further adieu, please welcome Guy Harrison! *insane cheering, clapping and one awkward woman whistling too loudly*

Top 10 Things The Hunger Games Taught Me

While not my favorite book of all-time, I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games.

I heard a lot of the hype surrounding the book and finally decided to read it last month. And, once I saw the movie trailer as I was a quarter of the way through the book, I couldn’t wait to finish—without question, Games is one of my most anticipated movies of 2012.

That said, there were things I loved about the book and things I didn’t like about the book, all of which provided learning moments for me, as a writer. In keeping with the spirit of my benevolent host’s Top Ten Tuesdays, here are the ten things I learned as a writer while reading Suzanne Collins’ bestseller.

1. A Triangle Without Three Sides is Not a Triangle – In Games, a love triangle develops between the story’s protagonist and narrator, Katniss Everdeen, and two boys from her home district, Gale and Peeta, the latter of whom she competes against during the Games. This aspect of the book bugged me, and not because we’ve seen love triangles before.

My beef with Games’ triangle was that the author, I feel, didn’t build up the relationship between Katniss and Gale enough for there to be a love triangle. In the book’s first three chapters or so, before Katniss and Peeta are thrust together for the Games, we see (or read) Katniss and Gale doing what they do: hunting. Perhaps Gale’s words are amorous in nature and the intent of those words was lost on me, but I never felt a romantic connection of any kind between them.

Obviously, when you first see them together, you automatically wonder if they are in love because our first instinct is to think romance whenever we see a boy and girl together. Unfortunately, it never looked to me like Gale was in love with Katniss, and vice-versa. People will point to Gale’s telling Katniss that they could “run away” and even have children, but I believe that we’re made to feel like those words are said in jest. Plus, which teenage boys say those things and actually mean it?
I don’t know. Because of the ambiguous nature of Gale’s feelings for Katniss, it made the protagonist’s struggle with her feelings for Peeta unbelievable.

2. The Story’s the Thing – Throughout The Hunger Games, I found its dialogue and prose unremarkable. Not bad, just ordinary. It didn’t matter, though. In the young adult genre, as with most genre fiction, story and characters are what keep you from putting the book down. Despite its warts, I just had to finish the book. And, say what you want about Games being a Battle Royale rip-off, the story was relatively fresh and pretty darn good.

What helped? I think the fact that, early on, Collins established the protagonist’s inevitable internal conflict by pitting Katniss against Peeta, a likeable boy who has, on several occasions, thought of the protagonist before thinking of himself. Setting this up early made the reader curious as to what would happen to the duo.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Push the Envelope – Some people, myself included, have scoffed at the book’s young adult designation. In fact, the idea that the book is okay for a 13 year old to read is even more questionable. Despite this, The Hunger Games is probably the most popular young adult novel out there, now that the luster of the Twilight saga has worn off.

What makes this book risqué? Let’s see…on two occasions, Katniss has blood splattered on her face—both in violent, gruesome scenes. And, on more than one occasion, Katniss, a teenager, is standing naked before a grown man, albeit in a non-sexual situation. These two elements alone make me wonder how the movie will stay true to the book without being slapped with the dreaded R rating.

I’m not sure if I will ever write young adult material, but it’s safe to say Collins pushed the envelope and hasn’t looked back.

4. Yes, It’s Okay to Write in First Person – This is something I did with my novel, Agents of Change. It was validating to see a book reach such success while written in first-person point of view. For some reason, first-person is viewed as taboo, almost amateurish. In fact, one of my beta readers acknowledged that she was not a fan of first-person (although she confessed to appreciating it in my book).

Despite the stigma attached to it, The Hunger Games was successful because of its first-person narrative, I believe. While it can be limiting, it does place the reader in the character’s shoes.

5. Yes, It’s Okay to Write in Present Tense – This is another supposed taboo style that I incorporated in Agents of Change. Look, present tense isn’t bad! In fact, depending on the story you’re telling, it can be advantageous.

Why?

Because it adds immediacy to your story, especially if you’re writing one that is fast-paced. Writing in present tense gives your reader the subconscious feeling that everything is happening as they are reading it and that they are actually witnessing the story as opposed to being told the story.

6. Slow Starts Are Okay If… – I thought The Hunger Games started slow. I accepted it, though, because I knew that the author was building a world; she took the time to explain how things worked in Panem. Collins also threw us a curveball at the end of the first chapter by having Katniss’ sister, Prim, selected as District 12 tribute. You knew that Katniss was going to be in the Games but Prim’s selection was unexpected. And although there wasn’t much action after Prim’s selection, there was certainly plenty of turmoil and conflict.

If you’re going to start slow, you had better make things interesting and tumultuous; otherwise your readers will put the book down. I was all set to put the book down after I finished Chapter One, but after doing a double take, I had to continue to Chapter Two.

7. Even Traditionally-Published Authors Are Capable of an Awkward Sentence – There were at least two instances while reading Games (and I wish I had highlighted them) when I needed to read sentences three, sometimes four times because of an awkward sentence. Readers frown upon such things, especially from indie authors such as myself. We think that traditionally-published authors have a team of people working with them to make their book shine…and this is true. But this just goes to show you that even groups of well-trained people miss things. It also shows you that, if everything else shines, and those types of errors are few and far between, the readers shrug their shoulders and press on.

8. Your Protagonist Does Not Need to Be Likeable…Even When You Want Her to be – Suzanne Collins wanted us to like Katniss Everdeen. Some of us did, but others did not. I am indifferent when it comes to Katniss’ character, but I can see the merits of the arguments made by both sides.

Katniss’ admirers love the fact that she hunts for food, that she can use a bow and arrow, that she has a very independent attitude. Her detractors loathe her cluelessness and selfishness when it comes to her boys, Peeta and Gale. One review I read even labeled her “the worst heroine in fiction since Bella Swan.” Ouch.

The point is, a good story is a good story. We obviously like stories more when we’re given characters that we like and/or can relate to. So, if your character is even slightly unlikeable at the beginning of the story, you better make darn sure he or she is likeable by the story’s ending.

The jury is still out for some people. I’ve read reviews of the other two books in the series that say Katniss never evolves into a likeable character. I’d like to judge that for myself. In the interim, I think we can all say that Katniss’ likeability (or lack thereof) had little to do with the book’s success.

9. You Need Comic Relief, No Matter How Dark Your Story Is – Though the Hunger Games are a brutal fight for survival, one that could turn its most buoyant participants sober, a story as dark as this needs comic relief. We all like to laugh. You show me someone who doesn’t like to laugh, I’ll show you someone who’s not human.

That is where the oppressively-happy Effie Trinket and the sloppy-drunk Haymitch Abernathy come in. While they are Katniss and Peeta’s escort and mentor, respectively, these two characters serve as comic relief. I dare say that, while they may be the most cartoonish characters in the book, they’re certainly the most relatable. We all know that one lady at work who is way too perky, and we all know that one guy who was in a constant state of inebriation all throughout college.

These two characters break up the tension, the seriousness of the story. Your dark story needs characters like these, lest you want your readers to view you as a sick, humorless individual who only has carnage or sex or corruption on the brain.

10. You Can Eat Whatever You Want in the Capitol and Not Get Sick – Okay, this one has nothing at all to do with what I learned as a writer, but I figured I’d follow my own recent advice.

I know Katniss and Peeta came from poverty, where starvation was a constant state of being, but if I ate all the stuff they ate leading up to the Games, you’d have to plop me into a wheelbarrow and roll me around the Capitol…only to see me die on the Games’ first day due to lethargy…

Thank you, that is all.

My fellow writers, are there any other Dos or Don’ts you may have picked up while reading The Hunger Games?

My answer: For me the Hunger Games are one of those books that tore me apart. It had me all inside out and backwards for quite a few days. If you read my reviews on the series you’ll see that after reading Mockingjay I was filled with such despair that I sat in a dark room for 45 minutes crying. Yeah it was that bad. For me it was how to emotionally engage your readers, how to get them inside the story so that it’s not just flat words on a page but something really happening. When you find yourself getting lost, and not just skipping through description to read dialogue so you know sort of what’s going on in the story, then you know you’ve got a winner on your hands. When you’re lapping up every last word, every last detail, those are the books that are the best. Can I say I’ve succeeded at that? I don’t think I would expect to with my first fictional novel, but am I getting there? I’d like to think so.

I’d like to thank you again Guy for being so awesome and taking over my blog. I wish all the best success with Agents of Change and I hope to stay in touch with you!

Namaste,
Rhi

Comments ( 5 )

  • Guy Harrison says:

    Thanks for having me, Rhi. It was fun!

  • Angela Ackerman says:

    Some really good observations here. The food one–it's a small thing, but you're right–if our diet changed so drastically, we would be sick and eventually crave simpler food.

  • Guy Harrison says:

    Good point Angela. I get like that whenever I go on vacation, especially a cruise. By the time I get home, I just want a cheese sandwich with a salad.

  • Midnyte Reader says:

    Great post. I agree about the food thing. I kept thinking they were going to get sick with all the rich dishes. I personally really loved these books, but I can see all the different points of view. I actually kind of liked that Kat is selfish…she has to survive after all!

  • Guy Harrison says:

    Thanks for commenting, Midnyte. That's the thing with fiction…it's so subjective. I didn't mind Katniss; the Games are all about survival, after all. I'd go so far as to say that, in some of our greatest books and movies, it's often the supporting characters that take the stories to epic heights.

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