Category Archives: The Hunger Games series

Hunger Games (11) – Epilogue: What This Story Teaches Us… Summarized

You don’t have to like The Hunger Games – book or film – to appreciate its craft.  And more importantly, to learn from it.

Most who don’t like it (some of whom were summoned forth from this series to berate me for focusing on it) are put off by the subject matter (teenagers pitted against each other to the death), and sadly, perhaps missed the point, the thematic metaphor and thus, the skill with which Suzanne Collins created this juggernaut.

Simplicity, naivety, and blinders do not serve the emerging novelist.  It’s impossible to challenge and stretch the reader’s mind and world if one’s own mind defies challenge of any kind.

Non-writers get to do throw these babies out with their personal tastes in bathwater.  But no matter what that bathwater tastes like, real writers need to recognize craft when they see it.  Machinations, manipulations and applications of forces.  Such recognition is every bit as critical as practicewrite write write, says the writing teacher, as if that’s all it takes — as we strive to improve our ability to craft great fiction.

Here’s what stuck to my wall as we eviscerated this story:

Narrative point of view is a choice.

Make it carefully.  You might be cutting off a viable contributing source of dramatic exposition.  Collins did just that with her first person voice, but the filmmakers added a behind-the-scenes POV that birthed an entirely new subplot, and while they were at it, added to the vicarous tension stemming from what the hero was going through.  We (the viewers) saw it coming before Katniss could.

It’s perfectly okay, by the way, to mix POVs within a story.  You can have chapters rendered in third person, while others are told in first.  Just make sure it’s the hero narrating when you try this, and make sure these occur in clearly separated scenes and/or chapters).

Or, you can show multiple POVs in all third person chapters.  But again, make sure they stand alone as segregated blocks of exposition.

The core story isn’t always what it seems.

Or better put, a love story trumps a thriller focus every time.

Katniss fleeing through the woods only offered so much story potential.  But from the beginning the Games were merely a catalyst for what proved to be the core structural thread of the story, which was Katniss’ emerging relationship with Peeta.

Your twelve year old probably didn’t care, but that’s the brilliance of this.  The story works on two levels, and together they became a sum in excess of their parts.

This dual narrative form happens all the time out there… start watching for it.

Sub-text counts.  Big time.

I’m thinking that without the screamingly obvious parallel between the sadistic nature of the Games and those citizens who tuned in to watch them, not to mention the supposed rationale the Capital city used to justify them, and our own world of reality television and media spin… without that sub-text, THG is just another chase story. 

The Bachelor without tears and heartbreak?  That’s a rating disaster in the making.  The audience — us — craves and delights in that suffering.  Impossible to admit, horrific to see when you love a teenage hero. 

This sub-text is what elevated THG above and beyond its surface YA genre to cross over as an adult contemporary bestseller.

Watch and learn.  This is how you jump genres.

Story Physics will never fail you.

We all understand the need for conflict (at least I hope so… if you don’t, start digging though the archives here, that’s the most basic 101 criteria in all of fiction).

But there are at least four other major categories of story physics that can make or break your story, and too often — because they can naturally manifest as collateral forces stemming from your plot — we take them for granted.

Hero empathy — our feeling for, and subsequent rooting for Katniss (both are essential chunks of story physics) are major factors in this success of this book.  Combined with an intriguing premise (the Games) and powerful themes, this element alone stands at the front of the class in this regard, right up there with the characters in The Help.

Don’t settle for this to simply appear in your story.  Shoot for it, design your premise and your character to optimize these forces,

Aim high, write with courage.

A significant factor in the appeal of this story connects to the conceptual premise premise.  These same intended themes, the same characters and many of the dramatic elements could have been pursued, say, by a reality television show depicting teens chasing each other around a suburban mall.

But Collins didn’t settle for the familiar or the mundane.  And she went deep enough to license the contrived.  Her story landscape — her arena, both literally and figuratively in this sense — was fresh, frightening, edgy, and a ripe metaphor for life.

Many stories can be set anywhere.  

Again, choose wisely, using THG as inspiration.  Take us somewhere we’ve never imagined, somewhere we’d love to go, somewhere that, while riddled with its own realities, jars us into recognizing something of ourselves and our own reality in the process.

The best historicals do this.  The best science fiction and fantasy does this.

See the new film, Prometheus, just out this week.  It’s a great story, but it’s an even greater vicarious experience.  That’s the juice of that story.  Combined with the plot, you have significant thematic weight, which wouldn’t happen if either the setting or the underpinnings of the story would have been… less courageous.

Even the best thrillers and romcoms utilize vicarious experience to snag our interest.  W hy do you think so many are set in Hawaii? Answer: vicarious experience, which is one of those key elements of story physics, available to all of us in nearly any story we might write.

*****

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series.  I know I’ve learned a lot,  hope you have, as well.

Thanks to those who have chipped in some nominations for the next deconstruction, which is coming soon.  I’m narrowing that down now.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to start deconstructing stories on your own.  See if you can break them down into the core 9 sentences, and in doing so, begin to recognize the power of story physics at work.

Just like medical students spend half their time in anatomy labs peeling back the layers of specimens that once lived and breathed, we too can benefit from seeing what works — often hidden to the untrained or uncaring consumer eye — from the inside out.

Next up – a guest post from our favorite drop-in guru, Art Holcomb.

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Hunger Games (10) – The “Risk Taking” in this Story

As someone who advocates writing fiction from a context of structure, mission driven elements and aesthetic discipline driven by market standards, I am sometimes pitted against others who advocate “taking risks” with our stories. 

As if, somehow, these philosophies are not aligned.

I suppose it depends on how you frame the issue. 

Is breaking certain principles and laws in this life a risk… or is it suicide?  The question applies to our stories as much as it does anything else.

Is jumping off a bridge onto a freeway a risk, or is it certain death that will appear, to anyone looking in, to be suicide?  Because the act violates all the known laws of physics and survival, which is always suicidal. 

That analogy, without compromise, accurately frames the question of risk taking in our stories.

Don’t be fooled or seduced.

Those who encourage us to take risks are not suggesting that we write stories that violate the basic tenets of dramatic physics, structural integrity or creative license.  Go ahead, write a story with no conflict, lackluster pacing,, zero inherent compelling interest and nobody to root for… then see what happens. 

That manuscript lying  on the freeway, right  next to the guy who just jumped off a bridge?  That’s his novel.

No, risk taking, in this context, has everything to do with courage and with bold vision.

It has to do with the bucking of belief systems, social boundaries and the occasional use of creative narration techniques.  It relates to the boldness with which an author takes a theme and explodes it into a dramatic framework that challenges, frightens, disturbs and, while doing so, grips and entertains.

The Hunger Games is a prime example of this, as was The Davinci Code.

I’ve heard from some writers waxing outraged about THG, saying that the book is obscene, and that as authors we have a responsiblity to hold our fiction to higher standards.  Same with Davinci, people seem to take pride in hating it, as much because they don’t believe Dan Brown is all that good (they’re wrong, based on results, which stem directly from his bold vision) as because their world view has been challenged.

The risk, then, is this: whose standards are they? 

Yours?  Society’s?  Risk comes when we challenge norms, speculate on alternative realities and show consequences, and do so in the full knowledge that it very likely will piss off a certain percentage of the market.

Both Suzanne Collins, who wrote a story about children killing children, and Dan Brown, who wrote a story suggesting that the largest religion in the western world is based on a conspiracy to hide the truth, took significant risks.  IF that’s all you see in these stories, then frankly, you didn’t get it.  You didn’t get what about 50 million other readers did get.

For Collins and Brown, let’s just agree that the risk they took paid off, at least in terms of commercial success.  There are still plenty of haters, the fact of which, I’m assuming, makes both Collins and Brown smile widely from the comfort of their 40,000 square foot homes with a helipad and a killer view.

Neither book, by the way, played the slightest bit casual with story physics. 

In fact, both stories are models for it.

It’s gut check time: are you being seduced in the wrong way by the “take-risks-in-your-writing” mantra?  Are you tempting fate by jumping off a literary bridge?  Or are you framing this properly as a challenge to take your book to new places, with bold ideas that explore relevant themes, and then empower the storythrough a fierce adherence to the very principles that will make it work?

Here’s hoping it’s the latter. 

May all your risks turn out to be… survivable, and just possibly, a catalyst for your success.

*****

Last minute Webinar pitch: you really need to consider opting-in for my Writers Digest University webinar, this coming Thursday, June 7, at 1:00 (Eastern/US).  Here are a bunch of reasons why.

First, the title: THE ELEMENTS OF STORY: TRANSFORMING YOUR STORY FROM GOOD TO GREAT.  Unless you know everything there is to know about how to do that (I know I don’t, but I know a LOT), you”ll find a wealth of insight that may be positively Epiphany-like to your writing career.  The workshop clarifies the nature of, need for, and process of rendering and combining an 11-point roster of story forces and requisite elements before a story can be optimized… borfe it will work as well as it possibly can.

When was the last time you attended a workshop that bit off that level of content?  It’s the most basic, and challenging, of what we need to understand and implement as storytellers, rarely seen or heard out there… this webinar will put it all on your screen and in your head for you to consider.

Go0d news… I have a DISCOUNT for you, simply for being here on Storyfix.  When you register, you’ll go to a SHOPPING CART page to sign up, where you’ll find a DISCOUNT WINDOW.  Enter the code — WDS322 — and you’ll get a 15% discount of the regular $89 price.

You’ll also receive, at no additional cost, a critique of a 2-page story summary or pitch, to help ensure that your concept and approach does indeed create a dramatic landscape upon which all these story forces and elements can be fully realized.

You can register HERE, as well as learn more about the workshop.  Hope to see you there!

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