One of my mantras is that the most important moment in a story is the First Plot Point.
So let’s review, then apply this to The Hunger Games.
Why is the FPP the most important moment in a story?
Because it fully launches the hero’s story-specific journey. Everything prior to the FPP has been part of a set-up for this moment.
I say “story-specific” because your hero may indeed be on a compelling path prior to the FPP (a good thing), and the actual “plot” of the story may already be in play, as well. The FPP is when it all suddenly more fully (or initially) defines the forthcoming hero’s quest, need, problem, journey (pick your description) in context to two things: stakes and antagonistic opposition.
The job of your Part 1 set-up scenes is to put all this in play while investing the reader in your hero on an emtional level.
No small feat, that.
If your FPP is soft, in the wrong place or non-existent, it plays havoc with the story’s underlying story physics. You won’t hear an editor tell you your novel or screenplay is being rejected because of first plot point issues… but if they bother to tell you at all (rare), the reason will connect to those very same compromised story physics that your mishandled FPP caused. Guaranteed.
Takes too long to get going. Didn’t care about the hero. Stakes are weak. Story treading water. Just not compelling enough.
In The Hunger Games, the FPP is masked behind a series of prior Inciting Incidents (yes, they can and often do pop into your Part 1 prior to the FPP). It doesn’t matter that Collin’s uses (or not) this terminology, but her story sensibilities absolutely do put a textbook FPP right where it should be (page 72 of the trade paperback, as reflected on the beat sheet).
Some have challenged this. It doesn’t look like an FPP… if you’re looking for the wrong thing, which is easy to do in this story. The key to finding an FPP in a story — and more importantly, to writing one properly – is to understand what the core story is.
And in HG it may not be what you think it is.
The Hunger Games is very much like Titanic in this regard. In Titanic, the story isn”t about a sinking ship, that is merely the highly dramatic backdrop for an unfolding love story. Same goes for The Hunger Games. Both stories have highly dramatic plot turns that deal with that dramatic landscape… but in both stories – even though there are twists that are specific to the more obvious danger to the characters – the core structure revolves around the hero and the love story.
Those sinking ship-related – and Games related – twists and transitions are catalysts for the core story: in the case of HG, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta.
Whoa. That changes everything.
At least if you were looking for obvious story transitions to be the plot point… which isn’t the case here. Those transitions are terrific, they do forward the plot. But those aren’t evolutions of the love story. The core story.
Point: you have to know what story is the core of your novel or screenplay. And then build your plot points and milestones around it.
When something massively transitional happens in the story prior to the FPP, that’s an Inciting Incident. In HG, there are a bunch of them: Prim gets picked… Katniss volunteers… Peeta gets picked… they leave their home for the Capital city and nearly certain death… and (this is a big one), they are set up to be a couple as a strategy to win favor with sponsors and the audience.
None of those are the FPP. All of those are Inciting Incidents.
All of them contribute to the effectivess of this story… they hook us… they make us feel it… they allow us to see deep into Katniss and really root for her… and (here’s an issue of story physics in play) we begin to take this journey with them in a vicarious way.
So why aren’t any of these the FPP? Two reasons.
One: placement. They all come too early to be the milestone FPP. They do change the story, they do help define the forthcoming hero’s quest… but only as a building block within a set-up context. None of them define the core journey… they all merely help set it up. The real journey (and it’s NOT the beginning of the Games themselves) is about to come.
Because the REAL core of this story, and thus the hero’s core journey, is the love story.
On Page 72 Katniss rolls over on what she’s been fighting off: the strategy of them being a couple. She’s suspicous of it, and she’s suspicious of Peeta. That he’s playing her, making her vulnverable to an opening where he can put a knife in her heart. She doesn’t know what to do with this, it conflicts her.
Until Page 72. When she buys in, accepts it and begins to engage with it, at least from outward appearances. When she declares to us (through her actions) that she’ll play Peeta’s dark game, and beat him at it.
When she kisses his cheek as his partner, she does so on an existing bruise. From that action, from the way it’s set up and written, the story changes right there. It begins her journey. It defines her core quest: survive not only the Games, but the deception of her closest ally and supposed partner. It does so in context to those two things: stakes, and the opposition.
The brilliance of Collins here is that the exterior plot, the Games themselves, is so strong and compelling on a story physics level, that this core love story disappears into it yet remains the spine of it. A reader has two emotional tracks available, and their melding exceeds the sum of their parts.
Want more HG structure? Download the HG beat sheet HERE.
Want more baseline schooling on these terms and principles? Please consider my book, “Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling.”
Next up: a discussion of the Concept that drives this story.