Hunger Games 3): A Slippery First Plot Point

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.


Filed under The Hunger Games series

14 Responses to Hunger Games 3): A Slippery First Plot Point

  1. I have a question: Do you think page 72 is a good point of the story for the 1st Plot Point to be? In my WIP, it seems to be around page 40-50 (where the protagonists consider themselves partners).

    Hmm…remembering the book, it does seem like a good point.

  2. Carmen

    @Chihuahua — I’m clearly not Larry, but IMO the page numbers mean nothing unless you know the total. Page 72 of 150 is not a good point for a 1st plot point. But page 72 of 280-300 is a good point for the FPP.

    @Larry — I haven’t read these books or watched the film (violence is not my thing). If you’ve seen the film, did the screenwriter(s) change the FPP? What changes did they make to get the FPP to show up 1/4 of the way in?

  3. @Chihuahua – Carmen is right, the determinant isn’t he page number as much as it is the percentage-of-total at which it appears. The optimal location (to allow for the physics of the setup to be fully realized) is 20 to 25%, but only if the latter is preceded by a few killer inciting incidents (which certainly is the case in The HG). Page 72 is a bit before that 20th percentile mark, so Collins could have added a little more meat to the setup (I think her introduction of Gale, her love interset back home is a bit thin, and thus, her hesitance about relationships also… that does come in later, though), but certainly not to any remarkable degree. This slightly early plot point does indeed keep this story moving quickly, and with so many Inciting Incidents before, and many significant things unfolding quickly thereafter, it all works. This is a great example of the author’s sensibilities making these decisions in a pardigm that is highly flexible for just this purpose. Hope this helps – L.

    @Carmen — I need to see (and time) the movie again to be sure. It’s a great question, since (as I note for Chihuahua above) there are SO many quick Inciting Incidents in Part 1, and so much powerful and fast expostion in early Part 2, which gave the screenwriters a lot to work with. Will return to this issue once I’ve seen the film again, which I’m looking forward to. L.

  4. Thanks for breaking it down for us, Larry. I know I wouldn’t have realized that was the first plot point. I would have focused more on the games than the loves story. But you’re absolutely right: the core is the love story between Peeta and Katniss. Btw, did you think those two would end up together? Or were you on Team Gale? I was on Team Peeta myself.

  5. @ Larry. I “seeeee” the light.

    FPP defines, in word, action, deed the, “inner decision”, of the “Star” to, in your word, “engage” the problem, question, challenge, risks, possibilities, expressed in every event, action, word, deed, circumstance that has gone before..

    In Katniss case, didn’t she “lean forward” with the kiss? I don’t remember.

    The FPP is the split second that the Star responds, i.e. “leans forward,” — assumes initiative —in relationship to all that has gone before.

    I’m thinking that moment, the moment of the FPP, tends toward the low key and subtle relative to all the drama and or action that occurs in the set up because the story “builds” from that moment.

    In one sense, the FPP is a foreshadowing of the things to come that we can expect from the “Star”.

    We know when Robert Duvall asks Costner in a voice low and barely audible, ” You know what we have to do.?’ Fans KNOW Duvaul will by stages and degree eventually unleash hell.

  6. @Yesinia — I was rooting for them to end up together. Here’s where the book and film diverage a bit, I think: in the book it’s clear they backslide and withdraw after the Games, which may or may not foreshadow a future rift between them (not being coy, I haven’t read the next two books yet so I honestly don’t know). As for Gale, he was so underplayed in the movie (which I saw before reading the book) that I didn’t feel him as a huge factor.

    @Curtis — nice, you get it, big time. Some stories have a massively huge and unexpected FPP, out of nowhere… there aren’t really any “rules” about this in terms of it being subtle or explosive. I remember that Duvall-Costner moment, too… those make great plot points. In “Tombstone,” the second plot point is the very same thing… Kurt Russell announces, “you tell ’em hell’s coming, and I’m comin’ with it.” Love it.

  7. Shaun

    Just curious, what if Collins came forward and said that the core of the story wasn’t the relationship between Katniss and Peeta but the games themselves. Would the milestones still work?

  8. @Shaun — I honestly don’t think that matters. Many writers speak different languages of story structure and theory, and som who even seem to contradict traditional theory (dismissing it as “formulaic”) end up writing stories that align with it. The reason is that underlying story physics are what make a story tick, and story structure is a way to OPTIMIZE them. Sometimes, when a story isn’t working, the structure is what is revised and rethought, and when it does work, it just happens to align with the principles, even if “priniciples” aren’t the author’s intention. Whatever gets you there. In HG, no matter what Collins might say, that FPP is there, right where it should be, she can’t move it. Whether she believes her core story is the relationship or not, the structure ended up being driven by it. It’s a complex and imprecise pursuit, always, and we live and die with out OUTCOMES more than we do our beliefs and what she might say to others about it. Make sense? L.

  9. Shaun

    Makes sense. ; )

  10. I’ve read all three books (although it’s been a while) and just recently saw the movie. I *think* I know where the Second Plot Point is, but I’ll ask/confirm on that day’s post.

    But what I wanted to ask here is–there’s very clearly an A storyline and a B storyline, and we know that good A/B storylines always complement each other thematically. My question is…can you have simultaneous “beat sheets” (or at the very least, simultaneous high points–FPP, 1Pinch, MidPoint, etc.) for each storyline that run concurrently? Because it seems that the other storyline running alongside Katniss and Peeta’s relationship is Katniss’s relationship to the Games themselves.

    At the first plot point in that storyline, at the same time she acquiesces to Peeta’s play, she acknowledges she’s in the Games to win (hence, fully engaged). And at the 2nd Plot point in this storyline, she realizes *how* to win because she now knows her real enemies aren’t the other players, they’re the gamemakers themselves.

    So can you have concurrent structures in there?

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  14. If that is the FPP then I think I can name my own personal character’s “journey.” She just doesn’t know she’s on that journey! :p

    I’m guessing Katniss didn’t either. That is based on the fact that I have only seen the movie. Movies fail us because they don’t give us a real feel for the insides of the characters. I think we secretly long for that, IMO. 🙂