Prologue: Deconstructing “The Hunger Games”

It’s been a while since I’ve done a thorough story deconstruction on this website.  I can’t think of a better lab rat than the iconic bestseller “The Hunger Games” for this project, which provides us with a glowing example of each of the six core competencies in play, as well as the underlying story physics that energize a story — any story — toward greatness.

Like the Harry Potter stories, Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy broke out from a YA niche to crossover into mainstream juggernaut territory, selling over 26 million copies thus far and inspiring the latest blockbuster film, which is a very true adapation of the first book in the series.  I will be deconstructing both the first book and the film, and will come back to the second and third books at a later date.

Now would be a good time to get involved. 

You may not have read the book or seen the movie at this point.  And the series will work for you if you haven’t, though it’ll work better if you’ve consumed at least one of those versions of this story.  I encourage you to do both, if nothing else than to root yourself deeper in the story in preparation. 

You won’t hear me claim that this story is “perfect. “

Anytime a genre book reaches these heights, somebody always steps up to slam the writing.  I’ve heard that — I don’t agree, by the way, it’s well written in my view — but that level of analysis isn’t what this is about.  This is about story building craft, and on that count it is, if not a perfect story, at least a perfect specimen and learning tool.

It hasn’t blown up because it sucks, folks.  It’s compelling and disturbing, as well as vicariously delicious.

Aesthetics are a taste thing, many won’t care for the violence and the fantasy elements.  Reading outside our own writing niche can be very helpful, though, especially when a story hits all the notes relative to craft, as “The Hunger Games” certainly does. 

Here are a few things to look for as you experience this story.

Notice how context and sub-text play a huge role in the reader/audience experience. 

Part 1 (pre-plot point one) especially is driven by the context of impending and nearly certain death of the hero, who realizes it from square one.  This informs and colors everything — every scene, every nuance, every line of dialogue — with a certain irony and a creepy flavor of fear, and its one of the things that emotionally penetrates early in the story. 

Collins makes it easy to root for her protagonist.

This young hero (Katniss) emerges from the chute as a strong, rootable yet vulnerable character, which is another strong reason why this story has resonated so strongly, particularly with younger audiences.

You may not notice it at first (small spoiler alert here; then again, we’re in post mortem mode, and we’re all in the anatomy lab together), but at it’s heart this is a sort of love story

Really.

In fact, that particular sub-text becomes the backbone of the entire structure, over and above the exterior plot (romance writers, take note)… this alone might make this series something that might pop a few story development light bulb for you as we go through it.

The Hunger Games” is no Harry Potter, however, even though both stories take us on a trip to the dark side with elements of fantasy and, in the former case, science fiction (Hunger has both).  Harry’s vicarious juice was enchantment and wonder, while Hunger is pure terror and creepy sense of cultural hopelessness that comes a little too close to our reality television-loving selves.

Tell your Hunger loving friends — writers or not — to join you for this.

If you’ve been struggling with the concepts of story structure, the vocabulary of it that I (and other writing teachers) use to explain it, and most of all the underlying forces of storytelling that are too often ignored yet, once you know them are impossible to not see in any stellar story… if you want a clinic in all this stuff, then stay tuned.

The deconstruction of “The Hunger Games” begins later this week with a series of posts that will expose and analyze it all, and from the perspective of the writer’s hungry eye for craft.

*****

Have you visited the Peer Review page lately?  There’s a new story for us from Derek Tumacder, check it out HERE.  Derek tells us this is his first public outing for his writing, so let’s reward his courage — we all remember that moment for ourselves, no? — with our helpful support.

There is a wealth of material here for the analytic writer to learn from, and just as importantly, a chance to offer feedback to the writers who have braved this territory.  Learn more about the Peer Review service HERE.

18 Comments

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18 Responses to Prologue: Deconstructing “The Hunger Games”

  1. A break-down of what makes The Hunger Games? Goody. I’ll be watching closely toward this–especially considering I nitpicked the series itself in my post, since I felt like it wouldn’t do much to just list “why I liked The Hunger Games”.

    However, I think dissecting the book to see how it ticks is going to be fascinating to watch.

  2. Marc Iverson

    Hi Larry. What great timing on my part, if I do say so myself! I’ve been planning to take a crack at crafting a thoroughgoing breakdown of The Hunger Games myself (read the book, haven’t seen the movie yet), and now I’m going to get to see a structure specialist doing it. I’m strapping myself in and can’t wait for the ride!

    I’m very much enjoying your extremely useful Story Engineering book, too, by the way. I haven’t come across as practical a writing book before, and even books like The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell are a little too broad to translate easily into a practical writing aid (Christopher Vogel notwithstanding). Thanks for all the demystifying!

  3. Claire

    I was literally contemplating emailing you to see if you would consider deconstructing this book (although I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to actually send it!). Seriously though, I am really looking forward to seeing the story dissected. After I read it, I thumbed back through the book, thinking about where certain story milestones would have been. Very much looking forward to the series – thank you!!!

  4. @Socknitster

    Seriously looking forward to this. When I heard you were doing this, I downloaded the trilogy and read them over a weekend. As I read, I kept forgetting to maintain my analytic eye–the story swept me along, viscerally, on the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to read your analysis. This is exactly the kind of fiction I hope to write.

  5. David barber

    I’m reverse engineering every story I find mow. It is interesting to hear this. I’d like to read it.

    Thanks Larry

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  7. Shelly Ann

    Um, “rootable”? I think you mean “rootable for”, awkward though that sounds. Maybe the word means something different to Americans but… yeah, you need to change that.

  8. Damn, Larry! I dropped the ball on this one. I’ve had my head buried in Sean Platt’s new publishing company doing edits and haven’t stopped by in some time. I need to go out and get that video. I’m assuming it’s in stores?
    Awesome! I love these deconstructions.

  9. Sean Chevalier

    I’ve already dissected the first novel as I read it. I’ve also seen the movie. Can’t wait to get your take on it!

  10. Gary

    I’ve listened to the audiobook of the first book (not seen the film), and when I think back to try to figure out some of the milestones, it gets a little tricky. For instance, I’m not quite sure I can remember what the mid-point milestone would be? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  11. Dan

    There are a lot of deconstructions of The Hunger Games on the web, including a very thorough one by Alexandra Sokoloff. Will be interesting to see how yours compares.

  12. Emily

    I’m so excited! I truly, deeply love this story. I’ve read the book multiple times and seen the movie twice, and they are certainly worth the experience! Thank you, Larry- I’ve got an extra paper back ready to mark up!

  13. Celeste

    I really enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy; however, reading it aloud to a classroom of students, i find a LOT of flaws in the writing. The plot and characterization are great, but her actual writing could use a lot of improvement. She’s no Steven King, that’s for sure.

  14. Celeste

    I agree with “Socknister”–the story certainly does sweep you along!
    I also liked that the movie stayed truer to the book than most movies do.

  15. India

    *taps fingers*

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