I read the first book in the Hunger Games series a while ago and then avoided finishing the series when it became a pop-culture craze. This past month, I decided to go ahead and finish the series and analyze its success from a writer’s point of view. What keeps people turning the pages of The Hunger Games?
I doubt it’s the appeal of the main character. Personally, I found Katniss a very simple, one-dimensional character that I couldn’t relate to at all. My favorite character was always Peeta, who seemed much more genuine and dynamic. Nonetheless, I think I pinpointed some of Collins’s chief successful strategies that I can add to my writing toolbox and perhaps use in my own writing:
I would definitely say that the Hunger Games series is much more plot-based than character-based. Thus, before one event fully reaches a conclusion, another already begins, so the books never seem to get boring. The reader hardly has time to breathe before he/she is plunged back into the depths of another action-filled scene. The fast pace of the series definitely appeals to today’s readers who want action, suspense, and romance all wrapped up in one high-speed roller coaster of a novel. The fact that my eyes almost always remained glued to the line I was reading rather than drifting farther down the page looking for more action shows that the author knew how to keep her audience constantly engaged.
2) Unabashed killing of characters:
This really shocked me. The third book, which was my favorite due to its detail in terms of war strategy, has a lot of this. I’ve come to the conclusion that the author simply keeps a character alive just long enough for the reader to like him and relate to him before she kills him (or her, of course). Take Finnick, for example. He had just been married! I understand Boggs had to die in order to transfer command to Katniss and therefore move the story forward, and that Prim had to die because it was part of Coin’s plan to push Katniss over the edge, but why Castor and Messalla? I am a huge proponent of having people die for a purpose and sometimes I wonder if in The Hunger Games each person’s death has a purpose or if once they’ve helped Katniss get closer to achieving her mission in some way, they die.
In the Harry Potter series–my all-time favorite set of books–, Dumbledore, Sirius Black, and Severus Snape all die for a reason. Not only are there unique circumstances revolving around each of their deaths, but it was necessary for them to die so that Harry would take on Voldemort without the support of more powerful and capable people who might try to do the job for him.
Collins is also not afraid to seriously harm her characters and toss them headlong into harrowing situations. I sometimes wonder how Katniss survives as long as she does with the injuries she sustains every thirty or so pages.
3) Plot twists and turns/the pendulum:
Collins tries to make sure that the reader has a hard time predicting what will happen next in the story, which is great. This was probably the most entertaining aspect of the series, with the closing of almost each chapter ending in some sort of cliff hanger or revelation which made it impossible for the reader to stop. Katniss herself–perhaps because she is not characterized in depth–sometimes surprised me with her words and actions. However, the ups and downs that accompanied the suspense were disorienting after a while, which brings us to the pendulum.
The pendulum became repetitive after it was discovered, but was still intriguing. The pendulum is basically a good event followed by a bad one followed by a good one and so on. Whenever something slightly resembling good happens to Katniss, you can bet that something terrible will happen within the next couple of pages. This is interesting because it keeps readers on their toes and the character never seems to get a break.
What were your favorite or least favorite aspects of The Hunger Games?