Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Breaking Down a Bestseller

Alright, so I know I'm way behind in the game here because I JUST finished reading The Hunger Games and it's been a bestseller for a few years now. BUT! I just had to put in my two cents.

Many times during the story I'd ask myself, "Self, how did Ms. Suzanne Collins do it? How did she captivate me like this? What is her trick?" And I don't know if there is any one answer. So let me break it down into the areas I think are what really made this story such a success. And let me just say in case it's not already apparent, I LOVED it. Duh!



* The MC rocks. Katniss Everdeen is tough, clever, naive, a devoted sister, oblivious to her good looks, more concerned with her family than herself, a survivor. There are so any reasons to connect with Katniss--perhaps because she's been through so much. Or perhaps because she's tougher than most guys are. Perhaps it's a combination of these things. But the fact she is only remotely aware of her qualities allows us to love her even more.

* We see her in action. Throughout the story, Katniss is put into situations where the readers are along for the ride. We see her qualities and weaknesses unfold throughout the situations she's faced with. Never does the author tell us Katniss is tough, or pretty. She just is. We deduce this ourselves by joining her in her scenes.

*  The voice is comfortable and practical. Although, I have to say there were many times I felt the voice of Katniss was that of a grown woman and not a teenage girl. Even so, it didn't matter because I was so gripped by the story.

*  The plot was so fresh--pure genius. And in all actuality, it's not that original. It's similar to that of the ancient Roman gladiators being forced to kill or be killed as a spectator sport. But the fact Collins twisted this into a futuristic teenage game? Totally original and exciting!

* TENSION! Wow, there's so much tension throughout the entire story. It really is what compels readers to want to know more. The intensity draws us in.

Those are pretty obvious elements of what worked for The Hunger Games. But what about that ju ne se qua that reaches out and pulls the reader into the story? I truly felt like I was on this adventure with Katniss. How did Collins do that? How did she make me feel like I was really there?

I think the key word there is FEEL. That's the true art of telling a story. We can describe the setting so our readers can picture it vividly. We can have such snappy dialogue that our readers laugh aloud. But if our readers aren't feeling something stir inside them when they read our story, we're missing a HUGE element that makes it unputdownabale.

So what's the trick in making our readers feel? Wish I knew how to pinpoint it. But here's what I gathered from The Hunger Games. ....  Collins uses just the right balance of description and introspection to trick our brains into believing we are really there with Katniss. Katniss feels what happens every step of the way: her pangs of hunger, her grimy skin, the dirt beneath her fingernails, the grief of Rue dying, the comfort of Peeta's body warmth.

We also get the unique setting and awesome story line with original creatures like mocking jays and tracker jackers. We get to picture all of it, and it sparks our intellect in imagining a dystopian world like this. But Collins only gives us what we absolutely need to know. And the rest ... she makes us feel it.

Awesome. It's no wonder why so many peeps love this story. After reading it and connecting with it on such a personal level, I now know I need to go back into my own story and make sure the MC is feeling everything ... not just the five senses, but his thoughts on how he feels about what's happening as well. The trick is in the balance.

And if you still haven't read it, consider reading it as a study for fiction writing. I promise you'll find it worth your while, and maybe you can let me know what elements of the story you found to make it so unputdownable. Please share ...

29 comments:

Rogue Mutt said...

I've only heard vaguely of this.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

I always love when someone reads HG for the first time :) What a fabulous breakdown of what made this book tick. For me, I think it was that Collins didn't pull ANY punches. None whatsoever. She puts her characters through the freaking ringer and, as such, their true colors kind of burst out through the pages. How could you NOT be enthralled??

Have you read the next two books, or just the first?

Sarah said...

I haven't read it yet, but I definitely need to--your suggestion of reading it as a study in effective fiction is right up my alley! Thanks!

Jennee said...

I can't believe how hooked and obsessed I was with the Hunger Games. Oh how I hope and pray that the movie is going to do the book justice!

Heather said...

I have read all 3 in the series and was immediately sucked in. I enjoyed reading them but I am not sure I am going to enjoy watching it all unfold in a movie...but then I am not big on violence.

Karen Walker said...

I must live on another planet. I had no idea about this book. Thanks for sharing what you loved about it and breaking it down from a writing perspective.
Karen

Liz Fichera said...

For me, the best part of the first book in this series was the world-building. I thought she did a great job in creating this dystopian world.

Margo Benson said...

I haven't read this book either, but I think your line '..a balance of description and observation..' is a key to an unputdownable story.

(Runs to HG on reading list...)

Kittie Howard said...

I haven't read it either and that's definitely my bad. I liked how you zeroed in on "feeling" - it's so elusive but so critical.

Susan Kane said...

I agree with Kittie--the atmosphere/feeling of the book is essential. I had not heard of this book, but now I must seek it out.
My computer has been blitzed for five miserable days, so I didn't get to read your blogs until today. I love reading your thoughts and insights.

Jules said...

I'm glad I'm not alone, haven't read it either. But on the "Feeling" part. I've found if I don't feel it first, no way are my readers going to.
Have a good one! :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Lindsay said...

I loved HG, too. I love the way you broke it down. Everything Katniss goes through, I felt. That is what really connects me with a story to keep reading. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So the secret is to place our readers right in the middle of the action? And make them care of course!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I haven't read this yet but as you know am on vacation in the US at present.
Hope all is well with you.
See you next Wednesday.
Yvonne.

M.J. Fifield said...

I was completely hooked on this book- the entire series, as a matter of fact. I've recommended it to so many people.

Glad that you enjoyed it!

Jeigh said...

This series is amazing for all the reasons you pointed out. I think the voice was so well done.

Monica B.W. said...

It was a great, read, wasn't it?
I love to hear why you thought it hooked you!

Meagan Spooner said...

I love talking about the Hunger Games just because so many people have read it, and it affects people so viscerally, that you can get REALLY excited and passionate discussions as a result.

What I found fascinating about the book was that Katniss WASN'T your usual sympathetic character. She's really calculating and even, at times, cold. She's always evaluating everything based on what's best for her. I think this only works because we get shown that amazing beacon of love and selflessness at the beginning, when she volunteers to take her sister's place. In that one moment Collins builds up so much empathy capital that it lasts the entire book. Blows me away!

Old Kitty said...

I absolutely loved you enthusiastic review!! Wow!!

Looks and sounds and feels like one AWESOME read! thanks for sharing, take care
x

Mary said...

I haven't read this yet, but will have to remedy that.

Kari Marie said...

Well. Now I've got to move this up in my TBR pile. This was an excellent breakdown. I could use more feeling in my WIP, I guess I'll be "studying" sooner than I thought.

ali said...

Ooh, the balance. BA-LANCE. Easier said than done! But truly, Ms. Collins rocked the house with that first book. Seriously.

T C Mckee said...

I'm so glad you finally read this. You pinpointed everything about it that makes it such a riveting book. I thought about it at night long after I'd turned out the lights. You truly feel everything. I actually lost a tear or two when Rue died. That's the good stuff right there. I can only hope to achieve that one day. Pure genius.

kmckendry said...

I totally loved the book! I read it with my teenage daughters which made it even more fun! You're right she made the reader feel what Katniss was feeling. Great post

Jennifer Jackson said...

I haven't read it yet but you make me want to!

Great post, PK!

Jansen Family said...

I've heard so many great things about this book...now you've totally made me want to get it! I really enjoy studying fiction too. ;)

Carla

Misha said...

I know what you mean! I loved the series. The feel was done to perfection. I also have to go back to get that right.

:-)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i actually felt there was too much tension. Yes, it kept me reading instead of going to bed, but i don't actually like that. I'd rather feel free to take my time and read something than feel forced to not put it down. That's just me though, i like a mid range pace

The Golden Eagle said...

I couldn't get attached to The Hunger Games. I think most of the reason was because of something you mentioned about Katniss--she was naive. I found it out of character for her, since she'd been through so much hardship. It seemed to me she could have figured some things out a bit faster than she did.

Of course, I read the first book over two years ago . . . so I don't remember much in detail. :P