as well as a Hunger Games magazine and necklace!
(BTW, check out the Hunger Games virtual Capitol Tour. OMG *dies with the waiting*)
I’ve broken down a few bestsellers to analyze their plot structure. This has been immensely helpful to me in learning my craft. I blogged about analyzing the Hunger Games last year (Act I, Act II, and Act III), and I highly encourage you to take your favorite novel and similarly break it down. It’s amazing how useful Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet (stolen from the screenwriting world) can be in understanding novels, and how to build a solid story structure.
There are lots of reasons given for the success of Hunger Games. My personal favorite is the high level of conflict rife throughout the story. There’s almost no one in the book with which Katniss is not in conflict, right down to Prim’s cat Buttercup. Suzanne Collins is a masterful storyteller, and she has perfected the art of chapter endings as well, compelling you to turn the page to the next chapter. While she uses a lot of cliff-hanger endings, not all of her chapter endings are that kind of drama. She’s very artful in “opening the gap” in expectations (another screenwriting term, which refers to having something happen that’s the opposite of the expected thing, creating a “gap” between the expectation and the story). Collins opens the gap at the end of her chapters, but doesn’t close it again (i.e. give the response to this change in expectation) until the next chapter. For example, when Peeta declares his love for Katniss in front of the gathered fans of the Capitol at the end of Chapter 9 (the Act I climax), he stammers out why winning the Games won’t help him win the girl he has a crush on.
“Because … because … she came here with me.”
GAH! I seriously swoon just typing that, lord knows I’m going to squeal when I see it on the screen!!
So, evil author that she is, Collins leaves us there. No reaction from the crowd, no reaction from Caesar. Certainly no response from Katniss, even though we’re deep in her POV. She just opens up that gap the size of the Grand Canyon and leaves us there. Holy Rides in a Handbasket, Batman!
This is subtly different from cliff-hanger endings, defined as putting the character in a difficult or precarious dilemma, so that the reader seriously wonders how they will manage to survive. Cliff hangers open a gap, but then close it, so that you definitively know that the character is in trouble – they know it, we know it, the question is how they will get out of it. In this particular instance, the gap has been opened, but we’re not sure exactly what Katniss’ reaction will be. Will she deny it? Will she say, “Oh Peeta, I love you too!” (gag) She’s not directly in mortal peril (which she is for most of the book), and she still faces the same daunting task: surviving the Games. Only now she has to do it with the burden of killing a boy who is in love with her. But, until we turn the page, we don’t know if she knows this. Or what her reaction will be. (Of course Katniss goes on to rationalize Peeta’s declaration as betrayal and a host of other things, because that’s her character, but there is no question that the stakes have now been raised, at least in the reader’s mind.) That, my friends, is some seriously awesome writing.
And there’s no question that Hunger Games is an impeccably plotted book. Here’s my mini-synopsis of the breakdown (see the links above for all the gory details).
Do you agree with my breakdown? Disagree? I’m sure there are many ways to break down a novel, but the process of doing so can be a tremendous learning experience. Especially if you then apply it to your own novel. (I recently did a Beat Sheet breakdown for a friend’s novel in my critique, another way to really move your learning of the craft along.)
Dark Omen and I are heading off tonight to see the movie!! (That squee of happiness is coming from Illinois, in case you were wondering.)
Check back on Monday for my analysis of the movie and for the winners of the Catching Fire and Mockingjay giveaway!