Learning from The Hunger Games 1 – in her head

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I’ve just finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I say just finished, but I really only just started too, I got through the books so quickly. For me, they lived up to their reputation as enthralling reads, as well as traumatic ones. And they were stuffed full of smart writing technique. Just writing one post wouldn’t do this justice, so today I want to focus on part of it – getting inside the protagonist’s head.

For those who don’t know, The Hunger Games and its sequels centre around Katniss Everdeen, a young woman living in a dystopian future where annual blood sports keep the population under control through fear for the majority and entertainment for the minority. Katniss is the story’s narrator, and everything is told in first person present tense. This point of view gives the story a great deal of immediacy, and is well suited to Collins’s aim of getting right inside Katniss’s head. Present tense is an unusual choice, but it works well with the first person, and within a couple of pages I’d stopped noticing that it was different from any other book.

Collins spends a lot of time describing Katniss’s thoughts and feelings. I know that to sympathise for a character I need some of this, but this much would normally put me off. However, in The Hunger Games it becomes a strength. The thoughts and feelings are tied in to events happening around Katniss, events which are always of immediate significance to her. The thoughts themselves have action, impact and tension. We live in her emotional world, feel her joys and heartbreaks, and it’s this that makes the books so enthralling.

The cleverest part about all of this is that, for someone whose thoughts and feelings are so obvious to the reader, Katniss displays an incredible lack of insight. She isn’t stupid, at least not to the point of becoming annoying, but she lacks the emotional intelligence to fully understand other people. This allows the reader to see what is happening through Katniss’s observations without Katniss herself getting the point, and without ever drawing us out of her head. It also increases the tension in the story, as we long for her to work things out before it’s too late. Collins is incredibly deft at this narrative sleight of hand, so that, like the present tense, it feels natural rather than intrusive.

I’ll be honest, I’m not completely sure how Collins manages all of this. I’ll be re-reading chunks of the books to try to work it out. But it’s an incredible example, and one I hope to learn from.

So, readers, have any of you read The Hunger Games? And what did you think?