Lessons learned – The Hunger Games 4: the road less travelled

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This is my last post on The Hunger Games, for now at least. It’s spoilerific again, so, you know, read the books first then come back and read this. They’re really worth it.

Despite its title, this post covers the most well-worn territory in terms of the lessons I’ve learned from these books. Because ‘don’t do the obvious thing’ is old advice for writers, but Collins does it particularly well.

It would be easy for this trilogy to become triumphalist. The main character is a skilled, wilful young woman, pressed into danger by dark forces and her own desire to do good. Over the course of the trilogy, it turns into a story of defiance and rebellion against an oppressive establishment. The temptation to turn it into a gung-ho action story of good against evil must have been huge.

But that isn’t where the story goes. Everybody in it has their flaws, and the people who stand out against the darkness aren’t always good themselves. Shallow, unpleasant institutions can be turned to good ends, and good intentions can lead to terrible consequences, as shown by the deaths that follow Peeta’s act of generosity in District 11.

The romantic arc doesn’t pan out in an obvious way either. The love triangle isn’t neatly tied off with one party nobly sacrificing himself or finding another love. Feelings are complicated and difficult, love can be a challenge, and in the end Katniss doesn’t fall into a burning well of passion, but into the hard work of building a life together. I was happy with who she finally chose, but couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t a healthy situation for him. The story didn’t show pure, romanticised Hollywood love. It showed a more complicated truth.

Collins’s choices about plot and character arcs often make for an uncomfortable read. But that makes the books all the more satisfying. They feel real. They feel raw. And if I can make such courageous choices, it’ll make my own writing a lot better.