Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 18, 2011

Writing Lessons from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Laura Drake


You may want to stand back a bit. I’m about to gush, and you don’t want to get it on you.

First, a quick plot rundown:

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in a post-apocalyptic world (future North America.)  The oppressive government holds annual Hunger Games, to demonstrate not even children are beyond the reach of their power.

They choose one boy and one girl from each district to fight to the death.  It has morphed into a Roman Circus type entertainment for the pampered citizens of the capitol, but something very different to the starving outlying districts.

When her delicate sister is chosen for the games, Katniss steps up to take her place.

This book is so varied, rich, and layered; I don’t know where to start. A good example is genre. I could make a case for it fitting into any of the following:

  • Action-adventure
  • YA
  • Dystopian
  • Romance
  • Sci Fi / Futuristic

It’s a classic hero’s journey, and I’ll bet if you compared it to Vogler’s steps, it would fall right into line.

But it’s not predictable, shallow, or trite.

Take the main character, Katniss. She’s abrasive, unfeminine, closed off, and fairly untalented. Not your typical heroine.  But in typical Save-the-Cat style, we learn early that she is fiercely loyal to the few people she loves. It’s enough to make us follow her through three books – even though we don’t always like her.

It’s YA, but it has deep underlying social lessons:

  • Power corrupts – even the most idealistic fall prey
  • The balance between social and individual rights
  • Social injustice
  • Environmentalism
  • The making of martyrs
  • The commercial making of a people’s hero – and it’s not always pretty

It’s a typical 3 person triangle love story. But you she weaves the love story between three books so delicately that we’re not sure which man Katniss will end up with until the last few pages. And depending on the plot twist, I rooted for the two suitors equally at different times. Masterful.

But the most powerful writing weapon in Collins’ arsenal is:

Tension and her ability to constantly up the stakes. 

What could up the stakes more than surviving the Hunger Games?

A second Hunger Games, with only the past winners competing.

What could up the stakes more than that?

The games becoming a catalyst for a revolution to overthrow the oppressive, corrupt government.

More than that??

The main character becoming sucked into being a ‘brand’ for the revolution, and trying to maintain her morality as she’s sucked into the behind-the-scenes making of a revolution.


Honestly, I can think of only one. The ending isn’t as satisfying as it could have been. We see Katniss years later, happy with her hero – but after three books, the author doesn’t show the completion of her arc as well as I’d like.  Instead of a “in her head” view of her satisfaction with her life, we get more of a sweeping view of how the world has changed.  And after following this character through three books, it was a slight let-down.

Do yourself a favor and pick up this book, even if you don’t read most of the genres it represents. But do it when you have had lots of sleep, and 12 hours of uninterrupted time – you’re not going to be able to put it down.

Link to The Hunger Games on B&N

0 comments on “Writing Lessons from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins”

  1. Loved this whole series. The 'Twilight' books got my daughter reading, but 'Hunger Games' made her a reading fan for life.

      1. Collins is a master; she also wrote for TV, which means she had to create mini-cliff-hangers throughout the scripts so viewers would stick around at commercial breaks. Her books are written in a similar fashion: at the end of almost every chapter something happens to make you want to find out more. At the end of each part, there is a major cliff-hanger. Of course, Catching Fire's ending was the best (or worst for those of us who had to wait a year) for making you want to read the next novel.
        I am sure you will get there, Laura! Good luck!

  2. I agree with everything you've said here about the series. I'm totally in love with it, despite the flaws in Book 3 you mentioned (and I felt too). It was a very powerful series and a real study in high stakes! I didn't have time for browsing blog posts today, but as soon as I saw the title of this post, I had to come over! 🙂 Sign of a devotee, right? 🙂

  3. I adored these books, too. The constant tension drew me in and the bigger world view beneath the constant on-the-page tension drew me forward. It's been a long time since I read a book I couldn't put down and these three all qualified.

    I do agree about the ending. I felt it didn't complete any of the arcs well enough, but the ride was so great I forgave Suzanne in a heartbeat. Thanks for pointing out all the things that were right. I've been working on identifying them all and you are quite the help.

  4. I too loved all the books, and got my book club to read the first of the trilogy. Even the women who were hesitant because of the subject matter of children killing children were taken in and had to read books two and three. I applaud Suzanne Collins for being able to blend action and heart.

    1. Marilag - go buy it - NOW!

      So funny, a girl I told about it at work called her sister the morning after staying up til 2 am reading it. Said, "You've GOT to go get this book! No, I mean, right now! Get your car keys, and go!"

      Her sister said, "Can I put my bra on first?" 🙂

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