Every writer should read as much as they can. I think we can all agree to that to some degree. Personally, it’s been hard to find the time to fulfill this essential part of my chosen profession, but I do fairly well. I might average a book a month, maybe two if I’m having a particularly nasty spell of writer’s block.
This all said, I’ve nearly completed three books in the last two weeks. No, I haven’t quit my job (or writing, for that matter). I have come across a wonderful little time-consumer called Hunger Games. You may have heard of it, may have not. I certainly hadn’t until about a month ago. Someone in my writing group suggested it, so I thought, why not.
Remember The Most Dangerous Game? You’ve probably read it in High School (or maybe that was just me?). Hunger Games is something like that. Two tributes (a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 17) are selected from each of 12 districts every year to fight to the death for the Capitol’s enjoyment. There is only one victor. We follow one tribute in to these games and beyond as the district get tired of putting up with the Capitol’s shit and all hell breaks loose. The series is written for ‘Young Adults’ but, much like Harry Potter, its content becomes more mature as the series progresses. The main character, Katniss, starts off no more than a girl and ends very much a woman.
The big appeal of the Hunger Games is the wonderful display of imagination. What I like most about being a writer (and a reader) is the creation of new worlds/societies/situations with a brand new set of rules. The Hunger Games world is a mix of pre-industrial, modern, and futuristic. Hunting, gathering, and villages are seamlessly meshed with televisions, hovercrafts, and futuristic medicine. It is also interesting to see a society that is pretty much defined by these Hunger Games, from the way people live, work, and fear. I feel stupid saying this (as obviously this was the process), but there’s a genuine feeling that the world started with the idea of the Hunger Games and everything else was built around it. As opposed to trying to make something fit into an existence we already know. Again, it feels like a very basic concept, but I would urge other writers to think of creating their stories in the same way. What world can fit around your idea rather than the other way around.
I must say, though, I didn’t enjoy the third book (Mockingjay) as much as the others. A lot of ground was covered and, as a result, it often felt rushed. And the ending was…well, it was what it was. It was still fairly entertaining and I enjoyed some of the directions and developments. There were parts that struck me as odd, when characters would spend significant time developing a plan and then that plan would never get carried out because of other occurrences. Of course, this is something that happens in real life, but I often felt cheated because I was eager to see certain things carried out. As a writer, I found myself wondering if this was a good technique or only detrimental.
I often dig up interviews, bios, and the such from writers I become enchanted with (and you should do the same!). It turns out that Suzanne Collins already knew success with another series for a younger audience, and has been writing professionally for 20 or so years. She came up with the idea for Hunger Games while channel surfing one night. She flipped back and forth between news coverage of the Iraq war and a reality television series. Somewhere between the channels the images began to merge and the idea behind Hunger Games was born. As writers we often seek out what will be our next story. We brood over finding that perfect idea. While I’m sure there have been some successes to arise from this tactic, I haven’t heard of any personally. I haven’t read any author giving an interview about their bestseller and exclaiming that the idea started with, ‘I wanted something that could sell!’ I encourage writers who feel lost on what to write about to take a break and just stop looking. Let life’s experiences bring an idea to you. It may not come on your ideal timeline, but it will.
Overall, Hunger Games is a refreshing book for writers to read and to remind us of the magic our craft can produce. I’d say to read all three, just not to expect the last to be as fulfilling as the first. See what lessons you can pull that apply to your own writing, and let me know what you think here.