Monday, April 18, 2011

Craft Analysis: Tension, Suspense, and The Hunger Games

Spoiler alert: I wouldn't term anything in here as spoiling the books. However, this entry does touch peripherally on content of the stories.

Every reader is different. Most writing advice advocates creating strong tension so the reader can't put down the book. I'm that odd duck that doesn't fit the average reader -- I'm probably wound up enough with all the other stresses in my life that I don't need an additional stressor. If the book gets too tense, I need a break, and I either switch to another book, or I stop reading altogether. I'm typically juggling three novels and reading short stories at the same time.

I found the reading of "The Hunger Games" to be excruciatingly painful and would have not read the sequels if they hadn't been gifted to me. It wasn't that I didn't like the writing, or the characters, or the story. I never got a break from the tension.

Therefore, I found it intriguing that "Catching Fire" did not elicit the same reaction as I had when reading the first novel. Being a writer, I want to know why the first book went overboard and the second book didn't. I will examine the stories more careful in the future, but the following are some initial impressions.
  • Both novels are written in the first person. I might've suspected that as being part of what created the tension, because you don't have that past tense that makes you believe that things work out in some way. But because they're both written this way, I ruled that out.
  • Both novels are written in three parts. However, in the first novel two of those parts leave the protagonist in a life or death situation. In the second novel, only one part deals with a battle to the death.
  • In the first novel, the protagonist allies with another contestant temporarily, but never more than one at a time and usually the ally is injured so does not provide any help in fending off the other contestants. In the second novel, but becomes too large groups of allies who can all depend on each other somewhat and therefore it doesn't feel like violence is going to jump out of nowhere.
The latter two bullet points may be what caused this, but there may be something deeper with the way the tension was carried forth and that's what I'm going to look for as I perform a closer reading. I enjoyed the first two books and I plan on reading the third, after a break with some other stories.


  1. I haven't read the hunger games, but I keep finding people comment that the pacing was well done in the books, so it's interesting to see your reaction. I'm not so much a fan of the cliffhanger ending to a chapter. Once in while is fine, but too much is draining. Maybe book 2 is better because she fixed the issues she found in the first?

  2. @Tessa, hmmm, it will require re-reading, but I think that some of the difference may be that the first book depended on conflict that didn't really resolve with the end of a chapter. There might be sub-conflicts but they were part of the overall conflict and that they might not have been separated very well. In the second book, I'm beginning to think that there is more separation between the individual steps necessary to reach the goals.

  3. all of u shut up theyre both awesum

  4. I thought that all of the Hunger games books wer marvelous. My least favorite would have to be the third. All the deaths of the favorite characters really drained a lot out of me. I think Suzanne Collins was really trying to emphasize the damage that war causes. Great trilogy though!