Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writer's View: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Part 2

I know I just posted my Writer's View of The Hunger Games last week. But hey, it's Hunger Games movie premiere week! Let's celebrate opening night with another blog post about it!

The Writer's View:

I talked about the effective use of flashback in Marie Lu's Legend and the not-so-effective use of flashback in Lia Habel's Dearly, Departed. Today I thought I would discuss Suzanne Collin's use of flashbacks.

The most amazing flashback in to the history of flashbacks


There are a few things all writers learn in Creative Writing 101 (I've got a degres in Creative Writing, for whatever that's worth), and one of those things is that a writer should never, ever, open a novel with a flashback. The arguement being that if said flashback is so important, the novel perhaps needs to be started on an earlier part of the fictional timeline.

The other thing professors tell students is that in the hands of a truly exceptional writer, all said rules go out the window. It's sort of like this: before you can tinker with a recipe in the kitchen, you first need to know how to cook.

I've already talked about how the beginning of The Hunger Games reduced me to blubbery tears. To my surprise, almost all of Chapter 2 in The Hunger Games is an extensive flashback detailing Peeta's significance to Katniss. I immediately re-read the chapter, trying to figure out how Collins so successfully broke this rule. There's no way I would have cried so much if the flashback hadn't been incredibly effective.

Here's what I observed:

1) The flashback has an immediacy to Katniss' situation. She has just learned that she's going into the arena with Peeta. As I reader, I was dying to know all about Peeta. So the flashback gave me instant gratification. I got to learn a lot about this kind boy that was chosen to go to his death with Katniss. It was just awesome.

2) The flashback had its own introduction-climax-resolution -- that is, it's own mini story written with classical narrative structure. It was the story of how Katniss survived the death of her father and near starvation to become the current hunting badass that she is. The story was fairly short, but it was loaded with tension. As soon as I got into the flashback, I was drying to know how Katniss survived, and how her story tied to Peeta.

All of this served to make Chapter 2 a perfectly placed, perfectly written flashback. The entire thing was so seamless that I didn't immediately realize is was a flashback. I learned a lot from reading The Hunger Games, although I am skeptical I can ever imitate Collins' amazing writing. One can always try, though!

4 comments:

  1. It's great to see some more commentary on The Hunger Games! You can go a long way with this series.

    You're right that this flashback is so well done. I didn't even realize I was reading a flashback as I read it. Breaking the rules means knowing how to do things by the rules, first, then breaking them so seamlessly, it's like you're not doing it at all. Collins is a great author.

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  2. @ Cathy - I didn't realize this was a flashback as first, either! Just another sign of Collins' amazing skills.

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  3. Heh flashbacks are like the equivalent of info dumping for me. Suzanne Collins does it really well but strangely enough, that's the one time where I can really tell it's info dumping. I've been analyzing The Hunger games for a fortnight now and each time I just end up reading the book again without coming up with anything insightful. That's why I love these posts of yours so much! Keep them coming!

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  4. @ Lan - I agree, flashbacks often are just another form of info-dumping. I just think Collins does it so well. I have definitely read other books where they feel forced, or where they detract from the tension of the rest of the story. Long live The Hunger Games!

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