Saturday, March 10, 2012

Writer’s View – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

From Goodreads: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister Primrose, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Writer’s View:

This post was inspired by Lan at The Write Obsession. Over the past few weeks, she’s posted quite a few blog entries in tribute (pun intended) to the upcoming movie release of The Hunger Games. I decided to jump on the band wagon and write my own post about The Hunger Games.

I have practically been frothing with anticipation ever since I found out The Hunger Games was being made into a movie. I bought The Hunger Games audio book about a year and a half ago. I had a long drive I needed to make for work, and audio books help keep me awake in California traffic. About ten minutes into the drive, I was sobbing. As I listened to the story unfold, I ended up crying for most of the drive. I was so moved by the story that I immediately bought the print version and re-read it, just so I could study Collins’ writing techniques.

Needless to say, everything about The Hunger Games is inspirational from a craft perspective. One thing in particular stood out to me, a writing technique that I have since incorporated into my own writing.

The inverted narrative structure

I was most interested in the way Collins used narrative structure in each individual chapter. The classic narrative structure looks like this:

Most books that I read structure their individual chapters to reflect this classic method. I describe it as this: 1) introduction of problem, 2) escalation of problem, 3) resolution of problem.

Collins used what I call the inverted narrative structure. (I made this term up. Those of you who read my blog know I am fond of making up terms when there isn’t an existing one handy.) Essentially, the inverted narrative structure takes took the classic structure and flips it upside down. The triangle in the diagram will point down.

What we end up with is chapters that do this: 1) resolve an old problem, 2) introduce a new problem, 3) escalate the new problem.

The end result is that each chapter ends on a cliffhanger. Each subsequent chapter resolves that cliffhanger—but by the time we get to the end of that chapter, we’ve reached a new cliffhanger.

This technique fascinated me. One of the many things that impressed me about The Hunger Games was its rip-roaring pace and my inability to put the book down. I copied this narrative structure in my own WIP.

How do other writers out there structure chapters? Do you use the classic narrative structure, inverted narrative structure, or something completely different?


  1. Thanks for the shout out Camille. I love reading about all the different writerly techniques you come up with. Especially considering I don't seem to follow many conventions in my own writing as I've never done a writing course before. I bought The Hunger games after borrowing it from the library and reading it overnight. No sleep for me that night! I thought I was the only one who bought books to study the writing! I think I've been trying to imitate Suzanne Collins writing style but I don't think it's working very well. I seem to be getting bogged down in my own stream of consciousness and everything becomes so dramatic for no reason. Plus even I can see I do a lot of telling not showing.

  2. Excellent post! My initial response to THG was much the same. Interesting observations about the structure; cliffhangers are definitely a key element to the series.

    I think another part of what makes THG so riveting is the layered conflict - every kind of "vs" is present in THG, many in multiple ways. There are no wasted scenes; everything matters.

  3. @ BJ -- You're right, it seems like Katniss had to face every obstacle known to man. I half-expected her NOT to live, even though I knew this series was a trilogy. I figured there could be a book 2 from Peeta's POV is Katniss didn't make it. :)

  4. @ Lan -- I struggle with the show vs tell. It's funny, I can always identify it in the writing of others, but I seem to be blind when it comes to my stuff. Thank goodness for crit buddies and beta readers!

  5. Great observation of Collins' chapter structure! I haven't read this book in a while so I forget how they are set up, but I'll take your word for it. That is a great way to keep a reader wanting to turn the page to start the next chapter.

    The Hunger Games is just brilliant, so that's why I like it. It aimed for epic heights and made it.

  6. @ Cathy -- I totally agree! THG aimed for the sun and hit Jupiter.