Here I am, late to the party again. I just got back from a road trip and along the way I listened to book one of the Hunger Games. I know, old news. I’m not going to review the book (though this will sound like one) – that’s been done to death I’m sure. However, I did have this major epiphany based on something my wife said. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t previously thought of, or known, but it was a certain clarity of understanding the experience brought.
From the start, I was biting my lip, squirming in the driver’s seat as the book went on. And on. And on. Every literary rule I thought I knew was cast aside. It felt like a first draft, in my opinion. Even the partly interesting back story had some serious flaws. Of course, I’ve heard the book was well received by critics and some well established authors. So, maybe I’m in the minority and maybe I’m crazy. Anyway, it got to the point that I asked my wife, “How the hell did this become so popular?”
By this time, I had explained to her my biggest problem with the book: an overwhelming chunk takes place in the character’s head. I know, it’s first person, so that sort of comes with the territory. But still, she would prattle on and on, in the middle of survival situations, in the middle of a fight, about hypotheticals or fret about her every move to the point where I couldn’t take it seriously that this protagonist would have survived five minutes in a local park let alone the Thunderdome. I envisioned her staring into space, lost in thoughts about her breakfast and what might happen to her that day or in one of MANY serious flashback trances and a spear would have ripped through her. Then she would have stopped to describe how it protruded from her chest, and her blood ran down her matching outfit, and how that reminded her of the butcher back at home and how if she’d only had a second orange for breakfast, she’d have had the energy to sidestep the spear, blah, blah, blah.
My wife’s response: This is pretty much how teenage girls think. It’s something they would identify with. Yes, we’re both aware she was stereotyping, but frankly, it’s true. The book was essentially the diary entries of a teenage girl in this dystopian setting. It made perfect sense at that point. I would completely buy into this being a rough, hand written diary sort of thing where the show don’t tell rule doesn’t entirely apply, where drifting into flashback after flashback is possible because the character has time to reflect, etc.
Of course, I don’t for a second think Suzanne Collins intended that. Had that been the case, there should have been some indication. Even simple date headings on the chapter or some sort of “Dear diary” type of entry. However, her intended audience (or incidental audience as the case may be) probably picked it up and realized that was exactly what it was (or saw it for that and latched on, you decide).
So, rules, schmoolze. If you know what people will buy, do it. Sell it. I’m not advocating putting craft in the back seat to profit. However, there is a balance you have to find, especially if you want to make a living at writing. Sometimes, you might even stumble into that by accident.
It seems to be the case that a lot of writers nowadays make it big without being particularly great at craft. Just luck or does story trump all? Who knows.
Well, I’m not sure either. I’m not up on market forces, sorta my achilles heel in this whole process. I mean, porn sells, always will (50 Shades). Hunger Games had an intriguing setup, but even that was poorly executed IMO. Somehow though, it hit that critical mass and snowballed from there. I was just surprised when I started researching for this post that quite a few successful / big name authors and review sites were so generous with their comments about Hunger Games. That couldn’t have hurt!
I think the goal is to break the rules in an interesting enough way. Her way, while perhaps not new, caught the interest of many people.