“The Hunger Games” takes a different path. Let’s look at the third paragraph:
- Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
I guess you could say she saves a cat…from her own murderous impulses. But she still describes her as disgustedly as she possibly can!
Why do we like this nasty heroine? In the parlance of my book, we believe, care and invest:
- Believe: This one paragraph does a great job showing a consistent worldview. Every word is colored by a very unique way of seeing the world. She doesn’t seem like an accumulation of author-imposed traits. She seems like a fully-realized human.
- Care: She’s suffering and doing what she can to survive. If she was living a comfortable life in the suburbs, we would hate her for wanting to kill a cat, but seeing her hunger, our heart goes out to her. We wonder what we would do.
- Invest: We definitely trust her to solve whatever challenges this book offers. She’s bad-ass, and she’s ready to make hard decisions.
Don’t worry, Katniss does get a chance to kill a cat a few pages later:
- Then when this crazy lynx started following me around the woods looking for handouts, it became his official nickname for me. I finally had to kill the lynx because he scared off game. I almost regretted it because he wasn’t bad company. But I got a decent price for his pelt.
All of this cat killing ironically sets us up for her one big moment of selflessness later. If Katniss volunteered for the Hunger Games because she was a super-nice person, we wouldn’t buy it. It’s only because she’s so vicious that it’s believable and compelling.