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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Rulebook Casefile: How “The Hunger Games” Fills the Reader In on What’s Going On

Let’s look at how the first chapter of “The Hunger Games” parcels out information.

  • Katniss wakes up, sees her mother and sister, interacts with cat, mentions to us that it’s Reaping Day but doesn’t explain what that means.
  • Katniss goes out the door, sees the town, explains to us what District 12 and the Seam are.
  • She slips out through the fence, mentions that her father died in a mine explosion.
  • She gets her bow, explains black market economy and peacekeepers.
  • She meets up with Gale and they eat, and she tells us about the capitol.
  • They find the black market, then interact with the mayor’s daughter, in her nice reaping clothes. They discuss the mathematics of who will get chosen, which we don’t understand, then, as they leave, Katniss explains the system to us.
  • Katniss returns to her family and they go to the Reaping. Katniss explains to us how the lottery works.
  • Katniss sees the officials lined up. For the first time, she tells us the story of how North America became Panem, then she explains how the Hunger Games works.
  • Effie addresses the crowd. Prim is chosen.

So over the course of ten pages, we gradually find out everything we want to know, and it’s very effective. Let’s look at other ways Collins could have done it.

  • The movie just begins with onscreen text explaining in a few paragraphs what the Hunger Games are, before Katniss is introduced. Then we get a snippet of Caesar Flickerman interviewing the game-maker Seneca Crane, where they fill in more of the what the games are, then we cut to District 12 (identified by an onscreen title) The book could have done the same thing.
  • On the other hand, it could have all been mysterious until we arrived at the Reaping at which point Effie could have described everything to the crowd (even though they already knew it)
  • Even past that, they could have waited to actually show us what the Hunger Games were.

The book on other hand, makes good use of first-person direct address. Katniss just tells us everything we need to know, in little pieces, sometimes motivated by something she sees, but sometimes not. The key is that it’s all interspersed with action and dialogue. She’s up and about, visiting several locations, hunting and killing, having several conversations while she’s telling us all this.

She also tells it to us in the most intriguing way possible: She first mentions Reaping Day and the Hunger Games without telling us what they are. She lets us dangle for a few pages, and engages in some dialogue about it with others that we don’t understand, and then, once our interest is built for a while, she finally explains to us what they each are.

We get the information fast enough that the book can get going quickly, but just slowly enough that it never feels like an info-dump. It’s a model of how to set-up a future world.

3 comments:

Neil said...

Thanks for all you do. This is the best writing blog I've ever read, and just about every post is educational. You make me excited to write because the process is no longer a mystery. I love reading your insights.

Happy holidays! :-)

Matt Bird said...

Nice to hear!

william smith said...

It should seize exactly what the movie is all about, in a line. tv series free