The all-important first chapter. This is the make-or-break-it for agents, editors, and sometimes readers. Let's see how it went down in THG.
Summary: Katniss wakes up on the day of the reaping. She lives in District 12, filled with the poor and hungry. For food, she illegally crosses into the forest and meets her friend Gale. They fish and gather food, trade it, and make a trade with the mayor's daughter. Katniss goes home and readies herself while also comforting her little sister Prim about the reaping. The mayor reads the history of their country, Panem: after many disasters that ended the civilization of North America, the Capitol rose to power and controlled its thirteen districts. The districts tried to rebel against the Capitol. District 13 was obliterated and as punishment for the other twelve, every year they participate in The Hunger Games. Each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to be put in an arena and fight to the death until the last one stands. District 12 has only had two winners in 74 years, one of which is still alive, a drunken Haymitch Abernathy. A woman from the Capitol, Effie Trinket, pulls out the name for the female tribute--Primrose Everdeen.
The Hook: Right when Katniss wakes up we can tell that this isn't a good situation: the bed is cold, Prim probably had bad dreams. Then we find out it's "the day of the reaping." But Collins doesn't tell us why it's bad. We can just feel that it is and wants to know about it.
- Katniss: We know Katniss's character almost immediately. We recognize that she loves Prim: she describes her kindly, she feeds her, she protects her however she can. But she only sees things as what their value is to her. At first, she tried to drown the cat, Buttercup, only to be stopped by Prim, but does comfort herself by saying that Buttercup turned out to be a "mouser." She braves beyond the fence, she hunts, she keeps the family afloat. We recognize her as a hard character, but can see why she acts the way she does, which gains our sympathy. We also see that she's capable of love through Prim, which softens us to her.
- Prim: We see her as her tender-hearted, innocent self. She protects an ugly cat, she gives her sister and Gale cheese instead of selling it, compliments Katniss. But she's helpless. Katniss keeps her fed, she's scared for the reaping and shows it. Even we want to protect Prim.
- Gale: We see him first in a relaxed situation, joking with Katniss, calling her "Catnip." We learn he's keeping nearly twice the amount of people alive as Katniss is. Then, we see that he's hardened just as much as Katniss by their situation, and that he harbors greater resentment to the Capitol and probably would rebel if given the chance. Also, we have to wonder about that whole "there's nothing romantic with me and Gale" thing Katniss says.
Tension: This entire situation is just full of tension. Collins starts it off by not telling us what "the reaping" is, only implies its meaning through the district and the characters' attitudes that it's bad. Then, once she's established that both Katniss and Gale have a high chance of getting "reaped" we're more worried. When we find out exactly what The Hunger Games are, we're glued. When we find out that Prim is the one reaped, the one person Katniss actually loves, we have to go on to the next chapter.
What we can learn in a nutshell: Don't give everything to a reader all at once. Make the tone to tantalize the reader to continue on and find out what's going on. Meanwhile, give us a character to care about: someone strong, someone with weaknesses, someone who we can understand, someone who has something to fight for.
Come back Friday as I look at the second chapter!