Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why go with present tense?

Last week I came home for the holidays. However, my copy of The Hunger Games did not. Total head-smack moment about five hours into the eleven-hour drive when I realized that I'd forgotten it. So until early January, I'm not going to have any chapter analysis.

But, there is a subject about The Hunger Games that I've been meaning to blog about. And that is tense. It's really popular at the moment to write in present tense. When The Hunger Games was first released in 2008, it was the beginning of the trend that's been going on for the past few years now. But, my question is, how long did it take you to notice that it was written in present tense? I didn't realize it until I looked back in retrospect. My creative writing professor had finished the books a few weeks before and didn't know until I pointed it out to her. The present tense flows so naturally, that many people, even those who read a lot and study writing, don't notice it.

With so many books being written in the present now, it's my opinion (and again, this is just my opinion, and I'm not an agent or editor or anything) that to do present tense it really needs to work in favor of your book and not just be for the purpose of being part of the trend.

So what is it about The Hunger Games that makes present tense work?

  • Pacing. THG is a fast-paced book. By having it told in present tense, there is an immediacy to the story, an urgency that is somewhat lost if the book had been in past-tense.
  • Character. Strange enough, I do think that character is a part of the present-tense decision. Katniss isn't one to open up much. Even her flashbacks are need-to-know, and so having her tell things right then and there is more in-character. And given the state she's in at the end of the third book, her voice after the fact looking back would have changed how the events would have been portrayed.
  • Style. There's something about THG that makes its present tense subtle, something in the style. It doesn't flaunt itself as being in present tense, which makes it easier to read through.
Of course, present tense doesn't work for every book or every author. Experimentation is key. But these are the reasons why I think that The Hunger Games is able to work so well in present tense.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

5. The Hunger Games Analysis

Summary: Katniss's prep team from the Capitol scrubs her down and rids her of body hair. Then she meets her stylist, Cinna, who is very much unlike the rest of the people in the Capitol. For the Opening Ceremony, she and Peeta are dressed in identical outfits of a black unitard, cape, and headdress, that are lit with a synthetic fire. Cinna instructs Katniss and Peeta to hold hands, and then they go out on a chariot to the Opening Ceremony. Their outfits make a sensation, and the people love them. They leave the ceremony and their outfits are extinguished. Peeta says something nice to Katniss, but instead of ignoring it, she plays along and kisses his cheek.

Description: The Capitol is a complete contrast to the Districts, and so the colors here are vibrant--aqua, pea green, purple, pearly white. Of course, if the entire book had been written with this much in it, it would have become overbearing. But in the introductory chapter on the Capitol, all of the colors mark the difference in the drab world we've been in before.

World building: Much to what the description attests to, the Capitol is a complete 180 from what we've seen before. What really strikes us, though, (or at least it strikes me) is when Katniss tries to figure out how she'd make the meal she's had in the Capitol at home. On top of that, Katniss is being beautified. When she's going to her death. And her prep team notes how awful she'd been coming in, and how much better they made her. Collins shows us firsthand how horrible this place is. Not only do they starve their people and force them to participate in the Games, they also expect beauty from the Districts.


  • The prep team: A bit more good-hearted than Effie, but still, very shallow and they don't have their heads screwed on straight. Not all that smart. Katniss doesn't meet many Capitol people, and so the prep team is crucial in completing the characters in the Capitol. While Effie is a good character to have, it's wrong to judge a society based on one member alone. They confirm the attitudes of the Capitol people.
  • Cinna: He's a character that neither we nor Katniss were expecting. It's been hard for Katniss so far. She's literally had no break in the awful things happening. Cinna, however, is her one blessing so far. He really helps her make a sensation, which will help her in the Games.
What we can learn in a nutshell: When dealing with a duplicitous world, make details that will vividly portray their differences. Portray a society through their actions and people, but make them layered as well. Give a fair amount (but not too many) characters of a society to show their common norms and values. And as much as we're told to create more and more conflict for the MC (which we definitely should continue doing) it's okay to give them a hand once or twice--especially by creating a character the readers can love. Give the reader and the character hope. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

4. The Hunger Games Analysis

Summary: Katniss and Peeta help a drunk and vomit-covered Haymitch to the shower, and Peeta takes it from there. She remembers about how after she saw him at school after the bread incident, she noticed dandelions and started to collect them to eat. She collects plants to eat and starts to hunt. Katniss's mother comes back to life, but Katniss still couldn't forgive her for abandoning them like that. The next morning at breakfast, Haymitch is drunk again. When Katniss asks for advice, he responds sarcastically. Both Katniss and Peeta are angry. Peeta knocks the alcohol out of Haymitch's hand, Haymitch punches him, and Katniss drive a knife between Haymitch's fingers. By seeing their will to live, Haymitch agrees to help them as long as they don't interfere with his drinking. He tells them to do whatever their stylists tell them to do. They pull into the Capitol, where the colors are too bright and people dress bizarrely. Peeta waves and smiles to them, saying that one of them might be rich. Katniss realizes that Peeta's in it to win as much as she is--which means he's prepared to kill her.

Flashback: There is a lot about Katniss's life before we meet her that is important to know in order to know her character. Collins leads into Katniss flashing back by the sight of an object that connects with her past--in this case, a dandelion. From this object, the past event is connected to the present. And to come back to the present all in the same chapter, Collins has Katniss remember about how she had never forgiven her mother, and now, she had no chance to right that, because she's going to the Games and probably to her death.

  • Haymitch: Besides being drunk, we see that Haymitch has just stopped caring about the Games. Reading it for the first time, we might be annoyed at him, just like Katniss, but Collins is creating a character here that has been through more than we know. She's laying down the surface problem before getting into his deeper emotions.
  • Peeta: The kind boy with the bread is being kind as usual, but then he gets angry, and starts to butter up to the Capitol people. Just like Katniss, we realize that he's fighting for his life as Katniss is. From this chapter, we start to see how he can act any way he wants in order to get what he needs--nice guy, aggressive, friendly. It's important for later on to be able to see that this is his strategy.
Dialogue: One scene in particular in this chapter has great dialogue, when Katniss confronts Haymitch about being their mentor and then they have their little rumble. What makes the dialogue so compelling in this scene, though, is the action that's matched with it. The dialogue and the action paired up with each other makes this scene exciting: Katniss looks to see Peeta's angry at Haymitch as well, Peeta knocks the drink out of his hand, Haymitch punches Peeta, Katniss drives a knife between Haymitch's fingers, all while they're confronting one another on what they want. The balance between the two keeps both the action and the dialogue fresh and exciting.

What we can learn in a nutshell: When beginning and ending a flashback, connect the past and the present together to make it flow. Show a character's outside that is important to their inside. Mix the action with the dialogue so both can help each other from getting monotonous.

Monday, December 5, 2011

3. The Hunger Games Analysis

Summary: Katniss is given an hour to say good-bye to loved ones. Her mother and Prim come in, and she instructs them how they're to survive without her. Peeta's father comes in, doesn't say much, but gives Katniss cookies and promises to look after Prim. Madge (the mayor's daughter) comes in and gives Katniss a pin of a mockingjay--a bird that is a cross between a Capitol-bred "muttation" bird called the jabberjay and mockingbirds. Gale comes in lasts and encourages Katniss to win, and that he'll take care of her family. He wants to say something but gets pulled away. She and Peeta are then taken to the train to go to the Capitol. We discover that Haymitch's job is to aid them in getting help once they are in the arena.

World-building: We come to see in this chapter that the Games aren't just a punishment for the districts, they're also entertainment for the Capitol. The Capitol hated the year when there was no wood so the tributes mostly froze to death, because of all the bloodless deaths that didn't stir any excitement. Then also Katniss starts to talk strategies, about her own refusal to cry and her thoughts leaping to why Peeta is crying, if it is to make himself look like he isn't a threat. We also hear about the children who train to enter these games and their fierceness. This puts the Games in a whole new perspective, that it isn't just to be thrown in and go, it's thought out. Katniss will have a lot more challenges than we thought, and this also reflects back on the society that not only made these Games, but made them competition and entertainment like the Olympics are today.

  • Katniss: In this chapter we get the first sign of Katniss having any type of rebellious streak in her. It's small, but when she eats her food with her fingers to annoy Effie, it gives us a sense of what type of behavior Katniss may have later. And despite her doubt that she can win, we see Katniss using strategy, trying to figure out others' strategies, and determining how she can best survive. We've observed her survival skills in the woods, and now we're really seeing her mind at work.
  • Effie: She's our only Capitol character at the moment, and she's characterized as an epitome of what the Capitol is. She worries about her appearance when they watch the footage of the reaping again, and when they eat dinner she talks about how last year's tributes, two starving children, had eaten so sloppily it upset her digestion. Yes, when she was taking them to their death.
  • Rue: Well, we don't know her name is Rue yet. But we're connected with her as the girl from District 11, who reminds Katniss of Prim. We don't even know her yet, but we sympathize for her because unlike Prim, no one steps up for her. She is who Prim could have been. 
Tension: In this chapter we learn that Haymitch, the drunk, will be Katniss's lifeline in the games. Now the odds just keep stacking up against Katniss. We may see how capable she is, but we've also seen how incapable Haymitch is. Now knowing that she has to rely on him has created more tension.

What we can learn in a nutshell: Foreshadow your character's traits that will be important later on. Make sure that readers can find a seed in them what they're meant to do in the future. Also, be sure that your character fits the story you've put them into. Don't forget when world-building to also set up the society's morals, feelings, manners, etc. into perspective for the reader. And of course, with the tension, throw more boulders at your characters. Make them rely on something or someone that will hold them down.

Friday, December 2, 2011

2. The Hunger Games Analysis

Summary: Prim goes to take her place as the female tribute when Katniss steps forward and volunteers to take her place. To volunteer in District 12 is extremely rare, and Katniss earns the respect of the people. Effie pulls out the boy tribute, Peeta Mellark. Although Katniss has never spoken to him, she already feels a connection to him. After her father died when she was eleven, her mother was useless in providing for the family. Although Katniss tried her best, their family was starving. In a last-ditch effort, she looked through the trash of the merchants, only to be chased off by the baker's wife. She saw a boy in the bakery, one in her own class at school but she'd never spoken to. She walked a few more feet only to sink down and hope to die. Then she heard a commotion and the boy came out with two burnt loaves of bread. His mother had hit him for burning them and yelled at him. While he should have fed them to their pigs, he threw them to Katniss instead. She took them and her family didn't starve. After that, she had the will to live, because of the boy whose name she learned was Peeta Mellark, and who she is now entering The Hunger Games with.

Description: I have to point out the description at the beginning of the chapter, which I love. Katniss tells of how she once fell out of a tree and the impact made it difficult to breathe, and that's how she felt hearing Prim's name called. It's a powerful way to describe how she felt there. In a situation so emotional, Collins takes the time to described the emotional through the physical but not in a stereotypical way, or in a short "I feel the wind being knocked out of me." It's a concrete description that Katniss can relate to as she's experienced before, and we can as well, making us feel it, too.


  • Katniss: This chapter is crucial in developing Katniss's character. Not only do we see that she's brave and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for those she loves, but we see her weakness as well, and that is her lack of showing any emotion and determination to not be seen as vulnerable. She doesn't care if people like her or she has friends, but she won't be viewed as weak. This makes sense when we see that she's seen what her mother did, and how they all almost died because of her weakness. We also see how some people, kind people, can wriggle their way into her and her sense of obligation to not have anyone she's in debt to.
  • Haymitch: Yeah, he's drunk (what's new?) but in his contact with Katniss we can see past his gross state. By calling out the Capitol, establishes his true feelings that we see later on in the books.
  • Peeta: It's made very clear here that he's a very kind person, and that is amplified when we see how he was abused as a child. This part of his life not only gains our sympathy, but also our admiration for showing kindness when he wasn't. He gave Katniss the bread although he no doubt knew what it would cost him, and didn't ask for anything in return or do it for show.
Tension: Have Katniss go into the Hunger Games? Why not throw in an opponent that not only is kind, but that she has a history with? Collins makes the situation harder for Katniss and the reader, which increases the tension. It might be hard to go up against a brute, but going up against someone good-hearted is even worse.

What we can learn in a nutshell: Use descriptions that the character and the audience can relate to. Dive into a character's past to explain why they are the way they are and make it relevant. And in any given situation think, how can this be worse? Not in a "I'll sic two dogs on them instead of one!" but a way that is more emotionally and psychologically draining on the character.