Inside A Story Part 2: The Hunger Games
In part one of this post I discussed various techniques to keep each moment of a story interesting in and of itself. In particular, how a story is made up of a bunch of much smaller stories that keep the reader engaged as the bigger story is slowly rolled out. In today’s post I will use the first chapter of The Hunger Games to demonstrate what I mean (I get so many search hits for HG based on the one post I did mentioning it, that I thought I might as well give those people another article to read). There will be spoilers.
Chapter One introduces the MC, explains what The Hunger Games are, and ends with Katniss not getting selected—her sister is chosen instead.
There is a lot of backstory and exposition and the key development is Prim’s selection, but a lot of other stuff is also going on during this chapter. I’m going to look at the moments in each sequence of scenes to see how the author manages to keep interest high, even when she’s being very digressive.
These techniques can help you energise quieter moments and also make backstory and exposition enjoyable to read.
Setting the pace
A man is told on the phone that his girlfriend is in danger from the criminal types he used to hang out with. He rushes out of the house and notices how beautiful the flowers in the garden are.
This is going to slow the pace, but NOT because it is slowing down his journey to the car, which will get him to his girl etc.
Consider: The same man rushes out of his house to rescue his girlfriend, but he is intercepted by his parole officer who is there to check he isn’t consorting with nefarious types, otherwise it’s back to the slammer … What does he do now? (Can parole officers do that? I don’t know, I’m making this up).
Even though I am slowing down the character’s progress, I am not slowing the narrative. Because pace isn’t about how long it takes to get to the next thing, it’s how long it takes to get to the next interesting thing.
This is something I struggle with, and I’m not speaking about poorly written characters, I’m talking about the kind of story that starts off slow and then builds. I’m going to go over some of the problems I’ve encountered (in my own and other people’s works) and then later I’ll go into some solutions which I’ve thought of (but can never seem to implement in my own stories).
If your story has a normal guy (or gal) and then through the story things happen and they change, that is a legitimate story structure. But if at the start your character has many negative traits, and by that I mean they predominantly DON’T want to do stuff (they’re shy, they’re aimless, they’re afraid of taking a chance) it can make for a very slow, pedestrian start to the book. Obviously you want to provide a contrast, show their transformation, but boring is boring, whatever the reason.
Often writers use one (or all ) of the following excuses: