Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hungering for Plot in the Hunger Games

The Hunger Games was a movie that I particularly enjoyed this year for its performances and overall dystopian concept. What I thought was also interesting was the plot development, particularly how it interacted with the viewer's suspension of disbelief, and its direction. There will be spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen the movie then avert your eyes!

The main arc of the movie concerns a young woman named Katniss Everdeen who volunteers herself in place of her sister for a nationwide ceremony where teenagers battle to the death for some unknown offense several years prior. While I was impressed with the overall conceptual development of the movie, I wasn't very surprised with how the movie turned out. This is what we will be talking about today.

When developing a plot, generally our immediate tendency is to throw ourselves into the narrative. This means that we ourselves become some auxiliary part of the arc and as a consequence we desire to make things that we want to happen to occur in the narrative. In The Hunger Games, our protagonist possesses the rudimentary elements of a conflicted character but lacks credibility. I think this is because the author has inserted her will into the novel, wanting her to do things that I believe a woman in that situation wouldn't actually do. While its true that young children thrust into an environment of mutual distrust may join together to fight for their survival, the likelihood of this happening is doubtful. What I think was happening was that the author was trying to make peace with something buried in her subconsciousness or simply setting up an improbable love interest later on.

Now when the opening titles began, I had most of the plot figured out. If the book is about a woman taken out of her element but that shes in love with the boy back home, she will most likely either be forced into a position to fake an interest in someone else to survive or turn more and more inward as her innocent heart is corrupted by the brutalizing nature of the games. These kinds of books seem more concerned with commercial viability than wanting to dive deeper into the characters, and thinking ahead helps to conceive a more thoughtful narrative.

The secret to writing a good plot arc requires a desire to create suspense without being cliche. If the games are about a death match, then of course the primary protagonist will live, and probably there will be something special concerning her origins so that unconventional things will transpire such as a second survivor from the same district. The key to making our plots more dynamic is letting the character more freely interact with their environment, like secondary characters or institutions inside the book's universe. Without sounding too much like a critic it would have been more interesting to put Katniss into situations that made her think beyond herself and contemplate why the government in her world did the things they did. There could have been characters that were insular or diversely integrated into the world that she would have interacted with. Her reactions would help to build the realism of the conceptual world along with strengthening her character's multiple dimensional. Also, this would give more opportunities for conceptually building on the political themes of impending insurrection.

The point of all this is: good plots center around the characters and how they mingle with the themes that are presented to them throughout the book. The Hunger Games as it stands is an interesting book/movie, but lacks much of the depth it could have had. A good plot will work with the intrigue of the characters as they move it forward, whatever that may look like. Now, as a writer it's up to you to weave the plot together, but give the characters a stake in the game, so to speak.

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