Why Henry James Should Rewrite The Hunger Games
(If he wasn’t dead).
Dear Suzanne Collins,
I really love The Hunger Games Trilogy. I love the world of Panem, the concept of the districts and the Capitol and the Games, and the social commentary THG makes on our current society of laziness, wastefulness, obsession with reality television, and disregard for future generations.
I love that you’ve created a series with a girl protagonist that guys are interested in reading too.
I love that you took the model of female-protagonist-two-male-love-interests-sci/fi-fantasy-YA-series and spun it around to be compelling, unique, and full of the right kinds of moral messages: Be brave. Look out for your family and friends. Vanity isn’t important. Stand up for what you believe in.
I love that you’ve eclipsed some of Twilight’s popularity. PUN INTENDED.
I love that you’ve written books that translate amazingly to the screen, resulting in one fantastic movie and what I’m sure will be two more equally fantastic ones.
And I love that, like me, you’re a Connecticut girl.
But Suzanne, despite how much I love you, and The Hunger Games, I just have to say:
You are not a very good writer.
I will forgive you because you studied Drama and Telecommunications in college and grad school, not English or Creative Writing. I’m actually really jealous of the writing success you’ve had (not only did Collins write for 90s Nickelodeon shows like Clarissa Explains It All, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Little Bear, and Oswald; she also already had written a bestselling series called The Underland Chronicles before she wrote The Hunger Games. Whaaaat?)
But you really break every rule in the book. Last night I read that Katniss said something “icily”. Stephen King and I aren’t even dead and we turned in our graves.
I wonder, why did you decide to write in the present tense? I guess because you wanted the action—and there is a lot of it—to be in the moment? I understand if that’s why you chose it, but it’s really awkward and distracting throughout all three books. I think you have a hard time changing scenes from the first person present, so we end up getting a lot of description of Katniss showering, brushing her teeth, going to bed, doing her hair, between days and scenes… yaaaaawn.
Also, I sometimes don’t feel like the severity of the situations and events are described with serious enough language. Every time someone gets killed in THG, whether in the arena or elsewhere, it doesn’t really phase me. Oh, someone got stabbed in the neck? That’s cool. Nbd.
I do love all of your characters. I think your ability to give names to things rivals JK Rowling’s, and I love that all of the main characters are good people who you want to root for. But aside from that, I find a lot of them sort of one-note (except Haymitch. He fascinates me. And maybe Finnick). But Cinna, Peeta, Prim, Gale, and Rue (but we’ll excuse Rue cause she’s a kid) are so blindly good that I don’t, at times, find them believable. They need a little more depth, especially Peeta and Gale. And don’t even get me started on the prep team.
Katniss does have some internal struggles—I really like that she took a long time, for example, to consider whether she would be the Mockingjay—but every time she breaks down crying because she feels like this person or that person or this district is dead because of her, I wanna be like, “Calm yourself, Katniss. I mean, you had a part in it, but obviously it’s mostly the Capitol’s fault. You didn’t put the gun/arrow/bomb to their head”. Her modesty and empathy are just a little over the top, and she should be more logical than that. I believe that someone could feel like that, but I don’t believe Katniss feels that way.
I read book one first, then saw the movie, then read the second and third book, and a lot of times I have to imagine the very dynamic Jennifer Lawrence doing the things that you describe Katniss doing. Only then, when I imagined Jennifer, did the actions seem more believable.
This is where I think Henry James should come in. If he wasn’t deader than Seneca Crane, you guys would make a great team. I read The Turn of the Screw a couple of months ago, and Daisy Miller for a course last year, and he’s a master at everything you seem to struggle with: His writing is fluid, clean, and detailed. He digs right down into the psychology of his female protagonists, to the point that reading her thought processes feels like you’re having them yourself. His secondary characters are extremely dimensional. And he can scare the bejesus out of you even when something not-so-intense is happening: I literally got chills the first time that Quint appeared on the roof in Turn of the Screw. Think of all of the missed opportunities for suspense in THG!
But you know what you’re good at that Henry James isn’t? Writing action. I mean, come on Hank, there’s only so much time I can spend in your protagonist’s head, thinking things over and over and over again. What’s gonna HAPPEN!? James could write the story and all of the internal monologue, while you, Suzanne Collins, tell him what’s gonna happen next. It’d be perfect!
And then, I think, The Hunger Games could be 50% as good as Harry Potter, as opposed to 10%. (Twilight is at about .0000000000000001%).
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor,
©Livia Nelson & Yeah Write! 2012