Suzanne Collins- the Writer’s Mockingjay

30 Jul

After two years of reading, ranting, raging, and tears, I finally finished the Hunger Games series a couple of weeks ago. Though I hated every character in turn by the time I got to Catching Fire, I find that I truly did like the series when I stop and reflect. Even though most of America probably knows what the Hunger Games is, I will summarize each book first and then add some comments.
The Hunger Games was good, though it was probably my least favorite in the trilogy. It was characterized by the title and by a young girl named Rue, who Katniss holds dear to her heart for the rest of the series. The love triangle among Katniss, Peeta, and Gale also begins around this time, though Katniss’s love for Peeta is staged at first.
In Catching Fire, Katniss returns from the arena to find a very different world. Rebellion is brewing in the districts while she is on the Victory Tour with Peeta, and President Snow is determined that she should try to squelch the flames. However, every one of her appearances seems to stir the rebels to action even more. Home is not what it used to be, either. With the preparations of her marriage to Peeta for the Capitol’s sake, Katniss is distressed, confused, and eventually finds consolation in her mentor, Haymitch. Haymitch, with his sarcastic “sweetheart” comments and drunken stagger, was probably my favorite character only next to Katniss’s costume designer, Cinna. Cinna was from the Capitol, but he showed more compassion and was more down to earth than the other stylists. He did not ruin himself with crazy hair, either. Every twenty-five years there is a quarter quell which is even worse than the regular games. This time, the game makers decide to send the past victors back into the arena. Old and young alike flood back to the Capitol to participate, including Katniss and Peeta. A terrible game ensues, but once again Katniss and her team outsmart the game makers.
After an unexpected abduction from the Capitol, Katniss finds herself forced to work for the rebels in District 13, a place that was thought to be destroyed decades ago. Times are hard, though, and Katniss ends up in the hospital almost every week. Peeta also was not taken with them and is possibly being tortured in the Capitol in the hands of President Snow. Mockingjay is when all of the troubles come to the surface and Mrs. Collins does not forget a single character. She manages to add more plot, more characters, and then rip you apart with them while still being consistent with her old ideas.
That is one of the points I want to make: Mrs. Collins does let her characters wander all across Panem, but she never loses them. It’s like she injected tracking devices into their arms! I do not know how she did it, but I believe every character was accounted for at least by the last chapter of Mockingjay. When Sarah and I wrote Wilderquest, we noticed a problem as we read back through it. We had so many characters that the plot was not reflecting prophecies or little sub-plots we had added along the way. In addition, there were several of our people who did not even have names to begin with. Such as King and Queen. Or quite literally, Guard #1 and Guard #2. That did not include the people we did have in one book that disappeared in the second. Ryan, Justin’s best friend, was an expert in this act. Seriously? Did he just abandon the mission and run away to a far off island while everyone else was on quests? I still have not figured that one out. Perhaps Suzanne Collins used the trick that my Uncle Dustin told me. I was on the phone one day ranting about our forgotten characters, when he came up with a brilliant suggestion: why didn’t I keep a character journal? Even if it was to only write down what they looked like and what influence they had in the story? It was a great idea and when Sarah and I finally penned it, we discovered that we had over 65 characters! Well, at least we learned something for next time.
A major thing that I noticed about the Hunger Games was from a writer’s point of view. It was ironically the point of view itself that stood out the most for me. Whereas most books use something like “Atrielle went to the store, but she only had two cents,” Mrs. Collins would say something like, “I am going to the store, but I only have two cents.” Not only is the book told in first person, but every action is live. No one “Knew,” they “Know.” Here is an example from page 35-36 of Mockingjay:
“…Gale sets his tray beside me and I try not to stare at his turnips too pathetically, because I really want more, and he’s already too quick to slip me his food. Even though I turn my attention to neatly folding my napkin, a spoonful of turnips slops into my bowl.
‘You’ve got to stop that,’ I say. But since I’m already scooping up the stuff, it’s not too convincing. ‘Really. It’s probably illegal or something.’ They have very strict rules about food. For instance, if you don’t finish something and want to save it for later, you can’t take it from the dining hall. Apparently, in the early days, there was some incident of food hoarding. For a couple of people like Gale and me, who’ve been in charge of our families’ food supply for years, it doesn’t sit well. We know how to be hungry, but not how to be told how to handle what provisions we have. In some ways, District 13 is even more controlling than the Capitol…”
Another thing I noticed is that Mrs. Collins dives into deep subjects in Mockingjay, such as the morality of war when it appears that the Districts are turning out to be just as cruel as the Capitol. All along the way, though, we never get bogged down in old English language or runaway descriptions. The prose is quick, snappy, and keeps up with the pace. It will make you read a hundred pages in one sitting. And I soon learned that it is hard to use the beginning of one of her chapters as a stopping point before bedtime. Just when you think the action is starting to slow down, something unexpected will happen. I eventually had to stop reading the book before bedtime. My mom would be like, “Calm down and read something for a few minutes,” and that was my cue to grin devilishly and declare that I was currently in the middle of Mockingjay. Yeah, well, that book does not shut up after you close the cover. The reading to “calm down” plan backfired and I learned to read it only on these blessed summer mornings, far away from the danger of repeating Katniss Everdeen’s nightmares or analyzing the last chapter.
Here is an example of Suzanne Collin’s writing style. She would use this especially in dramatic moments when Katniss is thinking, such as here:
“Underground. Which I hate. Like mines and tunnels and 13. Underground, where I dread dying, which is stupid because even if I die above ground, the next thing they’ll do is bury me underground anyway.” from page 296 of Mockingjay.
I wrote this review of sorts because I believe Mrs. Collin’s writing style is revolutionary. Instead of killing tributes or planning to assassinate the president, this writing fights some stuffy editors who would staunchly cling to grammar rules, which are in fact evolving all the time. And the marvelous thing about the Hunger Games is that Mrs. Collins never does break a spelling rule or change tense unexpectedly. All she does it make her phrases more dramatic by treating them as sentences. Like this. And I think that’s pretty cool.

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2 Responses to “Suzanne Collins- the Writer’s Mockingjay”

  1. Sarah Spradlin July 31, 2014 at 3:46 PM #

    Nice overview here, Brooke! Can’t say I found the same pleasure in SC’s writing, but I think we can always learn from what we read– whether we like it or not– and especially, as was true for you here, when we do like it!

  2. Victoria W. August 5, 2014 at 3:38 PM #

    I totally agree! I like how Suzanne Collins didn’t cling to grammer rules but also didn’t break them. She use them to her advantage rather than letting them control her writing. πŸ™‚ I used to write whatever came to mind and how I liked it but then I learned grammer rules and ever since I have felt boxed in, but I’m learning that you don’t have to be inside the box so long as you’re sitting on top of it, you can win! πŸ˜‰

    Amazing review Brooke!

    PS: I had the same dilemma when it came to reading HG at night: couldn’t put it down, wheels kept turning when I finally did, and had dreams (nightmares) the rest of the night. lol. Bu what a wonderful series. πŸ™‚

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