the word games
Suzanne Collins has never written a sentence I could love, even if she
is a bestselling author. I scorned her prose at first, thinking, hah!
I could do better! But on a more careful read, I realized her prose is
actually quite dense with detail. With every word, she moves the story
as forward as a train moves in one second. And I don’t think I can do
that. I’ll do a little bit of analysis on the first few paragraphs of
the first book of the Hunger Games to show what I mean. If you have a
copy of the book, it’ll be much easier to follow along.
Paragraph one describes how Katniss sleeps in the same bed as her
sister, and the bedding is “rough canvas.” It also notes that today is
“reaping day,” and Prim is frightened. So, we already know that our
hero is dirt poor. Also, “reaping day” sounds pretty ominous. Perhaps
it’s the day when their town harvests wheat, but Prim is frightened,
so it sounds like some more macabre kind of reaping.
Paragraph three describes Katniss’s relationship with the family cat.
She tried to drown it, arguing that it would be a useless mouth, but
Prim begged hard and saved the cat. This paragraph alone, on the first
page, establishes the core essentials of Katniss’s personality. She’s
a calculating, ruthless survivor guided by pragmatism first–except
when her little sister is involved.
Paragraph four: the family cat is fully aware that Katniss hates it.
This is her description of their relationship: “No hissing. This is
the closest we will ever come to love.” Nice, our hero has a sense of
humor–specifically, a sardonic one. It’s the right kind of humor for
a ruthless pragmatist to have.
Paragraph five: Katniss’s hunting preparations. Her boots are supple
leather, that have “modled” to her feet, and she has a special “forage
bag.” She obviously goes hunting quite a bit. Also, the prospect of
hunting suggests some action might be incoming.
Paragraph six: A solid and bleak description of daily life in
Katniss’s town, and a good description of the effect reaping day has
on the town’s inhabitants–daily life is a hard, hard grind, and
reaping day offers a rare chance to sleep in, but it’s such a
disturbing day that even though people really need the extra sleep,
they can’t do it.
I could have written more about each paragraph, but I hope you’re
getting the point. What the Hunger Games lacks in artistry, it more
than makes up for with clarity and detail of vision.