I just finished re-reading two books. And I never re-read. There are too many good books in the world that I haven’t read for me to think about re-reading, and still I re-read these stories.
Why? The two books were The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. If you haven’t read the books (which I have recommended before in this blog), get yourself to the library or the bookstore. The stories are wonderful. The setting is a dystopian future where the government punishes the population for its past rebellion by making some of nation’s children participate in once year Hunger Games—a sort of modern equivalent of the Roman gladiators only with children. The point is to remind the people what awaits them if they ever try to throw off the yoke of the Capitol again. The story has everything you’d expect from a great young adult novel. Action. Suffering. Bravery. Romance.
But all of that is not enough to make me re-read. What brings me back, is the writing. First class, word perfect writing. And in my mind, these books had two strikes against them before I started reading—I am not fond of novels written in present tense, especially first person, present tense. Usually the verbage gets in the way of the story because it’s such a difficult tense to write in, and it ends up drawing attention to itself instead of propelling you into the story. But instead of pushing me away, it drew me right into the story. In this example, 12 year old Prim has been chosen to fight in the Hunger Games and the narrator, Prim’s sister Katniss, can’t bear it.
“Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!” I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately, allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”
The immediacy of first person present leaves no distance between you and Katniss—you’re rushing forward with her, sacrificing your own life to save your little sister. In the right hands this point of view and verb tense is a powerful tool.
The second book, Catching Fire, takes up where the first book ends. No spoilers, but let’s just say that things are looking pretty good for Katniss and her family. But we readers are in the hands of a good storyteller, and things aren’t what they seem. If you thought things were bad before, they’re going to get worse. This go-for-broke approach to storytelling is one of the secrets to great novels. You can’t hold anything back. You can’t think, “Hmm, this might be something to save for the next book.” You have to spend every cent of emotional money you have for the novel. Your reader will know if you don’t. Ms. Collins has spent every bit of “cash” she had for each of these books and I can’t wait for the next one Mockingjay because I know she won’t disappoint me. I even have it pre-ordered.
Oh, and by the way, if you’re a Hunger Games fan, I’m totally rooting for Peeta. If you don’t know who he is, you’d better find out soon, Mockingjay comes out in August.