About two weeks ago, I talked about writing characters that become real to the reader to the point where they take on a life of their own. What better way to learn how to write compelling, believable characters than examining your favorite characters from books you’ve personally enjoyed. I’ve read many books throughout the years and one character that stands out as an excellent case study of a real character is Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Game series. The “Girl on Fire” as she’s known in the book, has caught on like wildfire, becoming a house-hold name. Even though the book has become a world-wide phenomenon, I didn’t always feel that way about it.
I was late getting into the Hunger Game series. To be honest I didn’t even know about the book until the 1st movie came out. While everyone was hyping it up, I was pretty reluctant to watch Hunger Games let alone read the book. I dismissed it as “dumb” or “too violent.” Then a year later after it came out on the big screen, my sister rented the first movie on DVD. It was lying around and after listening to some of the soundtracks I was curious. After the first ten minutes of watching I was hooked! That’s when I fell in love with Katniss Everdeen and her chilling story.
Even though she’s a fictional character, you could imagine her as a real person. Despite her inherent flaws we rooted for her to win the Games. That begs the question: what made her so believable? Even more importantly: what made her likeable? The answer to those questions are important especially for any writer because that is one of our end-goals; to create realistic characters that you’ll care about. To feel emotionally invested in. Compelling characters make for compelling stories. Today, I share snippets from my long overdue review of the Hunger Games which will shed light on why Katniss Everdeen has become a house-hold name.
Have you ever read a book that ‘spoke to you?’ Very likely one style of writing will resonate with you more than others. This is where voice comes in. Grammar girl defines it best by providing this definition for voice: a distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work.
Since Hunger Games was written in 1st person POV, we get to hear Katniss’ voice loud and clear. From the first chapter, we’re introduced to Katniss’ personality. The writing style for the most part is straight-forward narration infused with sarcasm. Whenever I read a witty remark Katniss makes, it elicits a response from me, whether it’s a laugh or smirk. Those little quirks and nuances not only make the story enjoyable to read, but help paint a composite, 3-Dimensional picture of the MC. Although Suzanne Collins does her share of telling us what happens through her character’s eyes, she balances her prose with showing. We’re not told Katniss is practical. Neither are we told she’s resilient, brave, or distrustful. Those things are shown to the reader by how she interacts with characters around her. Just as telling are the internal thoughts she expresses to the reader that the MC wouldn’t dare disclose except in the company of close friends and family. This gives the reader an exclusive pass as it were into Katniss’ thinking, which is important in understanding the motivations behind her actions. So when Katniss shoots an arrow at her evaluators or looks after Peeta in the arena, her actions are believable and reinforce the kind of person she is.
Here’s an excerpt showing one of Katniss’ qualities:
His rage seems pointless to me, although I never say so. It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capital in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make things fair. It doesn’t fill our stomachs.
What can add (or detract) from the voice is the dialogue itself. What the character says and how the characters say something reveals a lot about them. This is no different with the main characters in Hunger Games, particularly Katniss, whose verbal exchanges can vary depending on her relationship with that person. While she speaks gently with her sister Prim, her distant relationship with her mom is revealed by the firm, brisk tone she uses with her.
Throughout Hunger Games and the books that follow, we’re reminded of Katniss’ flaws. But her strengths along with her weaknesses is what makes her human. If she was a Mary-Sue character she would be boring. Instead you have a character whose not always composed and at times can lose her temper. Who haven’t lost their temper at one point in time? Most of us can relate to her flaws. But her flaws in themselves don’t make her any less likeable. As long as the bad qualities don’t outweigh the good you can create a very dynamic yet likeable character. When you happen to have a brave, fiercely independent girl who happens to be impulsive at times, you just never know what she’s going to do next. That makes it all the more interesting to read.
In life, people are shaped by their experiences. After making a mistake, the expectation is that you learn from it. That’s part of growth. Sometimes the growth can come through trials which can change us for better or worse. After reading all three books, I can truthfully say the main character has grown during her time surviving two hunger games and a war on top of that in the last book. We saw Katniss growth from a destitute girl in the seam focused on day-to day survival, to a victor, to an unwilling face of the Rebellion, to finally a willing pawn in the rebellion. As readers we’re right there each step in the journey with her, rooting for her.
However it’s in Mockingjay, the final book, where we see Katniss’ character stretched to new limits. While Katniss is still a strong, brave, fiercely independent girl, we can’t ignore the psychological damage the Games have had on the MC. And when you add war to the mix, this only adds to the moral complications that weigh on her distraught mind. Despite the romanticized notion of war and Rebellion that readers may have had, this is a war book showing the collateral damage war can bring. She is not superwoman. She’s a 17- year old girl pushed to the breaking point in the most raw, heart-rending way.
Disclaimer: Some spoilers hinted at.
After readings reviews on the book, I get a mixed consensus on the third book, with a sizeable number of readers feeling very disappointed with the direction it took. While I respect people’s opinions I think it stemmed largely from unfulfilled expectations. The author didn’t follow the “Katniss picks a hot best friend, fights the bad guys in the Capital and live happily ever after” formula. Suzanne didn’t sugarcoat things nor did she take the easy route. Instead she gave us a dark, gripping novel that tugs at your heart and refuses to let you go.
Knowing how intense the third book is makes me all the more curious to see how the movie will execute the last book when Mockingjay Part 2 comes out this Friday. I already enjoyed seeing the author’s vision come alive on the big screen for all three movies. I felt the actors/actresses for the most part embodied their respective character. Because I saw the movie first, now when I read the book, I envision the actors/actresses who played them. After all the supporting characters such as Gale, Peeta, Prim, and Haymitch not only carried their own weight but were likeable in their own way. But of course the spotlight goes to Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss which was almost spot-on.
When you think about the points considered, Katniss was not only believable but likeable. Our “Girl on Fire” has left her mark, joining the club of memorable book characters. She has become almost as big as the book itself, coming alive in the reader’s mind and on the big screen. The writer bravely took us on an emotional rollercoaster with the character, allowing us to be in the moment as we experienced her joys and fears. With a compelling character and a compelling story it’s no wonder Hunger Games has become as big as it is.
Going back to the title of this post, if you were to ask me if her character was “Real or not real?” I tell you, “Real.”
I know this is late but I finally saw Mockingjay Part 2 and I loved it. It lived up to most of my expectations. There were a few changes here and there but overall it was a very close adaption to the book. I highly recommend it for those haven’t seen it yet.