Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Analyzing Hunger Games - Act II

Last time, I analyzed Act I of Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, using Story and Emotional Structure, by Peter Dunne (also Save the Cat by Snyder).


I'm still analyzing the plot. There will be spoilerage. 


Act II

B Story

The B story is something new, a subplot, that is layered onto the A story established in Act I. Subplots should contradict the central plot (irony), resonate with the central plot (variation on a theme), or complicate the central plot.
A story - Katniss gets ready for the Hunger Games
B story - the Katniss-Gale-Peeta love story - there are hints of it in Act I, but the Act I climax is where Peeta reveals his love (maybe) and now we have to find out if it’s really true, or just a ploy for the Hunger Games. This complicates the central plot.
Fun and Games

According to Blake, this is the promise of the premise, the fun and games part of the story. According to Dunne, this is the main emotion of the novel, where the story is told, rather than just the plot.
There’s not much fun-and-games in Hunger Games, but in the beginning of Act II, we get the ups-and-downs of The Games. Act I left us with Peeta’s declaration right before starting out The Games, and the bulk of Act II leads us through the rules, regulations, and backstory we need - as well as twists, turns, ups, and downs - to understand how The Games work. Also twisting and turning is the Love Story.

A big new twist moves the story in a new direction. This beat is matched with the "All is Lost" beat below. If this beat is UP, then that one is down, and vice versa.
The big twist in Hunger Games, or at least the midpoint, is Peeta saving her life - here she was, thinking it was all a ploy, that he’s trying to kill her, but then he saves her life. Again. Another big twist is the alliance with Rue. These are both "false wins" in the sense that they are temporary.

While the "midpoint" may be a tried-and-true method in screenwriting, it may not apply too strictly to novels (something which can be said for all of the screenwriting structures that are enumerated in these books). However, it does work in this case.
Bad Guys Close in  

The second half of Act II, up to the Act II Climax. The stakes are raised, games are over. The bad guys regroup, the good guys lose their footing, and they're headed for the big fall...

This is where the Careers (professional Hunger Games players, and Katniss' main opponents in the Games) are closing in on Rue, but Katniss doesn’t realize it yet. The Hunger Games is such a relentless hunt by the bad guys, it’s hard to discern when the stakes are raised, but this is definitely the point where the bad guys regain the upper hand just in time for ... All is Lost.
All is Lost

This is a moment, where it appears that the hero has lost everything. Someone dies, possibly a mentor (or that character that symbolizes everything the hero wants).
Rue, the small, agile tribute that reminds Katniss of Prim, who Katniss has allied with and subtly taken to killed. Katniss has lost “Prim” even though she may yet win The Games. This foreshadows so many things in the series. Katniss couldn’t feel any worse. This is the DOWN beat that is matched with the midpoint.
Dark Night of the Soul:Act II Climax
All is Lost, but then we need our main character to explore how they feel about this. This is a major turning point, so the story needs to slow down so your character can come to their new realization/motivation. Your character may not yet know WHAT they are going to do to solve the problem, but they know WHY. 

The Act II and Act III Climaxes should alternate in their values - if one is UP, the other is DOWN, and vice versa. If ironic, then each will net out more positive or negative, and should still be opposites. 
The Dark Night of the Soul is Katniss’ reflection on Rue’s death. Where she can barely move on. But she’s realized that she will win the Games - for Prim, for Rue, for vengance. A new spirit animates her. And suddenly there’s hope! In Peeta! The Gamemakers have changed the rules, and now she and Peeta need to team together to win the Games - together! In this way, Collin’s breaks the rules, or at least steps one step beyond. The Act II climax is hopelessly DOWN but she spares us from the depths with a ray of hope to get us to turn the page. This is an ironic climax, but it definitely nets out DOWN, which is the opposite of the final climax, which is also ironic, but nets out UP.
Just when we thought it was awful and couldn't get worse, Collin's gives us HOPE! 

Cruel, cruel author.

Which is precisely what keeps us going to ... the third Act! (Stay tuned...)


  1. So, so cool. I can't wait for Act three. Are you really going to make me wait?

  2. Great job! I do find though that I enjoy a novel so much more when there is a distinct midpoint in proportion to the story, of course!

  3. @Leisha Yes, I am. :)

    @Laura I'm going to have to start looking for it (the midpoint)! It's the one that I personally struggle with the most (understanding the need for it, that is), so maybe if I see it more, I'll understand it better.

  4. I am so going to do this for my WIP before I start draft 3. And, happily... most of these elements are already in place. Yes, I have been doing my homework.

  5. @Rebecca Yay! I'm working Snyder's Beat Sheet as we speak for my new WiP ... and it really is making a huge difference in my story, I can tell already.

  6. So where can I get a copy of Snyder's Beat Sheet?

    What's got me really excited is that I now know where my division lines between act I, act II, and act III are. I wasn't sure where to put them, but now I know what landmarks to look for.

  7. @Everyone - There's all kinds of cool Snyder stuff at his website, including a beat sheet:

  8. Thanks for a great Act II analysis and for the link! You're a great help!!!

  9. This is really fascinating. Thanks so much. Can't wait for ACT III :-)

  10. This is good. I think you're right Rue's death is ALL IS LOST - in the book - also at the 3/4 point, Katniss says:

    "Something happened when I was holding Rue's hand, watching her life drain out of her. Now I am determined to avenge her, to make her loss unforgettable, and I can only do that by winning."

    Her renewed desire to win, for Rue.

    What do you think of Larry Brook's breakdown of the novel? Would you agree ?

  11. I guess, where Larry sees Katniss kissing Peeta's cheek as the first plot point in the book, the moment Katniss holds Peeta's hand on the chariot as Girl on Fire could be said to be the Plot 1 Turning Point in the movie. What do you think?

  12. marked by President Snow's speech 'May the Odds be EVER in your Favor' - and we're into act 2.

    What do you think ?


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