Thursday, March 31, 2011

Analyzing Hunger Games - Act III

So far, I've analyzed Act I and Act II 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 I is the setup of the plot. Act II is the emotional story behind the plot. Act III is where plot and story come together.
Break into III  
With the new motivation realized in the Act II Climax, we're now ready to tackle the challenges our hero must overcome. We've identified the "solution" - now we just have to see if it will work. Both the A and B plot lines should be addressed.
Katniss realizes that Peeta is the key to her survival, that he was on her side all along. She’s relieved, and also empowered - now she WILL win. She’s determined. Act III is all about the romance - is it fake? Is it not? Is it real for Peeta? And the winnowing down of tributes, the countdown to the finale, the necessary steps to get to the Act III Climax, the ultimate question that has been the Obligatory Scene from the beginning: Will she win the Hunger Games?
Finale - Act III Crisis and Climax
According to McKee the Crisis is the decision that the character must make - the ultimate decision - which is both danger and opportunity for the hero. The Crisis is the Obligatory Scene, the one created by the Inciting Incident, and where the protagonist is faced with the most powerful forces of antagonism. It must be a true dilemma between two irreconcilable goods or two lesser evils. How the MC chooses is a penetrating view of their character. And reveals the story’s most important value. The protagonists willpower is most strongly tested here.

The Crisis may or may not be contained within the Climax - if it is, it can be a very satisfying end for the reader. The Climax is a crowning major reversal, full of meaning - it is this meaning that moves the heart of the reader.

Snyder says the bad guys should be dispensed in ascending order, henchmen first, then the mastermind.

The scene with the Mutts, where Peeta and Katniss are literally fighting for their lives, is the near-climax, the dispensing of the henchmen, and Katniss does make a choice to shoot Cato’s hand, but this is not her Crisis decision - she’s well past the point of having sided with Peeta. The Crisis comes when she has to choose between Death and killing Peeta. Her decision (neither, says Katniss, she's not going to play by the Gamemakers rules) is the rebellion act that sets up the rest of the series. It changes everything, and it makes her into something larger. Someone willing to die for a principle larger than herself, not simply a savage that is smart and ferocious enough to win the Games. Because it occurs at the Climax of the “who will win” question (the Obligatory Scene from the Inciting Incident), it is a Crisis within a Climax and therefore most satisfying. At this point, we think we have won completely - everything is UP. Only later do we find the price, the impact of the choice, and the irony.
The final Image - RESOLUTION

Snyder says the final image should be the counterpoint or opposite of the opening image. In novels, symmetry with the opening image isn't strictly required, but it can be compelling. In any event, the resolution needs to SHOW how the character has changed and how the world has changed. We also resolve any subplots, show the larger effect of the climax on society, tie up loose ends. 
Because this is an IRONIC ending, the heady UP ending of the Crisis/Climax is brought down by the fact that Katniss is not the only one in danger - now her family, her District, even Peeta are all in danger. And the final irony of her not “falling” in love, of having to fake it all the way, now perhaps permanently, gives the story its heartbreaking end. These final parts are what makes us crave reading the second book. (A stand alone book may not have as much work to do at the end.) Collins  uses 27 pages to tie up loose ends and complete the “love” subplot.
The resolution, the price for the Crisis decision, is what propels us into the next book.

I hope this analysis of the Hunger Games has been useful! It's a lot to absorb, and I encourage you to use this as a guide, as I did with Laura's posts, to do an analysis of your own favorite bestselling book. You may be surprised what you learn about storytelling!

While not every book is going to (or must) line up with the storytelling beats as described in McKee's and Snyder's books (they are for screenwriting after all),  they do give a strong structure to build around. Rather than stifling creativity, I find the structure forces me into better storytelling. Like Haiku, the stringent requirements of form bring forth a beauty that would not happen without it.


  1. Most excellent and worth the wait. ;) Thanks so much for doing this!

  2. @Leisha I'm glad you didn't mind too much! :)

  3. Once again, Sue, thank you so much for doing this! I'm going to see if I can't get my A and B story to come together at my climax. I think they do, I just haven't brought it out in a way the reader can see it clearly.

  4. @Rebecca Awesome! Just having the framework is forcing me to think in terms of those A and B story lines and how to plan them out in my WiP. Fun, fun, fun!

  5. It sounds like, the way you say it is an "ironic" ending, that the story structure books talk about other types of endings too. Obviously the Happily Ever After and Tragic endings, curious about other possibilities. But this is definitely the ironic ending. Because the climax was so thrilling and satisfying, the ironic ending works really well, also because it's a series. Great analysis. I'll have to learn more about those UP and DOWN points you mentioned.

  6. @Margo I highly recommend reading Story - it has had a big impact on my writing. McKee talks about three types of endings: 1)UP in whatever values the story turns (your classic Happily Ever After), 2) DOWN on the values of your story (the classic depressing existential Indie film) and 3)Ironic (which is UP on one value {for HG, she won!} and DOWN on another value (for HG, the love story}) - the Ironic ending will net out mostly up or mostly down, but it will always be a mixture.

  7. Beautiful job, Susan. You really clarified the A and B components, as well what should happen in the three acts for me. Thanks so much! Can't wait to put it into action, starting tomorrow. : )

  8. @Jonene I'm so glad it helped! Best of luck with your story! :)

  9. Excellent breakdown, Susan! Thanks. Now I have tons of hw.

  10. @Robin Thanks! :) I hope you find it useful.

  11. The Crisis comes when she has to choose between Death and killing Peeta. Her decision (neither, says Katniss, she's not going to play by the Gamemakers rules)

    But doesn't she in fact opt for death rather than killing Peeta, thereby choosing to retain her humanity? Isn't she hoping to force the gamemakers hand but willing to accept death if that doesn't work?

    But yes, it is the act that sets up the rest of the series.


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