Suzanne Collins has created a worldwide phenomenon with The Hunger Games. It's expected to surpass Twilight. Maybe even be the next Harry Potter.
The movie (titled after the popular young adult book series) is expected to earn over $100 million its opening weekend. When my wife and I went to see it, we remarked we had never stood in a longer line on opening night.
So what is this about? Why is The Hunger Games so popular?
I don't think it's an accident. Collins knew exactly what she was doing. And modern writers would do well to follow her lead, at least part of it.
We're all young adults
Young adult fiction is red hot right now. But why? There are, I think, two reasons:
- Youth culture is now the dominant culture. Go to the mall and see how many 40- and 50-year-olds are dressed like their teenage children. Turn on your TV and watch the commercials; they're geared towards youth and those who want to preserve it. The psychology book Teen 2.0 by Robert Epstein opened my eyes to this. Right or wrong, sells like adolescence.
- We live in a world of distractions. With more and more visual media, not surprisingly, most people in the U.S. are reading at the level of a seventh or eighth grader. So if you want to write a book for the masses, why not target young adults?
How does Collins accomplish this? How does she connect with the most amount of people via her writing? She writes short novels, in large fonts, with quick chapters. If you're going to get people to read your content (whether it's fiction or nonfiction), maybe should consider doing the same.
Or you could, of course, fight this trend, but it seems to be an uphill battle. We're all scanners now in one form or another. Maybe we had better write like it.
Is shorter better?
Collins writes short sentences that pack a punch. They are disturbingly terse, like a Hemingway novel (to be fair, Hem wrote his share of long-form, but he is known for simple sentence structure). This way of writing builds suspense, which works perfectly with a culture addicted to constant interruptions.
To give you an idea of how this is done, here's an excerpt from The Hunger Games (via Slate Magazine):
We're on a flat, open stretch of ground. A plain of hard-packed dirt. Behind the tributes across from me, I can see nothing, indicating either a steep downward slope or even a cliff. To my right lies a lake. To my left and back, sparse piney woods. This is where Haymitch would want me to go. Immediately.
Thanks to the constant noise of TV and the Internet, this is the future of writing. Yes, there may still be a place for long-form, but the burden of proof has shifted. Now, shorter is better, because it means the reader will actually stay engaged.
Edgy writing rings true
The Hunger Games is not a children's book (or movie). It's full of bloodshed and adult themes. Like teenage kids battling it to the death as a form of entertainment for a futuristic dystopia, in which the government controls the population through forced sacrifice.
If you're a storyteller, this is important. The world is dark and hard and full of pain. But there is still hope. Which is why a story like this is so powerful.
During a time of self-preservation, one brave girl — Katniss, the main character of The Hunger Games — stands in place of her younger sister. She volunteers to die. In an age where our future is uncertain, these types of tales resonate with us.
For the first time in nearly a century, we will not be creating a better world for our children. They will face hardship we have never seen. We need realistic reasons to hope, in spite of the circumstances. The Hunger Games does this. Not in an idealistic way, but in a way that rings true.
Write your own Hunger Games
We need more stories like this. We need writing that captures our attention and keeps it — both through form and substance. So go write something short that grabs people's attention. And as you do so, give them hope. That's what we're all longing for.
What do you think? Are you a Hunger Games fan? Does this kind of writing resonate with you? Share in the comments.