With the upcoming movie The Hunger Games generating so much media attention, I was interested in learning more about the author Suzanne Collins, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
First, though, if you don’t know the plot of her trilogy, a Parade magazine article summarizes:
“The story’s unlikely heroine is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in Panem, a country that’s risen from the ashes of North America after natural disasters and warfare took their toll.
“Once a year, boy and girl ‘tributes’ are chosen by lottery from each district and forced to compete in the Hunger Games, an event televised throughout the land and manipulated for maximum ratings. The last one left alive is the winner.”
The article notes that despite the violent content, “educators have been among the series’ most ardent proponents. Nicole Mailloux, a seventh-grade teacher in Clark, N.J… persuaded her school to buy enough copies for 60 students so she could base an entire semester on the trilogy, even staging a mock version of the Games.
“It’s opening kids’ eyes to what’s going on in our society, the control and monitoring by government using technology and how people are desensitized to violence in video games—issues that we face every day,” she says.
Actor Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in the movie, thinks “The books hold up a terrible kind of mirror: This is what our society could be like if we became desensitized to trauma and to each other’s pain.”
[From Go Inside the 'Hunger Games' Phenomenon, by Emily Listfield, Parade magazine.]
A New York Times article notes some of the main childhood influences on Collins’ choices as a writer: at age 6, her father “left to serve in Vietnam. War was a favorite topic for her father; and war, she understood at a young age, determined her family’s fate.
“If your parent is deployed and you are that young, you spend the whole time wondering where they are and waiting for them to come home,” she said. “As time passes and the absence is longer and longer, you become more and more concerned — but you don’t really have the words to express your concern. There’s only this continued absence.”
The article adds, “In ‘The Hunger Games’ Collins embraces her father’s impulse to educate young people about the realities of war. “If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have?” she said. “We think we’re sheltering them, but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.”
[From Suzanne Collins’s War Stories for Kids by Susan Dominus, New York Times, April 8, 2011.]
Prose vs screenwriting
In a School Library Journal interview, she notes her background was in scriptwriting and that “Prose is full of many challenges and unexplored territory for me because I came to it later in my life… I’ve been doing scriptwriting for 27 years and books for maybe 10 years now. I think I started the first Gregor book, Gregor the Overlander, when I was 38.
“I’d be clicking along through dialogue and action sequences. That’s fine, that’s like stage directions. But whenever I hit a descriptive passage, it was like running into a wall. I remember particularly there’s a moment early on when Gregor walks through this curtain of moths, and he gets his first look at the underground city of Regalia. So it’s this descriptive scene of the city. Wow, did that take me a long time to write! And I went back and looked at it. It’s just a couple of paragraphs. It killed me. It took forever.”
She was asked if the kinds of stories and dialogues she and other writers create can help put an end to war.
“Eventually, you hope. Obviously, we’re not in a position at the moment for the eradication of war to seem like anything but a far-off dream. But at one time, the eradication of slave markets in the United States seemed very far off. I mean, people have to begin somewhere. We can change. We can evolve as a species. It’s not simple, and it’s a very long and drawn-out process, but you can hope.”
[From The Last Battle: With ‘Mockingjay’ on its way, Suzanne Collins weighs in on Katniss and the Capitol, by Rick Margolis, School Library Journal, August 1, 2010.]
In this video interview, Collins talks about finding it hard to write scenes of death and violence, but says as a writer, you need to make decisions and commit to those kinds of scenes, if they are part of the narrative – otherwise, just “go write another kind of story.”
In an interview for her publisher, Scholastic Press, Collins talks more about her inspirations:
“A significant influence would have to be the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur,” Collins said. “The myth tells how in punishment for past deeds, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, where they were thrown in the Labyrinth and devoured by the monstrous Minotaur.
“In keeping with the classical roots, I send my tributes into an updated version of the Roman gladiator games, which entails a ruthless government forcing people to fight to the death as popular entertainment.”
She thinks audiences for “both the Roman games and reality TV are almost characters in themselves. They can respond with great enthusiasm or play a role in your elimination. I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me.
“One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.”
This comment of hers that the “lines began to blur” reminds me of other writers descriptions of accessing and using unconscious material – see one of my Inner Writer site posts Writing from Your Subconscious.
Staring at the wall
Collins describes her routine for writing:
“I grab some cereal and sit down to work as soon as possible. The more distractions I have to deal with before I actually begin writing, the harder focusing on the story becomes. Then I work until I’m tapped out, usually sometime in the early afternoon.
“If I actually write three to five hours, that’s a productive day. Some days all I do is stare at the wall. That can be productive, too, if you’re working out character and plot problems. The rest of the time, I walk around with the story slipping in and out of my thoughts.”
[From "A Conversation with Suzanne Collins" (PDF) on the Scholastic Press site.]
Her reference to “staring at a wall” sounds to me like a description of daydreaming. See quotes by other writers in my post More Daydreaming, More Creativity.
In another video interview – Suzanne Collins Part 10 – Getting Personal – she comments about liking to listen to Mozart while working, but that music with words interferes with her thought processes.
Trying to write while listening to words is really a matter of rapid task-switching. But it may not be a productive way to work, as Collins notes. I find it is often difficult and mentally fatiguing to try to read email while listening to a training video, for example.
One of my posts on the topic: Multitasking is really task-switching. Some people are good at it.
Books: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. By the way, Amazon just announced she is the best-selling Kindle author of all time.
Audiobook: The Hunger Games, narrated by Carolyn McCormick.
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Last reviewed: 21 Mar 2012