Hi all, today I’m here with a fab guest post from Irene Rosenfeld, who runs the blog Creativity and Us. More information about Irene can be found at the bottom of this post. Please note this post isn’t sponsored; I just really liked the post idea :). And now I’ll hand you over to Irene!
As it is NaNoWriMo and there is a new Hunger Games movie out I thought that I would write about some important story elements that are often overlooked by beginning authors – using The Hunger Games as an example.
It isn’t by accident that I’ve chosen a very successful novel – effective work is interesting to study and you may well have a copy to hand. In this case, we might learn something about a compelling opening which sustains control throughout the story. This is achieved through planning Motif, Symbol/Emblem, Detail and Pattern – devices that you should use in your writing.
There are a few of them in Susanne Collins’s opening: forbidden nature, hunting/archery, a loaf of bread. Of these, she selects hunting/archery for her opening; the first casual mention of Katniss’s hunting boots turns up as she dresses herself to go scavenge for food in the forbidden nature reserve around District 12. Then we realise she has a bow, arrow and fine archery skills.
What am I saying here is, what is your motif? What are the recurring elements in your work? A motif is like a small embroidered pattern; or a musical trill that makes your song distinctive and memorable. But think, also, about how hunting ties in the central theme: hunger – inequality – starvation – illegality; the fact that a girl must risk her life just to get enough food for her mum and sister. This motif ties in brilliantly with the theme of poverty, where the District 12 population are left to starve, while the Capitol lives in absurd opulence and wealth. Think, also, about the deeper meaning of her archery skills that move on from hunting animals, to hunting humans in the gladiatorial games in which she must participate.
Symbols are public and obvious – just like the Christian cross or the Nazi swastika, a symbol has power: people will fight to the death for what it represents. Notice how Collins plants the mockingjay in the opening chapters of her first book. Initially, it is a tiny, intensely private piece of jewellery somebody gives Katniss to remind her of her homeland. By Book III it has become the emblem of the Revolution. Perhaps the use of a symbol is daunting, but is there anything emblematic in your fiction? Something that relates not to an individual but a social cluster, be it a friendship group, neighbourhood, village, region, country, sub-group or culture?
Do you use enough detail? If you have no copy of The Hunger Games at home borrow it from somewhere and just read the first page. Notice the detail used to present Katniss’s mother who, in her sleep, is ‘worn but not so beaten-down’; her little sister, Prim, whose face is ‘fresh as a raindrop, and lovely as the primrose…’ And check out the world’s ugliest cat with her deformed face, chewed-up ear, muddy yellow coat and eyes ‘the colour of rotting squash’. Memorable?
Pattern is how the author takes us from scene to scene, opening and closing her grand stage. Here, we go from the private place where the little family sleep in one room, to an outdoor scene in the forbidden wood. Later, the stage opens wider still. We are in a crowded square, where the ‘reaping’ is taking place. Those who are ‘reaped’ are the youngest, fittest and most beautiful; and this brings me to the underlying and richer pattern, which is even more interesting than the obvious, surface one. Beneath the actual story of The Hunger Games, is a deeply embedded and very old myth. Remember king Minos from your childhood Greek Myths book? King Minos expects seven of the best Athenian youths and seven maidens, whose names were drawn by lots, to arrive every seventh year to be fed to the monstrous Minotaur, living in the labyrinth of this king’s palace. Theseus, with help from inside the palace itself, manages to kill the monster and put an end to this waste of young lives. It is worth looking to ancient texts as inspiration for your writing and practically any story that you can think of is already there!
These four elements, motif, symbol, detail and pattern live beneath your story, give it weight and added interest and are the difference between a telling what happened and creating a story that resonates.
I. Rosenfeld is an author and writing tutor living in London. Her Creativity and Us blog can be found at https://creativityandus.wordpress.com. Her new adventure novel for children, just published, is Geo Says No and more information can be found at www.geosaysno.com