This morning, before I started thumbing through my copy of HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins looking for bits and pieces of her writing style that I liked, I did a little mental exercise.  I tried to picture Katniss and here’s what I got: small girl with a long braid.  I did the same for Peeta:  stocky guy with blue eyes.  Rue?  A tiny thing with big eyes.

I’m betting that when I go back and look, there actually is more description of the characters than just a couple of key elements.  But here’s what I noticed: the descriptions that I remembered were attached to actions.  Katniss has a long braid but I might not have remembered it so well if part of it hadn’t been burnt off during the Hunger Games.  Nor would I have remembered her stature it hadn’t played such a pivotal role in her ability to climb trees.  The same is true for Peeta.  He’s stocky, which is a wrestler’s build, which is his one physical strength.  His eyes are the only things that give him away when he camouflages himself.  And Rue?  Prey animal all the way.  Big eyes.  Quick, light, and small.  It’s exactly how I would expect her to look.

So, here’s a writer’s lesson for me.  Description sticks with a reader more when it’s connected to action.  The length of my protagonist’s hair doesn’t matter until it gets tangled in a wire fence as she’s trying to flee.  Her weight doesn’t matter until it’s collapsing the bridge she’s trying to get across.  Not only is description relevant when you tie it to the action of the story, but it’s also memorable.

I continued the mental exercise to try to remember one place in the book where I particularly love a turn of phrase.  In THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and SHIP BREAKER and, especially SPEAK this was so easy.  I could remember all sorts of spots in the book where I loved the phrasing or description.  I knew I would be haunting THE GRAVEYARD BOOK to figure out how Mr. Gaiman made The Man Jack so menacing or SPEAK to figure out how Melissa manages to sound so mature and so young all at the same time.  No so for THE HUNGER GAMES.  It’s not phraseology and description that sends me back to the book to keep re-reading.  It’s various scenes.  I reread to relive Katniss’s private training session and the scene where she meets Rue inside the games and the brutal feast chapter.  I don’t care how Ms. Collins laid the scene out; I just want to experience it again and again.

So here’s the point: this is one of the first books I’ve read where I didn’t even notice the writing.

Wow!  I mean, wow.  Don’t get me wrong; I love the English language.  Reading Dickens aloud is a singular experience.  When I read MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, part of what made that book so amazing was the Asian flavor to the writing style.  But, with THE HUNGER GAMES, the narration is so simple, without being dull, that all you’re left with is memorable scene after memorable scene.  It’s just pure story-telling, almost like you’re hearing this told out by a campfire.

And, again, it’s a good lesson for me as a writer.  I need to make sure that I don’t give in to the urge to show off my knowledge of the language.  My writing should never get in the way of my story.   Everything in a book needs to contribute to its tone.  In this case, we have a simple story told by a practical girl in very plain words.  It all adds up to this sparse survivalist feel.  I’ll tell you what–it really worked for me.  I’m having a heck of a time not just running out and buying the sequel, CATCHING FIRE (No, Kate.  Not until it’s out in paperback.  Bad Kate!)

So, that’s THE HUNGER GAMES.  For my next book, I’m planning on taking a look at THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.  This is a complicated book and I’m looking forward to picking it apart!

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