In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King notes that his best story ideas come from putting two unrelated ideas together. Science fiction writers often work by answering the question, “What if?” Author Suzanne Collins put together three unrelated concepts and answered the What If question multiple times to create her highly successful Hunger Games trilogy.
Concept #1: The Theseus Story—In this tale from Greek mythology, Minoan King Aegeus seeks revenge for the death of his son by demanding that Athens send seven young men and seven young women to Crete every year. These beautiful young people go into the Labyrinth to be eaten by the fearsome Minotaur, which is half man and half bull. Upon hearing this tale of forced sacrifice and certain death, Theseus volunteers to be one of these victims so that he can kill the Minotaur.
Concept #2: Survivor—What if these sacrificial youths went not to be eaten but to compete in an arena on an island? What if instead of voting themselves off the island they have to kill one another with the winner the last one standing? Then, what if the audience was made up of all the people of a city who watch the action on TV and bet on their favorite “players.”
Concept #3: Dancing With The Stars—But the players on Survivor grow increasinly unwashed, unshaved and get pretty grungy, especially as the competition wears on. There’s action and conflict but no glamor. Audiences like glamor. So what if each contestant had a stylist to make him or her look beautiful? The contestants could wear flashy, glittering costumes and the audience could pick their favorites before the victims hit the arena.
Creating a Dystopian World
Now you have drama, emotion, beauty, glamor, suspense, and action all packed together and the result is The Hunger Games. This analysis of potential sources takes nothing away from Ms. Collins’s remarkable achievement. She did far more than put three disparate concepts together.
That was brilliant in itself, of course, but the books succeeded because she also created a completely realized dystopian world people by three-dimensional and compelling characters. Then she added the games with all their vivid detail, from the Cornucopia of weapons at the beginning to the cannon shots announcing each death. I particularly like the little parachutes bringing aid and comfort from fans to their favorites.
The three books, while technically Young Adult material, keep readers of any age turning pages. Like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, the Hunger Games movies get better as they go. The second movie, “Catching Fire,” carries the story forward on the strength of Jennifer Lawrence’s superb performance.
Hollywood bet on a sure thing—the books were massive best sellers before the first script was written. Still, they provide an example of how successful a movie can be when it’s based on good material. As I have written before (It’s the Story, Stupid), many movies fail because no amount of CGI effects, violence, blood or gore can compensate for a weak story and a lame script. But I think that a strong story and a good script can make even a weak production worth watching. An example doesn’t come immediately to mind but I’m sure I’ll think of one later.
The Hunger Games Make Money
It’s still early days but Catching Fire had an estimated production budget of $130 million. It has already brought in $296,500,000 worldwide–with a lot more to come before the holidays. So a good story well done pays off as well.
We saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on IMAX and it was terrific. We enjoyed it from beginning to end and are looking forward to the third film. They are breaking up the third book into two volumes, which I think is a good idea because there was just so much going on in the book that it sometimes got confusing.
BTW: The core of the Hunger Games movies is the drive to survive so I have added them to my list of Movies About Survival.