You know, I liked The Hunger Games series. I like the characters, feelings, and dystopia it created. But halfway through book one, as things are poised to crescendo into something amazing, it all falls into a long, dragged-out plot. Useless characters are introduced and it all subtracts from the entire experience.
As with most series’ these days, I feel the story could have been told better in just one book. Because that’s what it’s about: the story. Characters exist to tell stories. If you write good characters that do nothing, they’re pointless. For that reason, you have to prioritize the story above the characters. You have to focus on what the characters symbolize in order to determine what happens to them.
As it is, book one is the story of how Katniss wins the Hunger Games.
It should have been the story of how Katniss ends the Hunger Games.
Obviously, this change requires nips and tucks. The majority of the first half of the book is absolutely fantastic as it is. But here’s how I think it all should have gone:
The beginning chapters are great as they are. Very early on, Katniss and Gale are already solidified as best friends steeped in trust, respect, and teamwork. The morning of the Reaping, they sit in the woods and ponder the idea of running away together with their families. They are not a couple, but the friendly affection is there.
To a point, the unfolding events of the Reaping happen as they should in a good story. Primrose is drawn against staggering odds, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. But next, Gale should have been drawn—with no one opting to go in his stead. The conflict is there instantly: Katniss may either have to kill her best friend, or be killed by him. It’s a terrible situation.
What about Peeta? Don’t get me wrong; I love Peeta and think he’s a sweetheart. But the story can be told better without him being a central character. Many aspects of the book that I didn’t like stemmed from him.
For one, I hate love triangles and am so bored by them. It’s a cheap way of creating emotional drama. “But I love both of them!” the cardboard heroine cried in anguish. Bor-ing. To have Haymitch continually bribing them into acting like lovers in the arena made the whole thing unbearably tacky. And really, what story is that trying to tell? “Deceive your oppressors to beat them at their own game, except not really, because these lies are going to seep into your life and harm your relationships.”
As well, Peeta is special to Katniss initially because of the time he tossed her some bread when she was starving. The next day, she caught his eye but then looked to the ground shyly. When she saw a dandelion, she was struck with an epiphany that she didn’t have to starve; she could gather edible plants and hunt her own food! This part is stupid and ridiculous because Katniss spent her entire childhood hunting and gathering in the woods with her father before he died. Her mother is an apothecary. Katniss has multiple bows/arrows stashed in the forest. Are readers really supposed to believe that Katniss was starving and defeated to the point where she thought, “Let me die here in the rain,” and it took the glance of a boy to remind her that foraging was an option? Come on.
Peeta could still be in the story as a minor character (maybe a love interest for Prim; let’s face it, Katniss doesn’t behave in a way that deserves his love, constantly deceiving him), but Gale needs to be the last District 12 tribute.
Presumably, Katniss and Gale would make a pact while on the train to remain allies until, if events so turned, they were the last two standing. (Remember, they are still just close friends at this point.) The advantages to such a pact are obvious: They are already very used to hunting together as a team; they could take watches at night; and, at the end, they could ensure a merciful, quick death if it came to it. Because, of course, chances are slim that it would actually work out that they’d be the last two anyways.
The story would then progress as written. The pair would be taken to the Capitol, meet with their stylists, and be shown off in the parade. No one would have to tell them to hold hands; they’d do it on their own because they’re not just pretending to be a team, they are a team.
At dinner, the encounter with the red-headed also Avox happens as it does in order to indicate the possible existence of a reinstated but covert District 13.
Replacing Peeta with Gale would allow for all of Katniss’ defensive, contrived humility to go away. ‘Obviously he meant to demean me. Right? But a tiny part of me wonders if this was a compliment.’ Oh, give it a rest, Katniss. She’s furious about the instructions to act like she’s Peeta’s friend in public, and it makes her inner monologue insufferable. If it were just Gale, the story could move on and Katniss wouldn’t have to waste so much of her time motive-doubting.
We could also, then, skip (in training and in the arena) Peeta’s “painting camouflage skills.” Decorating cakes ≠ blending in seamlessly with nature after having sustained a would-be fatal sword wound. Dumbest part of the movie. But I digress.
The Tribute Interviews would be the same, but for Gale’s. Considering his hatred of the Capitol, he would mention the horrible living conditions back home in great, heart-breaking detail. This would act to begin the process of the Capitol citizens waking up to how bad things have become beyond the mountains. After all, the average citizen would be living in a blissful ignorance about where all their resources come from. They press a button and there’s dinner. One of Gale’s purposes as a character would be to use the truth to start a waver in the resolve of the people excited to see children killing each other in an arena.
Of course, he wouldn’t drop the pitiable “I love Katniss,” bomb in a television interview of all things. Then we can skip all of Katniss’ being mad yet again and whining about how she hates all this deception and falseness. Don’t worry, Katniss, it’s tiring for the reader, too. On the roof, instead of a defensive squabble the night before the games, District 12’s tributes can have a touching last moment of solace. When they close their eyes, they can pretend they’re in the forest like they have been so many times. Gale could easily deliver the “I don’t just want to be another piece in their games,” line. There can be the implication that a romance could come about between the two, but both of them are too stressed and unsure of the future (as they always have been) to let it happen.
The next day, the Games begin like they always do: with a bloodbath at the Cornucopia. Katniss spots the silver bow, but Gale drags her away and the pair escapes to the woods. But soon, something separates Katniss and Gale—maybe even the Gamemakers deliberately—so Katniss finds herself a tree to hide in, alone. Later, she overhears Gale promise the gang of Careers that he’ll help them find and kill Katniss, but she knows with minimal doubt that he’s duping them.
The story continues as written. Katniss checks her snares, battles fatigue and nearly dies of thirst. The Gamemaker-produced firestorm burns her up a bit and soon she’s climbing up another tree for the night. This time, she makes herself known to the Careers and Gale as they walk by below her. After unsuccessfully trying to get her down, the group falls asleep at the bottom of the tree—making Gale stay awake and keep watch. When Rue shows up and points out the tracker jacker nest to Katniss, Katniss conveys her plan to Gale and he runs off silently before she executes it. The wasps get rid the Careers (killing Glimmer), Katniss is stung a few times, and runs as far as she can before passing out. When she comes to (hours later, not days), she makes an alliance with Rue, who has watched out for her and taken the silver bow from Glimmer. Rue gives it to Katniss and they go on to discuss the oppression in their Districts for all the Capitol to hear.
Together they form a plan to blow up the Careers’ food, and it goes off well enough. When Rue doesn’t turn up at their meeting place but eventually calls for Katniss, trapped in a net, she cuts her free. I think it would be better if Rue saw Marvel coming behind Katniss and stepped in front of the spear. It would act as parallelism: Katniss took the place of the sweet Primrose, and the sweet Rue took the place of Katniss. Katniss would kill Marvel in angry revenge and make her flowery tribute to Rue’s body.
This is the point of the story where things have to start happening completely differently than how they were written. The death of innocent, lovable Rue has to weigh a lot more. Now, the foreboding words of “not just a piece in their games” have to take on their meaning. The remaining tributes, except Foxface, will all have witnessed Rue’s death from afar. Gale and Thresh come out of the woodwork and grieve with Katniss. Back in the Districts (where the games are televised), particularly 11 and 12, crap is going down. Riots, violence, angry mobs, everything a revolution needs. They start to wreck all the Capitol’s buildings and representatives in their communities. A lot of people are killed in the process, but they’re at the “enough is enough” point.
The thing about revolutions is that, after years of tyranny and cruelty, they become inevitable. Humans all have a breaking point past which they will tolerate no more. Revolutions happen when enough people’s breaking points are reached at the same time. This has to be the story of how this particular Hunger Games brought enough District citizens to their breaking point that it started an unstoppable fire, otherwise it’s meaningless.
Behind the scenes, assumed-destroyed-but-actually-thriving District 13 begins to mobilize. By tapping into some Capitol feeds, they can see what’s happening in some of the Districts and realize that it’s “go time”. They put plans in place to storm the Capitol.
Meanwhile, Gale, Katniss and Thresh come to intrinsically understand that killing the remaining tributes is simply playing into the Capitol’s hands. They call to the other three, Cato, Clove and Foxface, assuring them that they no longer mean to hurt them.
Clove bursts from the foliage with a knife, but Thresh is able to restrain her. Katniss launches into a speech about how they aren’t enemies; the Capitol and the Hunger Games are their enemy. If they refuse to fight each other, they may be able to escape and bring the whole system down. Clove is reluctantly won over, because she, now, has awoken to the injustice of the Games, and feel her own plight has wronged her. (She and Cato have been lovelessly raised to be killing machines, not free to pursue their individual passions. That they, like everyone else in the Districts, have lost one or two teenagers every year to these barbaric Games. Perhaps it could be revealed that one or both of them lost someone close to them in previous Games.) Having overheard this, Cato slowly emerges and joins their cause, too.
The kids, knowing they are being televised everywhere, make a plea to their people to revolt and help them stop these terrible Games. They have no way of knowing what, if any, impact they are having.
With Foxface still unaccounted for, the kids split up: Cato and Clove start in one direction, Thresh in another, Katniss and Gale in still another, hoping to find the arena’s boundaries in order to escape. That night, while making camp, Katniss and Gale get to talking. Since she’s under the (correct) impression that a truce between all the tributes will incite the Gamemakers to create ways of killing them themselves, Katniss takes her last chance to get real with Gale. She asks if there are any girls special to him in District 12 (the same way Caesar asked Peeta in his interview in the book as it is written.) Gale says yes. Katniss replies that if any of them make it out alive, she hopes it’s him. Then when he returns, she (the special girl) could never say no. Gale shakes his head and says it won’t be that way. Katniss asks why. Gale says, “because I came here with her.”
Now we can have a sweet kiss between two characters we love without having that horrible feeling in our guts that soon the boy will find out that Katniss is just acting, pretending she loves him, so that Haymitch will send them survival supplies. Remember, the Games are televised throughout the Capitol and Districts and are mandatory to watch. Now when the people get behind these poor star-crossed lovers, they aren’t being carried along by a lie. They’re seeing something real and it’s moving them.
The other thing that shouldn’t have happened in the story was the “New rule: Now two tributes can win!” and the subsequent, “Just kidding!” It was cheap and lame and made me feel like I was reading a story written by a third-grader.
Anyways, unbeknownst to Katniss and Gale, the Gamemakers are infuriated and presently trying to herd all the kids together again so that they can finish them off in an exciting finale and crown Foxface (who seems uninterested in joining the rebellion, perhaps out of fear) the victor. Katniss and Gale wake up to the sound of a cannon, and frantic yelling. Cato and Clove race past, being chased by rabid, wild dogs. It’s presumed that the dogs just caught and killed Thresh. Katniss and Gale run from the dogs, too.
The four kids book it to escape being killed, but Cato and Clove have been running for too long and Clove stumbles. No one notices except Cato, who has a character-changing moment as he decides to go back to help her. This is meaningful because, obviously, Districts pay closer attention to their own tributes. Seeing an act of selflessness from one of their bloodthirsty Careers would jolt them. It’s worth re-mentioning that while Districts 1 and 2 are sort of the “pet Districts” in that they are the most wealthy, they still are sending two kids per year to slaughter. Having a point at which this District feels an emotion is important because the Capitol’s Peacekeepers (army) is made up of District 2 citizens. If a tyrant’s army turns on him, he is left powerless and this is what Cato’s act should spur. He is unable to save Clove, but she spends her last moments grateful that someone at least tried. And Cato dies feeling the most heroic he ever has.
We’re left, now, with only Katniss, Gale and Foxface. Eventually (it doesn’t matter how), the dogs are dealt with and pursue the kids no longer. As time wears on, Katniss and Gale notice that wildlife seems to have disappeared from the arena. (The gamemakers have removed animals for the hunting pair to sustain themselves on.) They come across a nightlock bush, which Gale silently points out, but they both know to avoid it.
Soon, all three kids left in the arena are nearing starvation. Gale notes how it’s strange how absent the gamemakers seem to have been in the last days. (They will later learn that it is because the Capitol is now dealing with a military assault from District 13 and whoever else could make it there from other Districts.) Katniss hears a noise, and in the distance they catch sight of Foxface, bent over a bush. They creep up, not wanting to scare her, in order to persuade her to join their side. Foxface, the pair notice as they near, is about to eat a handful of poisonous nightlock berries. Katniss blows their cover and yells at Foxface to stop. The girl, too, is famished and emaciated, so she is distrustful of Katniss who is telling her not to eat something. Katniss explains that the berries are poison and that Foxface should help them escape and bring down the Capitol. Foxface, now a symbol of fear and selfishness, refuses to believe Katniss, thinking that Katniss is only trying to trick her. Of course, she dies almost instantly as a result of distrusting someone good. (In the book, she dies because she trusted Peeta. What sense does that make, storytelling wise?)
Katniss and Gale are at a loss for what to do next. They know they are starving and will die before long. Gale makes one more appeal to the Capitol and Districts, assuming the cameras are still rolling. After embracing Katniss for the last time, he holds out some berries to her. He explains that if their Games don’t have a winner, they will have succeeded, in some sense, of having not been “just a piece” in them. As Katniss and Gale are about to eat the berries simultaneously, they here a voice telling them to, “STOP!” But it’s not Seneca Crane’s voice as they would expect; it’s Haymitch’s. He and Effie and some others have fought their way into the Gamemaker room and stop Katniss and Gale just in time to rescue them.
In the end, the Capitol is defeated and, through it takes time, things become better. A council made up of citizens from the 13 Districts are presented with the idea to force a yearly Hunger Games upon the children of the Capitol but that notion is voted down, indicating that democratic rule by the Districts has put the future in “better hands.” After all, if the Districts become tyrants too, what was gained?
The story ends with Katniss and Gale sitting in the same place in the forest as they were on the morning of the Reaping. Gale asks if Katniss would still run away with him (facetiously), and she remarks with relief that, now, they don’t have to run anymore.
Effie and Haymitch start out with a dynamic of near comic relief. He’s a slovenly drunk with no manners. She’s a perky etiquette adherent. Both of them are clear symbols: Haymitch represents the ruin of the Hunger Games’ aftermath. A tribute can “win” the games, but their life is still marred (especially if they have to henceforth train children ever year who are lead to expected slaughter). Effie represents the ignorant, blissful detachment of the Capitol towards the horror placed on these kids. At the beginning, they hate each other. When they start working towards a common goal (preparing the District 12 kids for survival), they tolerate each other. At the end of the story, I think it would be good to imply the potential for a relationship between them, symbolizing a new harmony between Capitol citizens and District citizens. (For this to make sense, this probably should have been Effie’s first year as a District 12 representative.)
Haymitch is disappointing in the series since his arc never reaches a resolution. He starts out as an alcoholic bum and he ends up as one, too. Far better would have been for him to find his purpose in these last pair of tributes as the Capitol is being brought down—he has something to fight for, now, and leaves his downward-spiral lifestyle. A relationship (with Effie or someone else) would give him a reason to stay sober after all the fighting is over.
Rue, the little girl from District 11, needs one more thing to set her up as the “last straw” for the people in her District. It makes no sense that she is chosen at the Reaping and that no one volunteers to go in her place, and yet those same people riot and no nuts with anger when she’s killed in the arena. There needs to be described a clause in the rule book that a substitute can volunteer as a tribute, but if the person whose name was primarily drawn refuses, the selection is final and cannot be appealed. So, Rue is selected and someone who loves her (sibling, friend, whoever) volunteers, but she refuses because she could never live happily knowing someone died in her stead. So, when District 11 sees this brave and sweet and selfless girl die for rich people’s sport, they get mad.
Finnick Odair is a character introduced in Catching Fire (the second book). I know he gives the fangirls more fodder to write fanfics about, but his character was useless. He won the Hunger Games about ten years ago and since has been forced into male prostitution by the Capitol. His entire back story could have been given to Haymitch instead. More characters ≠ a better story. Obviously I think the same about all the other characters introduced after the first book. They only elongate and muddy the plot.
Primrose dies at the end of the series and that’s stupid. By then it’s even mentioned that one of the things Katniss is fighting the Capitol over is the freedom for people like Prim to become doctors and help their fellow man. So, you guessed it, that means Prim is a symbol of unfulfilled potential (under the Capitol) and flourishing potential (free of the Capitol). For her story to mean anything, we have to see her living a gratifying life once the Capitol is brought down. And anyways, Prim only dies in the first place to resolve the ridiculous love triangle between Gale, Katniss and Peeta. (Prim is killed by one of Gale’s traps, so Katniss can never be with him now.) With Peeta out of the picture for Katniss (and maybe in the picture for Primrose,) everyone is alive and happy.
Well, there you have it.
This is the story I wish the Hunger Games would have been.