Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Narrative Viewpoint and The Hunger Games

I didn’t plan on a fifth post in my series on Narrative Viewpoint: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly until I read an article on The Passive Voice about why some believe The Hunger Games movie was better than Suzanne Collins' novel, in part because of narrative viewpoint (note, the Passive Guy was reporting on an original post on Storyfix). Here's the rationale after this image of the book’s cover:

THG was told in rigid first person. This was Collins’ choice. We see nothing that transpires beyond the curtain of her hero’s awareness. Which limits the ability to fully understand the motives and Machiavellian cruelty of the folks who are pulling the strings of the Games themselves. 
The more we understand that, the more emotion we’re likely to invest. This is what the filmmakers knew, and why they changed the story. 
In the book we only get a historical overview from Katniss’s POV. We never meet President Snow or the head Gamekeeper. We never see the machinations of folks with crazy facial hair pulling levers that result in fires and parachute deliveries and digital hounds from hell ....
I enjoyed The Hunger Games novel (you can check out my review here), but the above argument fits perfectly with what I’ve written on first-person point-of-view. It is an incredibly limiting viewpoint, and it necessarily eliminates all those great scenes from the bad guy’s perspective. Again, try to imagine Stephen King’s The Stand without all those scenes involving Randall Flagg. It would be an inferior novel. (Incidentally, you can read Mr. King's review of The Hunger Games here.)

Now, whether The Hunger Games would have been better if it had been written in third-person limited – which would have revealed some story events from the bad guy’s POV – is a matter of opinion. But it illustrates perfectly the significant considerations an author must weigh in deciding upon the best narrative viewpoint for his or her story. If you have an opinion on the narrative viewpoint used in The Hunger Games, post a comment and let me know.


HelenR said...

I understand the point and agree that first-person stories tend to limit the overall perspective. For this book, however, I think first person present tense worked. This is a "survival of the fittest" story. From the beginning you are in Katniss's head and went through her thought process for survival step by step with her. While she had to anticipate what the others were thinking or doing, she did not much care. This is very effective in honing the reader in on the anxiety and flood of emotions she went through just trying to survive. Further, without the knowledge that there were two books to follow, there is heightened anticipation for the reader through the end (as opposed to if the book had been written in past tense). This said, I have yet to see the movie so I can not compare the book to how it plays out on the big screen. Since I enjoyed the book, I look forward to keeping your comment in mind as I see the movie!

Joseph Finley said...

Thanks for the comment! I think third-person limited, when done well, can equal the level of emotion of first-person POV, but it's hard to argue with The Hunger Games. It's success is undeniable and it is a very good novel.