This line came from a philosophy professor grading my paper. I had the conclusion in sight and I didn’t pull the trigger and formulate the end result. In philosophy, you have to pull the trigger and nail your mark. In writing, I feel the same way.
I bring this up because of The Hunger Games, specifically the movie for I don’t care to read the books. For a bit of background, Katniss, the main heroine, volunteers to go to the hunger games in place of her younger sister. In the games, children under the age of 18 compete to the death for the glory of their districts. It’s a brutal rendition of Battle Royale but with some Orwellianish additions to the authoritarian government overseeing it. I saw the movie, and then I decided that because of it that the book wouldn’t be worth my while.
The author Suzanne Collins didn’t pull the trigger. Katniss never directly kills anyone. For all the pomp and circumstance that went into what the games were about, nothing happened. It was almost destined for her to kill someone, but it never happened. It was frustrating.
She had it in her sights, a perfect dramatic moment. One where a relatively calm and almost pacifist character was thrown into a situation that made her reevaluate herself and her motives and her beliefs. Brilliant drama could erupt from just one action, maybe in anger, maybe in cold blood, but something that would drive a steak into the heart of Katniss and force her to come to terms with who she is now. She would become a warrior in the most terrible sense.
But for one reason or another, Collins failed to pull the trigger. Maybe she wanted to keep it PG-13, but then it’s pretty awful to have the setting of children killing children. Maybe she thought it would be too dark. But the hunger games are pretty dark.
Instead, what she did was two fold. One is a tone shift, the other is a break with the internal logic.
Internal logic demands that some sort of death occurs. It’s just there for the taking. All the training, all the dialog, it all builds toward the moment that Katniss flies an arrow into an opponent to achieve some goal, perhaps just survival. Rather, various schemes and dramas keep Katniss from ever fully engaging with her surroundings. What could have been immersive in the twisted world created in the books is circumvented through artifice. It’s almost as if Collins had the idea for the book and then rewrote it so that she could keep her precious character from becoming darker. As a devoted fan of film, this rang false and I couldn’t get into it. That, and terrible editing.
It also introduces a tone shift. Simon Pegg movies are notorious for tone shifts, where light hearted drama suddenly shifts into dark characterization. They’re playing around in the bar and suddenly Pegg’s mother is dying. Things have to have a logical flow from A to B and tone can change but it has to be slow. In this, there is the tone of building up, training, competing, all driving the drama as it surrounds death and killing. The tone is dark. But then it becomes farce. Various contraptions and escapes denies the tone of the original set up. What once was dark now becomes a light escape a la The Great Escape rather than Battle Royale. It’s not that bad of a tone shift, but it happened rather suddenly according to my recollection from years ago. I remember coming across it and wondering why the movie felt lighter all of a sudden, that all the tension of training sorta went out the window. It tries to be dramatic at the end, but it’s just ridiculous how they escape. Authors and movies have to be aware of how the writing shifts the tone from dark to light, from death to assured escape. Never did I feel the drama from the writing.
It’s not that bad, but I laughed a couple of times during the movie. I shouldn’t have. A joke would have been appropriate during training, but even then Katniss is such a serious character that levity is not really something that should be introduced. Maybe she should be less of a sourpuss. Which would have made for more drama, a light hearted individual getting thrown into a dangerous situation culminating in a killing. The arc to that is incredible as tone slowly evolves from carefree to determined and dark. I’d die to see where that goes, to see the birth of a warrior through the selfless act of saving a family member.
The point is, always pull the trigger. If someone has to die, they have to die. If they have to do anything to keep internal logic consistent, then it has to be done. When not done, it becomes like my philosophy paper, it leaves the reader wanting and waiting even though they know what is supposed to happen next.