I recently read a blog post where the author discussed the literary style of The Hunger Games. In summation the blog author claimed writers needed to write minimalist sentences, small paragraphs, and short chapters if we wanted stellar bestsellers like Suzanne Collins.
In saying that I believe the author of the blog post took a reductionist attitude to popular fiction, or any fiction for that matter. Sentences alone do not taketh the novel. With a treasure trove of literary devices available, Suzanne Collins raided pretty much all of them to create her extremely successful series.
Collin’s killer premise, kids forced to kill each other as TV entertainment for a vengeful, dictatorial government, is both appalling and fascinating combined. She tapped into the reader’s desire for the visceral experience by developing memorable and real characters set in a world that came alive. Okay, so no one wants to be caught in Katniss’s shoes, really, but we all know what it’s like to be afraid, find our courage, follow our truth and fight for what we believe is right.
Themes such as power, strength and skill, society and class, politics, sacrifice—the list goes on—are presented in such a unique and compelling way. Her tight structuring, hanging every significant moment on a well planned blue print, tightening the screws with every page, creating enough questions and scattering them through her novel without producing ambiguity, kept readers turning the page.
Her terse sentences just happened to fit her character, which is the point of good fiction—you tell the story in your character’s POV, minimizing narrator intrusion as much as possible.
Looking at another extremely popular YA series around that time, Twilight, and you could very well argue that the short sentence is not the key to popularity. Twilight’s long, wordy sentences and over bloated chapters are in direct contract to The Hunger Games, but, hey, we all loved it, because again it took us to a world far beyond our own (only perhaps this time we all wanted to be in Belle’s shoes).
I say learn your craft and learn it very well, then with the knowledge behind you, write what you want to write, how you want to write.
TJ Adams xx