I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but there’s apparently a Hunger Games movie coming out this weekend. I know everybody around me can’t wait to go check it out. In terms of hype, it looks like it might be the spiritual successor to Harry Potter and Twilight. It’s a testament to the commercial viability of children’s and young adult literature, actually. That’s a topic for another time, but it’s something to think about for all you burgeoning writers out there
Whenever a movie comes out that is based upon a book, I try to read the book before I watch the movie. If I don’t, I find my impressions and opinions tainted by the interpretations of the director and actors. To this day, my internal vision of the early Harry Potter books is entirely based on the movies as I saw the Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets movies before I read any of the books. And as much as I like Harry Potter, I feel like I am missing out a bit because I don’t have my “own” vision of it to work from.
So with me likely seeing Hunger Games sometime in the next week or so, I have recently tried to sit down with the book a few times. And every time I do, all I can think of is a lesson I learned early on in my writing days: the opening to your story needs to be just as strong, if not stronger, then everything else in the story. This is just as important for short stories as it is for novels, and the same rule applies for essays, memoirs, poetry, or any other form of writing. Your beginning has to hook the reader.
So why is this important? Consider this—how quickly do you decide whether you are enjoying a movie or a book? If you stop and analyze your reading/watching patterns, you will likely realize that by the time you are done with the first page or scene, you have a general feel for the story and how you are going to approach it. That doesn’t mean your opinion can’t be changed of the course of it, but rather that your approach to it will be dictated. If you enjoy the opening scene, you open up and are more willing to enjoy the whole experience. If you don’t, the rest of the story has to work that much harder to bring you over. And worse, if you don’t enjoy it enough, you may not even bother finishing it.
I’ve been thinking this because, as I said two paragraphs ago, I’ve been trying to read Hunger Games ahead of the movie’s release this weekend. Here’s the problem—I can’t get past the first chapter. It’s set in a dystopian future after the collapse of the United States and looks to ultimately be about a heroic rebellion against an oppressive state. I tend to enjoy those sorts of stories, and I love good young adult literature, so it seems I should enjoy Hunger Games.
But so far, I have found the writing to be bland and lifeless. The setting doesn’t “pop” and the characters are dull and emotionless. I have been told that it gets better as it goes along, and maybe it does, but I have so far been uninspired to continue on with it. I just don’t feel a grand, fantasy adventure coming out of it (which is the point of fantasy, right?). With the movie coming out in just a few days, I am resigned to this point to seeing the movie before I finish the novel. I just can’t see myself working up the gumption to read it by the end of the week, so much like Harry Potter, my experience will be tainted should I ever decide to read it.
So when you sit down to write your next great story, take a good hard look at the way it starts. Obviously different readers have different tastes, but you need to work your hardest to make sure that the opening to your story sets the right tone and brings your audience in. Otherwise, you might lose them and they’ll never read it, regardless of how good it becomes.