Allen G. Bagby

Author of the Creed of Kings Saga

The Hunger Games: A Quick Commentary on Cliché and Story Structure.

The movie was full of cheesy teenager moments, but I loved it. The world creation had a bit of the Star Trek (The James T. Kirk Generation) papier-mâché look, too clean, too slick in some places. I think they tried to create the look of an authentic world, but the attire looked like something the people stepped into just before the camera rolled.

Even so, I did enjoy the movie. The female lead was a realistic protagonist. She wasn’t some bimbo hottie chick that stuns muscle bound men with a single karate chop of her petite hand (i.e. Angelina Jolie in SALT).

There was, however, a small dose of political correctness. I can usually tell you right away, who the bad guy is going to be in teenager movies. He will be tall, blond, and handsome…the ideal member of the Hitler youth. Remember, Hollywooders exchanged the Muslim terrorist for Neo-Nazis in Clancy’s Sum of All Fears? Hollywood and artsy fartsy types just can’t seem to rid themselves of this worn out stereotypical antagonist. It’s as common as the evil catholic priest. This is a cookie cutter bad guy that I’ve seen since Biff , in Back to the Future.  This antagonist has a rival cliché; it’s the tough hottie chick. So, I got one cliché character.

I try to look beyond all this. I go to movies first to enjoy. A close second is to analyze and see what I can learn. As a storyteller, I like to get under the hood of a movie and see why it runs so well. This movie ran well, which makes its clichés and cheese somewhat bearable.

The structure is perfect. Understanding story structure was the game-changer for me as a writer. At my core, I am an outliner – plan ahead, but I started my first book as a panster – just type by the seat of your pants and see what happens. Pantsing was out of character for me but I had believed all my life that stories were pure inspiration and a little perspiration. Imagine how I felt after two years of writing. Finally, I watched an interview with Larry Brooks . He wrote a book called, Story Engineering. He asserted that there are four distinct parts to a good story: Setup (25% of the story), Response (25%), Attack (25%), and Resolution (25%). If a movie doesn’t succeed at the box office, it’s usually because it lacks a pole that’s supposed to uphold the tent of story structure. The first tent pole comes between Setup up and Response – 1st Plot Point (A life altering decision). The second tent pole comes between Response and Attack – Mid Point / Context Shift (the bigger picture and commitment). The third tent pole is found between Attack and Resolution – The 2nd Plot Point (After the “all hope is lost moment” the protagonist is willing to die to achieve the goal).

I bought Story Engineering and studied it. It has made all the difference. Now I have six books outlined. The first is nearing completion. It’s not quite like coloring by numbers, but akin to it.

Structure provides focus, to not only the writer but also the audience, even if the audience has no idea about structure. The Hunger Games has this core requirement. If you see the movie take note, what I say here will prove to be true. Look for it.

About Allen Bagby

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3 Replies

  1. Even if we think the story is cliche, even if we think it’s amateur night when it comes to The Hunger Games, there’s no denying that we have to be glad for book/movie phenomena like these.

    It happened with Harry Potter and it happened with Twilight. Whether we like or not, these become gateways for future readers to reach our work, so as writers we should respect and, why not? Take some of the good like you just demonstrated to us in this post. That’s in my opinion a sign of great maturity.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Joe. There is so much to learn from well structured movies. I don’t have to read a thick paperback, which can take a month. I just put down $3.50 (matinee price) and in a couple of hours I have a specimen to analyze and take something from.

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