Friday, July 16, 2010

Analyzing "Catching Fire"

The author starts Catching Fire with all of info to fill us in on the events and relationships from the first novel, but she does a good job of moving it along. I especially admire the little, but clever, details about the characters and setting. I suspect these are the key to drawing us into this novel. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

Haymitch is still dead to the world. Since nothing else has worked, I fill a basin with icy cold water, dump it on his head, and spring out the way. A guttural animal sound comes from his throat. He jumps up, kicking his chair ten feet behind him and wielding a knife. I forgot he always sleeps with one clutched in his hand. I should have pried it from his fingers, but I've had a lot on my mind. Spewing profanity, he slashes the air a few moment before coming to his senses. He wipes his face on his shirtsleeve and turns to the windowsill where I perch, just in case I need to make a quick exit.

See the clever details? It's not just Haymitch waking up wielding a knife (we've all encountered characters like this before)- he also kicks his chair ten feet behind him. It's not just Katniss dumping cold water (hey, I do that all the time to my kids, he he), it's how she perches on the windowsill. Later in the scene, even though Haymitch is no longer a threat, she decides to exit via the window - much more interesting than retreating out a door.

Here's another excerpt from the first chapter with little details that pack a big punch. Here Katniss is encountering a powerful and threatening character, President Snow. It's not so much what he says that threatens her, as these details about him:

I nod because, by the way he says it, it's clear that Seneca Crane has been executed. The smell of roses and blood has grown stronger now that only a desk separates us. There's a rose in President Snow's lapel, which at least suggests the source of the flower perfume, but it must be genetically enhanced because no real rose reeks like that. As for the blood... I don't know.

The scene ends with:

I don't watch him as he heads for the door, so I flinch when he whispers in my ear. "By the way, I know about the kiss." Then the door clicks shut behind him.

End of chapter. The beginning of the next chapter:

The smell of blood.... it was on his breath.

Whoa. Heady writing, there.

Here's another little detail that makes a simple kiss turn into something really powerful:
How his hands, which could set the most intricate of snares, could as easily entrap me.

Not only does the author hook us with these details, she keeps supplying a steady stream of them throughout the book, just as she did with the Hunger Games. That, combined with a constant stream of action and surprises, propels this story along like a predator relentlessly stalking its prey.

And as a girl (well, I'm still a girl at heart), how could I not love a writer who can have so much fun, and impact, with fashion? Are we not all dreading to find out what happened to Katniss' stylist, Cinna, in the next book? Who else could continue to stun us with amazing clothes that pretend to be on fire, or throb like coals, or a wedding dress that disintegrates into an entirely different sort of "fashion statement" ?

In this book, the reaping for the Hunger Games results in a set of competitors even more colorful than in the first book.

You've got Enobaria, who had her teeth cosmetically altered so each one ends in a sharp point like a fang and is inlaid with gold; playboy Finnick who at first impression seems shallow, but then we discover his deep attachment and protective attitude to eighty year old Mags, who also adds a powerful dimension to the games with her cane and her sacrifice. Wiress is described as "probably around my mother's age and speaks in a quiet, intelligent voice. But right away I notice she has a habit of dropping off her words in mid sentence, as if she's forgotten you're there." Her partner wears glasses but spends a lot of time looking under them. They invent things so the other competitors nickcname them Nuts and Volts. Then you've got the Morphlings, drug addicts who like to paint themselves, and Johanna who strips down in the elevator to make Katniss uncomfortable and goes naked for wrestling practice.

Then there is Peeta, Katniss' partner in the Games. I wish I still had the book in my possession so I could go back through and pick out my favorite parts with Peeta to share. Looking forward to see how the whole Katniss/Gale/Peeta love triangle falls out.


  1. You just reminded me of why I read the book twice and why I want to read it again. Sigh. I can't wait for Mockingjay. It comes out August 24.

  2. I LOVES me some Catching Fire.

    As a writer, you can learn so much. One of the major things I've learned from the author is how she transitions scenes. It's so seamless.

    And for the record, I'm definitely on Team Peeta! I have a theory that Gale and Madge will get together. I really do think it's going to work out for Peeta and Katniss. I hope she doesn't kill him in Mockingjay.

  3. SPOILER ALERT! I love Catching Fire too. And I'm totally Team Peeta all the way! I didn't have a problem with the ending. I was just so dang glad she got out of that dome and into the "real" world. I loved knowing how all those competitors conspired to help her get out, even the seemingly aloof Johanna. It's such a great series so far. I just love the way Suzanne Collins sets something up and then GIVES it to us. Not too much waiting, not too much agonizing. She just introduces a complication and then BOOM, we're moving forward with the new information and more exciting things are happening. Nice insight into the Haymitch scene, Margo! I love how she perches. : ) Counting the days until Mockingjay!

  4. What a wonderful breakdown. You're right, the magic is in those details. I'll have to keep your annalysis in mind to help my own writing. And team Gale!

  5. How will the love triange fall out? I can't imagine a satisfactory ending to that. It just broke my heart when Peeta gave Katniss the locket with Gale's picture in it, encouraging her to go home and be with Gale. I cannot wait for the third! And Suzanne Collins is my new favorite author, without a doubt.

  6. Oh and sorry - I never figured out how to add the email option on there!

  7. Well, I have to agree with you about the ending . . . and well, pretty much the rest of it. Such a great book. The details are amazing. Her imagination with the fashion stunning. I've got Mockingjay pre-ordered. Thank heavens it's only a trilogy!

  8. Such a great book. I am a writer that loves me some detail. Suzanne Collins never fails to disappoint. I am a huge fan of hers. Nice way to show us what you learned from reading this book.

    I think that reading books teaches us more than books on writing teach us. We get to see the craft in action and disect why the author did what she did.

    Thanks for the visit over at Putting Pen To Paper. Have a lovely evening. =)

  9. I just have to ask: why team Gale?? Based on ONE KISS? Okay, they have a history as friends and fellow hunters, but as readers, we were only TOLD about this relationship. We got to SEE the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Go ahead and jump all over me for my opinion -I don't mind!

  10. I was worried about reading this post, since I haven't yet read Catching Fire! I read a couple of comments but stopped...I don't want to know anything. The details you point out sound powerful, and I've heard good things about the book. Sounds like the end was frustrating though...set up for book #3, huh?

  11. I haven't read the book yet, but I'm tantalized by the details! Thanks for posting!

    p.s. I'm camp Peeta too.

  12. I absolutely love Catching Fire and The Hunger Games. I was a very reluctant reader of The Hunger Games in the beginning, but thanks to a friend pushing me to read I read them both. In two days. And loved every minute of them!

  13. Team Peeta!!

    I've been waiting to read this post of yours until I finished reading Catching Fire. I am so completely in love with those books it's not even funny. (also I'm giving away a copy of Hunger Games next week - because I accidentally ordered two!)

    These books amaze me with their incredibly layered conflicts - just unrelenting, and the action as well!

    I'm holding out on reading Mockingjay until I get my edits done (which I'm racing to have done by the 24th so I don't have to wait!). :)



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