This morning I read an article by Jeff Goins entitled “Why The Hunger Games is the Future of Writing.” His first argument is that it caters to an easily-distracted audience with a big font and short sentences, and that if you are an author looking to get published, you should do this too.
I have to say that I disagree, however.
There are those who, in the comments of Goins’ article argue that Suzanne Collins’ writing is just plain bad, and that it’s the story, not the writing itself that sold these books. Again, I can’t quite agree with that either.
Yes, Suzanne Collins’ prose is short, quick, and to the point. And yes, some of the sentences are poorly constructed. I had a slightly different look at reading this, because I was reading it out loud so that The Mr. and I could enjoy it together. (We’re still reading, almost halfway through Catching Fire.) Reading the book aloud, it is almost impossible to deny that some of the sentences are garbled and confusing. I’ve stumbled over a good many of them.
All of these arguments are missing the point as to what is really going on here. And what is going on here is pacing.
The pacing in The Hunger Games is superb. It is probably the best case of pacing I have seen anywhere. The end of each and every chapter has a punch-you-in-the-gut “Did-that-just-really-happen?” moment.
A moment that makes you want to race on to find out why or what or how something just occurred.
The pacing in The Hunger Games is so good, you don’t really care that the sentences possibly could have been edited a little more. To be honest, I think they could have. I think this is a case where the editors were so drawn in by the writing that some things slipped by. It happens.
The series is a sprint. It takes off running, hits hard and keeps going, because the characters don’t have the choice of stopping, so neither does the reader. Short sentences may make an impact stylistically, but we’ve always known concision is the key to good writing. Some of Goins’ commenters lamented that short-sentences would lead to a world without Shakespeare, but Shakespeare himself wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and was possibly the first master of pacing with his scenes of comic relief in intense plays.
In any case, I don’t think that short sentences is the answer. The answer is precision, and pacing. If simple sentences were the only key to a bestseller, how do you explain Maggie Stiefvater, author of the New York Times bestselling Wolves of Mercy Falls series and the critically acclaimed Scorpio Races? Stiefvater’s writing is lyrical and complex, with—I dare say—much more attention to the value of each and every word. Her books are doing just as well as Collins’ did before the movie hype, and there is a lot of promise of movie hype headed her way.
But you know what Collins’ and Stiefvater’s works have in common? Impeccable pacing. End of chapter punches to the gut.
Don’t shorten your sentences just to write like Suzanne Collins. Pay attention to the ends of your chapters, though. Make things happen there. Make your readers want more, each and every time. That’s the future of writing.