Basic Story Beats of The Hunger Games (based on the “Save The Cat” beat sheet)

BookCover-HungerGamesI picked HUNGER GAMES as the first novel to break down into the Basic Story Beats because I knew it had all the elements in chronological order. After all, I’d read the novel thrice and was familiar with the story. Though I was shocked to find that the Debate didn’t actually happen on the page, but rather in my mind. The Set Up was so well written that I was essentially in Katniss’s head, weighing the options for her in that split-second before she yells, “I volunteer as tribute!” Amazing.

Without further ado, The Hunger Games’ Basic Story Beats:

 

Element Pages Beats
Opening 1 Introduces Katniss as a caring sibling on high alert when she wakes up to find her sister Prim not in her bed. But on pg. 6 the part of Katniss that will change over the course of the series is revealed: she used to speak out against the Capitol but has since learned it’s best to say nothing. She stays silent to protect her sister.
Set-Up 1-20 Very quickly we learn about Katniss’s family (sister Prim, mom, dead dad), home (District 12), work (hunting), and friends (Gabe). Slowly, the awful tradition of the Hunger Games is revealed. All the other main characters are also introduced: The Baker, The Mayor, Madge, Effie Trinket, Haymitch.Things to be Fixed: 1) Katniss never smiles except in the woods with Gabe. 2) Katniss is not the forgiving type. 3) Even though she hunts illegally, Katniss struggles to support her family. 4) Katniss is trapped in a hopeless, dead-end life of poverty in District 12.
Theme 9 Rebellion. Gale suggests they could escape District 12 and make it on their own in the woods. Katniss won’t even entertain the idea.
Catalyst 20 At the reaping, Katniss’s sister Prim’s name is picked.
Debate none I thought there was a moment before Katniss volunteers as tribute where she wonders what’s worse – Prim dying in the Games, or Prim dying of starvation in District 12 because Katniss died in the Games and can no longer look after her. But this Debate happened in my head, probably because the Set Up is so well done that I felt Katniss’s options without her having to weigh them in the moment.
Break Into 2 21 Katniss volunteers as tribute and goes to the Hunger Games instead of Prim.
B Story 25 Peeta. Katniss wrestles with how she owes Peeta her life but she’ll have to kill him in the Hunger Games.
Fun + Games 41 Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol to train for the Hunger Games.
Mid Point 148 False Victory: Surprisingly, Katniss gets the highest score in training and enters the Games with a real shot of winning. B Story: Peeta confesses he’s in love with Katniss. But is it real or just a strategy for the Games? Stakes Raised: Training is over and the Hunger Games begin. Worse, because of her high score, she’s the Careers’ #1 target.
Bad Guy Closes In 149- Tributes die, the Gamekeepers attack, the Career tributes kill. Katniss is dehydrated, burned and stung. She teams up with Rue to wipe out the Career’s supplies, but loses her hearing and Rue in the process. The Gamekeepers change the rules so that two tributes can win if they’re from the same district, so Katniss finds Peeta and risks her life to save him from dying.
All’s Lost 299 False Defeat: Katniss and Peeta are trapped and starving to death.
DKofSoul 300 Katniss knows she has to create some romance, be desirable, to get food from game sponsors.
B Story 302 Katniss follows Peeta’s lead, playing up their romance for the audience by sharing stories and feelings. It pays off and Haymitch sends them the gift of food.
Break Into 3 327 Katniss and Peeta head back to the lake for the final battle.
Finale 329 Katniss and Peeta battle all the dead tributes (who were turned into monstrous mutts). Cato is mauled almost to death, and Katniss mercifully finishes him off. But in every good finale, there is a surprise twist, and here it is: the Gamekeepers change the rules back at the last second, saying only ONE tribute can win. Peeta wants it to be Katniss, after all the Games need a victor. But Katniss realizes that means the Gamekeepers won’t let them both die, so they take out the poisonous berries to eat together… forcing the Gamekeepers to yell, “Stop!” They both win!
Final Moment  374 Katniss returns to District 12 a rebel in the Capitol government’s eyes. She fears she’s put her loved ones in danger after all.

 

So Katniss has changed by the end of the story: from a girl who accepts her lot in life and does not challenge Capitol rule, to a girl who strives to find solutions and challenges the Capitol’s rules.

The other thing to note at the end is that Katniss’s problems in the Set Up are resolved by the end, even though this is a series and the story will continue. For there to be closure (and not an annoyingly abrupt cliffhanger ending) those main problems have to be solved:

1)   Katniss never smiled except in the woods with Gabe… but she smiled with Rue and Peeta in the Games.

2)   Katniss is not the forgiving type… but at the end she shows mercy towards her arch enemy Cato.

3)   Even though she hunts illegally, Katniss struggles to support her family… but now that she’s won the Hunger Games they will never go hungry again.

4)   Katniss is trapped in a hopeless, dead-end life of poverty in District 12… but now she won’t live in poverty, and there’s the hint that she won’t live a dead-end life either, that she’ll be part of a rebellion that changes her whole world.

Can you see how your favourite novels have these story elements? Or how your own novel does? What if it doesn’t?

Next up from Heather… how to use The Basic Beats to story edit.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “Basic Story Beats of The Hunger Games (based on the “Save The Cat” beat sheet)”

  1. Nice post, Heather! I’ve been trying to get my head around ‘Fun & Games’ while I work on the first part of Act 2 in my new WIP. It seems a simpler concept to apply to movies – it’s the place of fun montages, training sequences, tropey indulgence, etc – but harder to understand for novels.

    In your Hunger Games example, there is ~100 pages of Fun & Games that you can summarise in a 14 word sentence. So, what is the purpose of this beat? What key elements need to be incorporated?

    I look at movies like ‘The Martian’, ‘Chronicle’, ‘Her’ – and this beat literally is just fun and games – playing around in the new world. Matt Damon starts a farm and he gets his potatoes and bad 80s music. The boys in Chronicle make things fly and scare little kids in supermarkets. Joaquin starts dating Scarlett Johansson’s voice. It’s all very upbeat. But, what about stories where the Break into 2 is more reluctant – i.e. the new world isn’t fun or exciting or full of hope? Do Fun & Games then become Trials & Tribulations?

    Interested in your thoughts!

    1. Trials & Tribulations is a great way to put it, and that is the case in The Hunger Games. Though, if I think about it, since THG is sooooo dire, the training is the lightest, funnest part of the novel because Katniss isn’t in real danger yet. So I think the term Fun & Games still works. So even for stories where the world isn’t fun, this is still the most lighthearted section compared to what’s coming next.

      And you’re right that this beat sheet is easiest to apply to movies (the author is a screenwriter) because they’re so much shorter than novels. However, the general structure works. As for the “key elements” needed in the Fun & Games, this is the section that introduces allies and enemies, sets up the world, tests your MC, challenges your MC’s beliefs, establishes mysteries to be solved later, etc. But most importantly, this is the section where the MC begins going after a goal, and each scene should go back and forth between successes and failures, but more of the former if you’re going for a False Victory MidPoint.

      Hope that helps!

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