I 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:
|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.
|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.
|Rebellion. Gale suggests they could escape District 12 and make it on their own in the woods. Katniss won’t even entertain the idea.
|At the reaping, Katniss’s sister Prim’s name is picked.
|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
|Katniss volunteers as tribute and goes to the Hunger Games instead of Prim.
|Peeta. Katniss wrestles with how she owes Peeta her life but she’ll have to kill him in the Hunger Games.
|Fun + Games
|Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol to train for the Hunger Games.
|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
|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.
|False Defeat: Katniss and Peeta are trapped and starving to death.
|Katniss knows she has to create some romance, be desirable, to get food from game sponsors.
|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
|Katniss and Peeta head back to the lake for the final battle.
|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!
|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.