(Caution: spoilers galore for the events of Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins)
So I just recently watched Mockingjay: Part One, and I’ve come to two conclusions:
1) I don’t usually condone murder, but someone needs to kill that guy behind me who kept clapping every ten minutes. Yes, Katniss shooting down a plane with a bow and arrow is cool and all, but it is not cool enough to warrant an obnoxious clap while people are sitting right in front of you. What is the point of “clapping” anyway? Who exactly thought that smacking your hands together loudly should be a good way of expressing your approval? Oh, and also:
2) While splitting Mockingjay was almost definitely a decision motivated by greed, that doesn’t matter much because it all worked out perfectly.
I liked the book and all, but the last third of it was a tiny bit rushed and confusing. If Mockingjay was made into one single installment, it would’ve made an even more rushed and even more confusing movie. Katniss’s PTSD would not have been explored to nearly as much an extent, every single one of Effie’s scenes would’ve been cut, and that whole Hanging Tree segment probably never would’ve happened, which would suck because that song was quite possibly the best scene in the whole series, if measured in the amount of chills it gave me. I mean seriously, I’m listening to it right now, and I just shed a mockingjay-shaped tear.
If Mockingjay was made into one two and a half hour movie, at least half of Part 1 would’ve had to be cut. I can only think of two, maybe three scenes from that Part 1 I’d be willing to get rid of, let alone an entire hour’s worth. Not to mention the sheer amount of character development we’d lose in a single adaptation. Prim, Finnick, and Johanna barely get enough screentime as it is. Their deaths would be utterly meaningless* to those who haven’t read the books, and disappointing to those who have, if their screentime was limited to a single movie.
But really, the one thing everyone on the internet seem to be forgetting is that the book itself is split into two very distinctive parts. Katniss’s entire motivation in the first half is to do what she can to save Peeta, while she spends the second half getting to grips with his condition as Peeta slowly heals. And the first half focuses on the use of war propaganda as both sides try to manipulate the districts into joining their cause, while the second half focuses on the war that results. In the words of producer Nina Jacobsen, “Mockingjay 1 is about the propaganda war, Mockingjay 2 is about war.”
Not to mention, if Mockingjay was only made into one movie, Natalie Dormer never would’ve been casted. And that would be a tragedy.
*Prim and Finnick’s deaths, I mean. Not Johanna’s.
Well, not that much, compared to some of the people I follow on Goodreads, who apparently read suspiciously close to the speed of light.
Yet in all the books I’ve read, there is not a single one in which there’s nothing I wouldn’t change if I were given the chance. I’m not trying to say that I consider myself better than any of these authors, just that there are small (and admittedly, sometimes big) moments where I know I would’ve written things differently.
Keep in mind, before any of you less level-headed people post angry comments like “How dare you insult A Song of Ice and Fire!” or “I’ll have you know that John Green’s writing saved my life!” you should know that all the books I mention happen to be favorites of mine. Which makes me want to change certain things about them even more, because then, in my mind, these books would be perfect.
(Caution: Slight spoilers for #2, and huge spoilers for #3 and #4. You have been warned.)
1) Take out a single word from Paper Towns, by John Green.
Paper Towns was my favorite John Green novel, probably. All I know is that while I liked his other books, this was the only one that I’ve felt the need to reread so far. And both times, there was always one line that’s bugged me more than any other. See, in the first chapter there’s a conversation between Quentin and his mother over the Senior Prom. Quentin hates prom and all things related to prom, because well, he’s a bit of a wet blanket. So his mom says, “Well, there’s no harm in just going with a friend. I’m sure you could ask Cassie Hiney.” Which prompts the following line:
And I could have asked Cassie Hiney, who was actually perfectly nice and pleasant and cute, despite having a fantastically unfortunate last name.
Did you spot what was wrong with this sentence? It should be fantastically obvious.
See, in my mind, the word “fantastically,” is a lot like the word “very,” in that it adds absolutely* nothing to whatever you’re trying to say. Except it’s so much worse, because “very” is a barely noticeable word, only two syllables long and so commonly used that most readers won’t even care. “Fantastically,” meanwhile, has five whole syllables and thirteen letters, which, considering it’s complete uselessness as a word, is thirteen letters and five syllables too long.
Had I written this, I simply would’ve put:
…despite having an unfortunate last name.
Tada! All is right with the world again.
You’re welcome, John Green. But next time, make sure to get permission from me and my infinite wisdom, before using an adverb over three syllables long. 4) Restructure at least two hundred pages ofA Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin.
Of the five currently published ASoIaF books, ADwD is the one that had the most wasted potential. The problem was, there was simply too many chapters that could’ve been cut completely, or at the very least, severely edited. At least three Tyrion and Daenerys chapters could’ve been cut, along with the first Davos, Jon and Quentyn chapters. Plus, Arya’s two chapters should’ve been moved to A Feast for Crows, where it would’ve nicely completed her arc. If you were to also edit out the hundreds of sentences dedicated to food and bodily functions, you’d have at least two hundred pages left, which could’ve been used to resolve: 1) The Battle of Meereen, 2) The Battle for Winterfell, and 3) Jon Snow’s “death.”
If those three story lines had actually been somewhat resolved, I feel like the reaction to ADwD would’ve been much more positive. And I for one would’ve placed it in the same league as the first three books, which is saying a lot considering that they’re all up there as one of my favorite novels of all time.
3) Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, should’ve been at least thirty pages longer.
I didn’t like Mockingjay at first, for different reasons. I thought it was too depressing, and Katniss wasn’t as cool and kick-ass-y as she used to be. But I’ve since changed my mind.
The key to liking this book is not to think of it as a story about a bunch of people rebelling against an unjust government (which the first two books would’ve led you to believe) but as a story about the horrors of war and the effect it can have on someone. Sure it was depressing, but that was the point. And maybe Katniss wasn’t as competent as she used to be, but considering the sheer amount of horrible things she’s had to witness and take part in, people should probably cut her some slack.
When I looked at it this way, Mockingjay almost became my favorite book in the trilogy. Almost.
The one problem: it was too short.
With so many series these days, as the books grow more and more popular, the editor has less and less control over the author, who’s books will get bigger and bogged down with unnecessary subplots and details. And so the series falls victim to its own success.
Yet here it was just the opposite. This book could’ve used a whole lot more detail, especially during the last third of the novel. I believe there was a sentence halfway through part three that went like, “my tears freeze on my cheek.” It took me straight out of the story because, wait, it’s cold outside? This whole time I was envisioning the setting as a beautiful summer night, cloudy with a chance of horrific violence and child-bombing, and as it turns out, only the second part of that was correct. It was actually the middle of winter, yet I didn’t even realize that until they were in the Capitol for at least four chapters.
Not to mention, I think Prim’s death scene was rushed, and it was written in a confusing way. I don’t think I even realized that she had died until a few pages after it happened, then I had to read the scene over again just to make sure.
Admittedly, my lack of attention and forgetfulness might be to blame here. But I’m going to criticize Collins for this anyway.
1) A Storm of Swords: The Viper should have won.
I’m sure many will disagree with me here, because I myself am still on the fence with this. From one storytelling perspective, Oberyn’s death makes perfect sense: Tyrion had already found himself on trial back in the first book, and had managed to get out alive by calling for a trial by combat, which is exactly what he does here. Having a main character get out of the exact same situation in the same exact way is a little too lucky, especially for an author like George R.R. Martin.
BUT… Oberyn is like, really cool. When his names pops up, the word “badass” usually follows, and I’d argue that even if he didn’t die, Tyrion’s storyline would still have been about the same. Sure, Tyrion wouldn’t have been sentenced to death, but he definitely would’ve been at risk of being assassinated by one of Cersei’s men, and no one would’ve cared because at this point, he was completely friendless, despised by almost everyone and had little to no political power whatsoever. Now, it is possible that Oberyn would’ve brought Tyrion back with him to Dorne, but being that Tyrion’s still a Lannister, I don’t think that would’ve happened. Oberyn didn’t give a shit about Tyrion. He just wanted revenge on his poor sister, who had had one hell of a bad day about sixteen years ago.
So basically, everything that happened afterward in Tyrion’s storyline still would’ve happened. He would still be pissed off at his family, Jaime and Varys still would’ve helped him escape, and he’d still learn the truth about Tysha and murder his father. His storyline would’ve been exactly the same, except less depressing.
Not to mention, in A Feast for Crows, we could’ve visited Dorne through Oberyn’s point of view, a character we already know and like, instead of from the point of view of a bunch of strangers we’ve never met before and have little reason to care about.
And besides, major criticism of A Song of Ice and Fire is that it’s too depressing for it’s own good. I had always disagreed with this criticism, up until this scene. I mean, really Martin? You’re going to introduce this ridiculously cool character with a motivation everyone can get behind, just to give him a horrible, gory, humiliating death, while screwing Tyrion over at the same time? Right in front of his wife? Bad Martin! Bad!
So, do you agree with my points? Do you disagree? Do you kind of agree but not really? Comment below. Also, make sure to vote on this poll (which I forgot to put in the last post).
Special thanks to those who submitted a name. You’re da best.
*Sort of like how “absolutely” doesn’t add much either. But I’m a blogger without an editor. John Green is a famous writer with an editor, and so he should be held to higher standard.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled “Why Short Books are (Usually) Better than Long Books,” where I basically claimed that short books are awesome and long books are the spawn of the Satan. Well, I changed my mind. Why? Well for one thing, I’m a quarter of the way through A Game of Thrones, and apart from Catelyn’s chapters, I’m loving it more than Spongebob loves jelly-fishing. Also, I began to look back at all the long books I’ve read, like The Stand, American Gods, and It (all these books are shown below, by the way), and began thinking about why I love them. And that inspired this post.
Reason #1: Bigger book, bigger plot: Sure, there are plenty of short books with complex plots, but you could only fit so much plot in such a tiny space before the book starts to seem rushed and the characters start to feel neglected. With a large book, you can have a huge, ambitious, complicated plot, along with dozens of subplots, with enough pages to weave them all together perfectly. American Gods was great at this.
Reason #2: That feeling of not wanting the book to end is magical. I like to think we all get that feeling with certain books. I certainly have. In fact I made a list of books I didn’t want to end.
The last four Harry Potter books.
The Stand, by Stephen King.
The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Book Thief, though mostly because I was dreading the end.
Paper Towns, for the same reason above.
A couple other novels I’m forgetting about.
What do all these books have in common? Apart from Paper Towns, all these books are long, with the next shortest book being over 550 pages. I really only get the feeling of not wanting the story to end wit a long book, probably because the characters are usually much more developed, the world is more clearly defined, and a bunch of other reasons I can’t think of.
Maybe it’s because the midsection, in a well-written long book, is the best part IMHO. I only started to get into The Lord of the Rings once the Council of Elrond ended and the pace stopped being almost unbearably slow. I finished The Two Towers in three days, whereas the The Fellowship of the Ring took me two weeks and The Return of the King took me a week and a half.
With short books you’re too busy trying to get to the end that you don’t take the time to simply enjoy what you’re reading. Unless you’re reading Paper Towns.
[It just occurred to me that if anyone following my blog hasn’t read Paper Towns yet, then I’ve probably set their expectations unrealistically high, if such a thing is possible with John Green’s masterpiece (suck it, TFioS!).]
Reason #3: If you don’t like the book, it still makes an amazing door-stopper. Or you could use it to kill spiders, or to block bullets, or as a weapon. A large, hardcover book being thrown at you does more damage than twelve Jackie Chans and a Tywin Lannister combined.
Reason #4: Long Books Take Their Time.
I’m a firm believer that in a story, every scene should serve to advance the plot, which is why I got annoyed at Stephen King when he spends ten pages developing a character’s wife in It, only for her to never be seen or mentioned again. But you don’t have to rush the story so the novel stays under a certain amount of pages.
I thought this was a major problem in Mockingjay. The entire novel, except for the first part, seemed rushed. Huge plot points were underwritten, and barely any time was spent mourning a certain well-loved character who deserved a better death scene. The book would have been a lot better if this book was given an extra hundred pages to further develop the plot and characters, and maybe try to make it slightly less depressing.
With longer books, you rarely have to worry about the story being rushed.
Looks like I’m completely out of reasons. What do you think? Am I right, or am I just completely wrong as usual?
Slightly off-topic: I’m doing NaBloPoMo this year, and I must know, is it considered cheating if I re-blog someone and count it as my post for the day? I need answers, people!
I was originally thinking of titling this: “Writing Advice From Someone You Should Definitely Not be Taking Advice From,” but that’s too long of a title. So I’ll just make it a new category, and hopefully it might become a thing.
But this really isn’t advice, it’s more of my opinion on deaths in literature. And I’m pro-death!
If I had said that last sentence fragment in any other circumstance, I would have been given a bunch of dirty looks, and possibly a rag-tag bunch of teenage hoodlums would gang up on me and beat me to death.
Because I’m the greatest person that ever lived, my death would be a tragedy to all my friends and family. But if all my friends and family did was grieve over my brutal death and nothing else, that would not make a good story. The death would seem pointless since all it did was make the story much sadder than it was in the beginning. It did not help the plot, nor the characters, nor the reader, who would probably have thrown the book away by this point, saying “It’s not worth reading now that Matt’s gone!” Pointless character deaths lead to a boring story.
Now, if my death had caused my heroin addicted but still highly intelligent brother to plot revenge on those teenage hoodlums, then the death wouldn’t seem pointless, because without it, the plot of the book would not have happened, and those stupid hoodlums would not have been taught a lesson (albeit in a very violent way). The book has improved because of my death.
(Yes, in this scenario, I am a dead side character in a hypothetical novel where my brother is a heroin addict for some reason. Just go with it.)
And that, my dear readers, is my opinion of stories, whether it be a book, movie, or TV show; killing off characters just for the sake of killing off characters is bad storytelling, and will lead to a lot of angry readers/viewers, (and possibly a bunch of dangerous teenage hoodlums with plans to kill you).
Killing off characters is also addictive. The moment you kill off a character “because I felt like it,” you won’t be able to stop. Your near-perfect manuscript will now turn into a sloppy, depressing mess, with dead characters with so much potential lying all over the place. And soon you’ll look over your manuscript and realize that you have actually just written the book Mockingjay without even realizing it. That happens sometimes.
One of my favorite novels is The Shining, by Stephen King. Why? Because despite being a horror novel, a surprisingly small amount of people actually die at the end. Despite the stunning lack of violent, gory deaths, the book is a million times scarier than any other horror movie I’ve ever watched, where characters are killed left and right. Why? Because 1.) You get to know the characters more, which leads to 2.) You actually care about the characters, and would prefer it if they didn’t die, and 3.) This 1, 2, 3… writing technique is cool. Thanks, John Green!
This post may surprise you, since I’ve often commented on people’s blogs saying how much fun it is to kill off my characters. I fibbed. Coming up with a good character death is fun, but actually killing off the character isn’t. Unless you’re a soulless monster who preys off the fear of orphaned children, you should feel at least a little bit of sadness when a character you created and watched develop dies. If you are a soulless monster, you probably shouldn’t be a writer to begin with.
That being said, here’s a list of cool ways to kill your characters:
Have the gun he/she’s using malfunction and explode in his/her hand. It’s a horrible way to die. 🙂
Have a boomerang do it. I’m not sure how you’ll pull this off in a believable way, but still. (Bonus points if it belongs to the character.)
Have the character get shot by a random bullet and never spoken of again (they should have done this to Jar Jar Binks).
Have the character get hit by a penny someone dropped off the Empire State Building, and then have another character, having witnessed the event, say to his friend, “See, I told you a penny dropped from the Empire State Building would kill you. You owe me a twenty bucks.” and then his friend would say, “Okay, fine,” and begrudgingly hand him the money. They both walk away like nothing happened.
Have him/her die from a severe chronic nosebleed.
Or from suffocating on a basketball (it’s possible).