Editor Roundtable: The Hunger Games

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The odds are in our favor this week as Leslie takes us through The Hunger Games on a tour of Action-Adventure conventions. This 2012 Action film was directed by Gary Ross from a screenplay he wrote with Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins, based on Collins’s novel of the same name.



The Story

Genre: Action-Adventure: Labyrinth

  • Beginning Hook – When Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute from District 12 because her younger sister’s name is selected, she receives a wide range of advice, but when Haymitch tells her to get people to like if she wants to survive, she must decide whether to embrace that approach or rely exclusively on her hunting skills. As they enter the Capitol, Peeta waves to the crowds and encourages Katniss to join him, she refuses.
  • Middle Build – Katniss and Peeta arrive in the Capitol to train, and soon the Hunger Games begin, but when Katniss awakens from the tracker jacker attack and Rue tells her that Cato’s alliance has gathered all the supplies by the cornucopia, should Katniss risk separating and revealing their position to the career tributes, or continue to try to evade capture? They split up and Katniss destroys the supplies, but Rue is caught and then killed.
  • Ending Payoff – The Gamemakers announce a rule change that would allow Katniss and Peeta to be winners, but after the other tributes are defeated, the rule is rescinded and Katniss must decide whether to accept Peeta’s offer to sacrifice himself or sacrifice herself too. She decides not to give them a winner, and as both prepare to take poisonous berries, the Gamemakers declare them both the winners.

The Principle: Action-Adventure Labyrinth Plot Conventions – Leslie

Valerie – Leslie, can I just jump in here for a minute? I wanted to mention that, for writers who are struggling to identify their global genre, The Hunger Games is an excellent film to study. Clearly it’s a global action story, but it has elements of so many other genres; performance, society, love story, status …

As authors, we’re so close to our stories that we see elements of many genres in our work, and that’s ok. But one of them needs to reign supreme. Committing to one global genre is step one of the writing process.

Leslie – This season, I’ve talked about the importance of studying conventions. Quick reminder: Conventions are the characters, setting, and means of turning the plot that setup the life value change that occurs in the story. They are paid off by the Obligatory Scenes, which are events, choices, and discoveries specific to the genre that move the plot forward and move the global life value. The content genre will give you the primary ingredients for your story, but other elements contribute conventions as well.

Subgenre: Action-Adventure

Action subgenres are determined by the force of antagonism: in other words is your hero facing nature, another character, the state or other large organization, or time. The Adventure subgenre features characters facing different aspects of the environment. The specific element of the world that creates the power divide.

Action-Adventure Plots

Each Action subgenre includes four “plots,” some of which include specific conventions.

  • Labyrinth (power divide created by the labyrinth, though it’s not the villain): The Hunger Games, The Wizard of Oz, Pan’s Labyrinth. The Even Chance is the movie version of Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.
  • Monster (villain is an animal): Moby Dick, Jurassic Park, Jaws
  • Environment (villain is the global setting): The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno (both were books before they were movies); “To Build a Fire” the short story by Jack London, Gravity.
  • Doomsday (victim is the environment): The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Independence Day, and The Forge of God by Greg Bear.

Remember the sixteen plots can be employed in other primal genres with action elements, for example, Cujo is a horror story with a Monster plot.

Labyrinth Plot

What’s special about Labyrinth plot stories? The character faces a difficult environment they must learn to navigate, but the environment is not the primary villain. The setting, however, significantly increases the power divide between the villain and hero. If you think about Die Hard, Hans Gruber is a formidable villain, but if you take him and the hero, John McClane, out of the Nakatomi Plaza, the odds begin to even up.

In Action stories, the villain is the source of the conflict. The power divide is large, and so the hero should be vulnerable to the villain’s ordinary way of solving problems, but the villain is immune to the hero’s ordinary means of solving problems—at least their initial strategy. Even in an environment plot like The Towering Inferno, the fire is not vulnerable to water, and the hero must find another way to defeat it. Without the labyrinth of Hunger Games, Snow still has power over Katniss in his capacity as president, but back home in District 12, she could more easily use her hunting and tracking skills to evade capture.

What special conventions do we get with the labyrinth plot?


Sidekicks: You might see sidekicks in any action story, but they are particularly important in Adventure stories. Shawn has said they exemplify a component of the global hypothesis. I’ve also noticed that they provide interpersonal conflict in moments when the hero is not actively engaged in fighting the villain. The sidekick can serve as a herald, reminding us of what’s at stake. They can be a helper, but their vulnerability represents a challenge for the hero. Peeta serves as an example on all counts. He helps Katniss a great deal (telling her to run when she’s stumbling around under the influence of the tracker jacker poison) and lets us know what’s at stake in key moments, especially when it comes to personal definitions of success and their moral code. But her desire to obtain the medicine Peeta needs puts her life in danger.


Maze-like edifice: This is an environment or set of circumstances the hero must learn to navigate. In books and movies like The Maze Runner or Pan’s Labyrinth, the maze is literal, but it can be figurative, like learning to navigate the customs and routines aboard a Royal Navy ship for the first time as we see in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. The labyrinth significantly complicates the power divide between hero and villain, and the writer must establish the qualities that do that. One thing I’ve noticed in reading and watching Labyrinth stories is that up until the midpoint, the villain successfully uses the environment against the hero. At around the midpoint, the hero learns to navigate it and begins to use it against the villain. The Hunger Games includes a physical labyrinth, the arena where the tributes fight to the death, but there is an additional element that the tributes must win over sponsors to pay for useful objects to help them win. So Katniss must be strong, fast, and smart, but also people-pleasing if she’s going to be successful.

Means of Turning the Plot

Destination or promise: The hero has a quest that arises from the very beginning of the story with a clear purpose. The destination is directly related to saving the victim, defeating the villain, or escaping the labyrinth. Katniss must survive the Hunger Games to go home and continue to provide for her family.

Path: The hero has a clear path to the destination, like the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz. In The Hunger Games, Katniss must avoid being killed by the other tributes and kill those that remain, but as I mentioned earlier, she must also try to gain admiration of sponsors for help during the fight.

Set pieces: These are sequences within the global story that you can think of as mini-quests. The hero must solve a smaller problem as the next step in solving the bigger problem of defeating the villain and saving the victim. Set pieces come in five basic varieties, though in this story in particular there is some overlap or you might see them differently than I do:

  • Showdown: hero and villain or henchmen are actively engaged in fighting (e.g., Katniss and Peeta fight Cato to decide who will be the winner of the Games)
  • Deadline: the hero has to accomplish some task before the clock runs out (e.g., Katniss must obtain the medicine to heal Peeta before he dies of his injuries)
  • Pursuit: the hero chases or is chased by the villain or henchmen (e.g., when Katniss gets close to the edge of the arena, Seneca sends fire after her to send her back into the way of the other tributes and then the members of Cato’s alliance find her and chase her; the wild beasts chase Katniss and Peeta)
  • Trap: the hero must survive and escape a trap (e.g., Katniss is stuck up a tree with Cato’s alliance camping at the bottom, she must figure out a way to escape or she will starve; the packages at the cornucopia might also be seen as a trap)
  • Scramble: the hero and villain struggle for control of the MacGuffin (e.g., Katniss and Rue work together to destroy the food supply of Cato’s alliance)

Those are the additional conventions I’ve identified for the Labyrinth plot, but be sure to check the show notes for the rest of the conventions for The Hunger Games. Also, I’m currently working on a Fundamental Fridays post in which I’m collecting what I’ve learned from studying Action subgenre conventions this season. Be on the lookout for that.

Story Elements Contributing Conventions Here
  • Content Genre: Action-Adventure
  • Labyrinth plot
  • Internal genre: Status Admiration
  • Courtship Love Story subplot
  • Style: Drama, film
  • Reality: fantasy elements (not the fantasy sales category)
  • Sales Category: science fiction, YA, post-apocalyptic
Conventions for The Hunger Games

Characters and Archetypes

Hero: Katniss Everdeen

Villain: President Snow, along with gamemakers and career tributes

Victims: Prim, Rue, Peeta, and Katniss herself

Sidekicks: Rue and Peeta

Mentor (Status-Admiration, but also as part of the Hero’s Journey): Haymitch and Cinna


Maze-like edifice: Without the edifice, the villain has no  

Means of Turning the Plot

The hero’s goal or object of desire is to stop the villain, save the victim(s), and escape the maze-like edifice (action & labyrinth). Katniss wants to save herself to get back to her family, but she also wants to save Peeta and Rue. To do this, she must defeat the villain’s labyrinth, in other words, she must beat the other tributes in the Hunger Games.

The power divide between the hero and the villain is very large (action genre) – Katniss is a smart, sophisticated, and strong-willed young woman, as well as an excellent hunter. Her normal strategy to solve problems is to be resourceful and use her skills.

President Snow, as an individual, would be no match for Katniss. But Snow’s normal strategy for solving problems involves controlling the narrative of society and leveraging fear and hope to get large groups of people to do what he wants them to do. His government controls the resources in society, keeping people in the districts poor and malnourished. Snow hires gamemakers who create life-threatening circumstances within the arena, without risk to themselves. Snow pits the tributes against one another, and they compete for scarce resources before (the favor of sponsors) and during the Game (food drops and other needs), so they won’t join forces and refuse to kill one another.

The labyrinth gives Snow a distinct advantage over Katniss as she enters the system of the Hunger Games, where the odds are not in her favor.

Speech in praise of the villain – Note this is not an obligatory scene in action stories, the way it is in a thriller, but it reveals the villain’s point or purpose and also sheds light on the power divide (action genre): President Snow tells Seneca about why they allow a winner in the Hunger Games (at about 49 minutes). After all, they could easily kill all the tributes. Allowing a winner gives people hope, which is stronger than fear. But too much hope is dangerous, so they must contain it.

Clear Destination or Promise (Action-Adventure) – Katniss must win the Hunger Games.

Path (Action-Adventure) – Katniss must avoid being killed by the other tributes and kill those that remain as well as get the sponsors to like her.

Set Pieces (Action-Adventure)

  • Members of Cato’s alliance find Katniss and chase her.
  • Katniss is stuck up a tree with Cato’s alliance camping at the bottom.
  • Katniss and Rue work together to destroy the food supply of Cato’s alliance.
  • Katniss must obtain the medicine to heal Peeta before he dies of his injuries.
  • Wild beasts chase Katniss and Peeta.
  • Katniss and Peeta fight Cato to decide who will be the winner of the Games.

Other Perspectives

Kim – Internal Genre = Status-Admiration

I was so excited when Leslie picked The Hunger Games for us to study. I love the books/films. A quick personal note on the story’s POV, which has been highly influential on my own writing. In the books, the story is told in first person by Katniss in the present-tense. This was the first time I’d ever read a book like this. The intimacy and immediacy of being in step with Katniss, as well as not knowing what was going to happen because she didn’t, was so powerful for me. It seemed plausible that she could actually die because she was telling the story from that very moment. It’s interesting to me how the filmmakers captured this feeling with the camera–lots of close ups, organic shakes and movements, quick cuts between angles and panning to imitate that present and intimate feeling. I love it.

Katniss Everdeen is one of my all-time favorite characters. I’ve thought about her internal arc a lot over the last couple years but have never sat down with the tools to officially suss it out. So let’s put it through Friedman’s Framework, shall we?

  • Who is our protagonist?
    • Katniss Everdeen
  • What is she like at the beginning?
    • Character (strength of will, motives) — highly developed strong will, selfless motives, consistently applies/acts according to her moral code
    • Worldview (thought, beliefs, perspective) — not naive, sophisticated, guarded, doesn’t trust Peeta because she can’t understand his motives
    • Fortune (external circumstances) — impoverished, unknown/hidden from view/anonymity, under tyranny, victim
  • What is she like at the end?
    • Character (strength of will, motives) — highly developed strong will, selfless motives, consistently applies/acts according to her moral code
    • Worldview (thought, beliefs, perspective) — knows/trusts Peeta
    • Fortune (external circumstances) — victor, no longer impoverished, still under tyranny but no longer anonymous, highly regarded by underclass, considered a threat by tyrant
  • What aspect has changed the most?
    • Her fortune/external circumstances/status
  • How do we feel about this change?
    • Proud of her, can only hope I’d act with her level of integrity in that situation
  • Which Internal Genre best represents this change?
    • Status-Admiration
  • Cause and Effect Statement
    • General: When a sympathetic protagonist with nobility of character and motive, along with a sophisticated worldview, encounters misfortune they will rise in spite of it.
    • Specific: When a courageous young woman, who voluntarily takes her sister’s place in a fight to the death, refuses to compromise her moral code to survive, she  not only gains the allies she needs and survives, she becomes a symbol of hope that ignites a revolution against tyranny.

A high level of sophistication and strongly developed will is the price of admission to Morality stories, and the same is true of Status-Admiration. Admiration protagonists operate at a level of transcendence–where they give their gift selflessly for something greater than themselves. But for them it was never a question of “will they, won’t they”, unlike the Morality protagonist. The Admiration protagonist’s does not waiver on their moral code, and in fact it is this unwillingness to be selfish, the unwillingness to choose themselves over others, that causes them to rise in status.

So clearly we have a Status story that ends positively, which would narrow us to Sentimental or Admiration arc. But unlike a Status-Sentimental protagonist, the Status-Admiration protagonist is not seeking to rise. Their ambition is to do the right thing, as a sense of duty. The rising is merely a consequence of them being exactly who they are.

Life Values for Character / Worldview / Fortune established

In the Beginning Hook

  • Character/moral code: Katniss comforting her sister from a bad dream, sings to her.
  • External circumstances: Blatant poverty that she and everyone in District 12 live you.
  • Character/moral code: the woods are off-limits but they need to eat (adherence to her own moral code rather than rules).
  • Thought/sophistication: Skill in tracking and bow hunting.
  • External circumstances: Talking to Gale about the reality that if they ever tried to runaway they’d be cut and have their tongues cut out, aka under tyranny.
  • Character/moral code: “I’m never having kids.”

All of this is established through action in that opening scene. Then we watch Katniss remain consistent all through getting ready and checking in for the Reaping, her attention / action is focused on caring for her sister and helping her get through this scary day. Of course then when Prim is selected Katniss volunteers in her place, and gains her first public acknowledgement of respect / admiration–the salute by everyone in District 12. Then even in the goodbyes, her only concern is for Prim’s welfare.

In the Middle Build

  • Her sophistication is defined by self-awareness: “I’m not very good at making friends.”
  • When the gamemakers ignore her after she misses her target, their level of disrespect for her (as a stand-in for any tribute sent to die in the games) is unacceptable. She adheres to her own moral code rather than the rules and fires an arrow at the apple.
  • Then she is rewarded for being her authentic self by Haymitch and by the gamemakers with her score of 11.

You can see this pattern–gaining respect/admiration for being herself / upholding her own moral code–building over the course of the story. Katniss’s definition of Success is to Save Her Sister, which she can better ensure if she Survives the Hunger Games and gets to go home. The gradations of her Success / Failure Life Values seem to be particularly defined by anonymity. If she is invisible / unknown that equates to being unremarkable, which means she won’t get sponsors, which Haymitch tells her early on is the best way to survive. But Katniss is unwilling to “play the game” by being false–that goes against her moral code. But it turns out, when you’re true self is as awesome as Katniss, that will get you noticed as well (sponsors, respect from the people in the Districts). But, that same tenacity puts her at risk (the career pack sees her as a threat, the game maker links her to the riot in District 11, and President Snow recognizes her as a dangerous symbol of hope for the underclass–a threat to the system.)

In the Ending Payoff

The final moment I want to mention is the climax, when the rule about allowing two victors from the same district is revoked. In that moment, Katniss has to make her ultimate choice for Success vs Failure.  Does she choose to survive / return home to care for Prim, or does she choose to honor her moral code of selflessness? The surprising yet inevitable conclusion is that by honoring her moral code and choosing to face death together with the nightlock berries, her death becomes a greater threat than her life and forces the game maker to allow them to both live. This moment fantastically showcases the internal genre as the means to achieving the positive external life value.

Life prevails (and status rises) when heroes authentically adhere to their moral code, even in (or especially in) the face of death.

Establishing Katniss as an Admiration protagonist in this first book of the trilogy is the perfect set up for the next two books. I haven’t done the full analysis (yet) but my fairly educated hunch is that in Catching Fire Katniss goes through a Worldview-Revelation arc (she doesn’t know her allies are united to save her as part of a revolution), and then in Mockingjay I’d wager another Worldview arc but this time I’m guessing it’s Worldview-Maturation … something to do with understanding the nature of tyranny (the motives/methods of President Coin vs President Snow) and the nature of love (the way she feels about Gale vs the way she feels about Peeta). All told, Katniss remains a character whose actions authentically reflect her strong moral convictions.

The Big Meta Why

The reason that Admiration stories are essential for humanity seems obvious to me. They represent the highest levels of human integrity, and demonstrate what happens when strong-willed sophisticated people dedicate themselves to living a life that is authentic and aligns with their moral code. We need these examples in our books and in our lives.

Katniss Everdeen, Maximus Aurelius, John Snow, Andy Dufresne, Horatio Hornblower, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Status-Admiration protagonists. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

Jarie – Set and Setting Driving Dialogue

The setting of The Hunger Games is in a dystopian world that was ravaged by war and as penance, the people are subjected into a meager existence. To drive home total control, every year, The Hunger Games is played to remind those that rebelled of their treachery.

The masses are starving and it’s a struggle to say alive. Onto this desperate landscape, Katniss fends for herself and her family by hunting. Her mindset is about survival and providing for her family, which is her mother and her little sister Prim.

When Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games, in place of her sister Prim, the exchange before she leaves tells a lot about what she has been through and what’s about to happen:

Time 0:19:04

KATNISS: You can’t tune out again.

MOTHER: I won’t

KATNISS: No you can’t. Not like when Dad died. I won’t be there anymore. You’re all she has. No matter what you feel, you have to be there for her. Do you understand?

MOTHER: [Nods head]

KATNISS: Don’t cry. [KATNISS hugs here mother]. Don’t cry. Don’t. Don’t.


KATNISS: Prim, it’s okay. Prim, it’s okay. It’s okay, Prim.

PRIM: No! No! No!

(PRIM and MOTHER are escorted out)

KATNISS: I promise Prim.


KATNISS: I’m fine.

GALE: Listen to me. You’re stronger than they are. You are. Get to a bow.

KATNISS: They may not have …

GALE: They will if you show them how good you are. They just want a good how. That’s all they want. If they don’t have a bow, then you make one, okay? You know how to hunt.

KATNISS: Animals

GALE: It’s no different Katniss

KATNISS: There’s 24 of us, Gale. Only one comes out.

GALE: Yeah. And it’s gonna be you.


KATNISS: Take care of them, Gale. Whatever you do, don’t let them starve.


GALE: I’ll see you soon, okay?


Katniss’ character voice clearly comes through in this short scene where she sets forth her demands for the people that are left. She’s worried about her family and not about herself until Gale comes in. It’s this scene that I think captures Katniss’ naiviate in that she did not fully understand what volunteering would mean or did not think it fully through.

If we look at the 5 Tasks of Speech for Katniss, we get the following:

  1. Desire: Katniss wants to make sure Prim is take care of.
  2. The Sense of Antagonism: The Peacekeepers and the capital
  3. Choice of Action: She lectures her mom about taking care of Prim and not tuning out.
  4. Action/Reaction: Her mom nods in agreement.
  5. Expression: Katniss reassures Prim that everything will be okay.

This scene shows Katniss’ naiviate masked as sophification since she has no idea if things are going to be okay. She is putting on a brave face for Prim and wanting to make sure that Gale takes care of her family.

Katniss then gets whisked off to the capital for training and after 2-3 days they get evaluated. It’s this scene between the President and Seneca that shows how evil the President is and what the games are really for.

Time: 0:49:33


SENECA: She earned it.

PRESIDENT SNOW: She shot an arrow at your head

SENECA: Well, at an Apple.

PRESIDENT SNOW: Near your head. Sit down. Seneca, whd do you think we have a winner?

SENECA: What do you mean?

PRESIDENT SNOW: I mean, why do we have a winner? I mean ,if we just wanted to intimidate the districts, why not round up 24 of them at random and execute them all at once? Be a lot faster … Hope.


PRESIDENT SNOW: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.


PRESIDENT SNOW: So contain it.

SENECA: Right.

If we look at the 5 Tasks of Speech for President Snow, we get the following:

  1. Desire: President Snow wants to maintain control
  2. The Sense of Antagonism: Seneca, the game master, is playing it too loose
  3. Choice of Action: Explain why Hope is a powerful tool
  4. Action/Reaction: Seneca does not initially get it.
  5. Expression: The president directly threatens him.

For me, this is the villians object of desire and a continuation of the speech in praise of the villian that was done via video during the tribute selection. The president wants total power and how he gets it is by giving the people a little hope. It’s clear in this scene that if Seneca gives them too much hope, that will be bad. I think it’s no coincidence that Katniss has a suit of fire throughout as a foreshadow. It’s that spark that will become uncontained and give them problems.

While the dialogue is sparse, it’s used effectively throughout the whole movie. What the tributes say as well as the mentors Haywitch and Cinna are all in their character voices, which for an action film, is what matters the most.

Valerie – Narrative Drive and Escalating Stakes

As I’ve mentioned before, narrative drive doesn’t exist in a silo. It’s woven into the fabric of story, and as such, it touches on every other aspect of story. With the Hunger Games we have a wonderful opportunity to study how narrative drive is tied to escalating stakes and progressive complications.

Raising the stakes of a story is a common problem area for new writers, either because they’re not aware that they need to do it, or because they don’t want to throw their protagonists into the deep end.

Suzanne Collins didn’t have a problem with either of these areas. The stakes start out really high and they keep getting higher.

In the global inciting incident (GII) scene, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place at the hunger games. This is a well-crafted scene that does everything a GII needs to do; it establishes the genre, the global value, the protagonist’s objects of desire, and of course, the stakes. By the end of the reaping (which I believe is chapter one of the book and the first 15 minutes of the film), we know that Katniss’s life is at stake and our heads are filled with questions. (As an aside, each of the opening scenes turns the global value at stake in this story.)

  1. Will Prim be chosen for The Hunger Games?
  2. Will Katniss kill the deer?
  3. Will Gale be chosen in the games?
  4. Will Gale and Katniss be found in the forest?
  5. Will Gale and Katniss have a future together?
  6. Who will be chosen for the games?
  7. What will happen to Prim at the games?
  8. How will Katniss survive the games? (because we know she will survive, the question therefore is how)
  9. Who is Peeta? (friend or foe to Katniss)
  10. Peeta and Katniss have a shared past, but what is it about?
  11. Will Mrs. Everdeen be able to keep it together for Prim?
  12. Are Katniss and Gale in love? He loves her, but how does she feel?

One question propels the entire story forward; how will Katniss survive? Even though the story starts with a high stakes question, Suzanne Collins found a way to take them even higher. For example:

  1. We discover that Katniss is to have a mentor (opportunity), but he’s a drunk (obstacle). How can she survive without someone to train her?
  2. To win the game, Katniss needs to get people to like her. This is not what she’s good at – in fact, she’s terrible at it. (obstacle) How can she win if no one likes her?
  3. Peeta understands how to play the game and is likable. Does this give him an advantage?
  4. Cinna is an ally (opportunity) but will Katniss listen to him (because it’s obvious she won’t listen to anyone else)?

I could go scene by scene and do a full Power of 10 (P10) analysis on this film, like Kim and I did in our P10 article on the Fundamental Friday’s blog. With each obstacle we wonder how Katniss will overcome it to survive the games. And with each opportunity, we wonder if she’ll mess it up and make life worse. Remember, what Katniss needs is to learn to be vulnerable. Because she refuses to do that, she ruins each opportunity that comes her way.

Even when she inadvertently does something to help her situation (like shooting the apple out of the pig’s mouth), she also ends up creating more problems for herself (she gets a rating of 11/12 and catches Snow’s attention). Snow doesn’t want her to win because it would mean that the districts would have too much hope. So now, it’s not only the other tributes who want Katniss to fail, but also the president. We’re still asking ourselves the same question—how will Katniss survive the games—but now, her chances of surviving which were never very good, are getting even smaller. As a result, we’re becoming more and more curious. The more curious we become about a story, the more likely we are to turn the page, or in this case, to keep watching.

Listener Question

To wind up the episode, we take questions from our listeners. This week’s question comes to us from Matt, who writes:

How does an author take real life experience and fictionalize it into a story that works? Are their real-2-fiction conversion principles or — as I suspect — is it entirely subjective and must be considered on a story-event-by-story-event case? And what role does intended audience understanding play in these decisions?

Jarie – Thanks for the question, Matt. I struggle with this all the time as I’m writing my memoir as well as taking real life people and their histories for the chapter book I’m working on about a Magical Mystical Mirror.

What I have learned about this is that the principles of story apply to real-life stories as well except sometimes your real-life stories won’t have all of the five commandments present. If they do, they might be weak and that’s where the art comes in. Your real-life stories most likely don’t have the proper conventions or obligatory scenes for the genre as well. If a real-life story is worth telling, then my guess is that most of the commandments of story are present but need a little story spiced to kick it up a notch. That’s where the art comes in to make the progressive complications more complicated, the crisis question amped up or the climax more exciting.

I don’t think the intended audience plays a role in the conversion from real-life to fiction. All stories must work at the 5 commandment level and that should be independent of audience. Your best bet is to write down the real-life story as accurately as you can. Then apply the 5 commandments and see where the holes are. Then go in and add the spice. Reread it and see how it works. Do this until you feel that the real-life has been transformed to fiction enough to move your macro story forward. One word of caution. Remember that your fictional additions much be in the voice of the character. If the real-life person would not do something, then their fictional character should not as well.

If you have a question about any story principle, you can ask it on Twitter @storygridRT, or better still, by clicking here and leaving us a voice message.

Join us next time for some hilarity in dialogue as Jarie examines the 1988 British-American heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda  as a great example of  how set and setting drive dialogue. Why not give it a look during the week, and follow along with us?

Your Roundtable Story Grid Editors are Jarie Bolander, Valerie Francis, Anne Hawley, Kim Kessler, and Leslie Watts.

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Leslie Watts

Leslie Watts is a certified Story Grid editor, writer, and podcaster. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember: from her sixth-grade magazine about cats to writing practice while drafting opinions for an appellate court judge. When the dust settled after her children were born, she launched Writership.com to help writers unearth the treasure in their manuscripts. She believes writers become better storytellers through practice, and that editors owe a duty of care to help writers with specific and supportive guidance to meet reader expectations and express their unique gifts in the world.