The Hunger Games and Small, Poignant Moments

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The Hunger Games: A Reflection on Small, Poignant Moments

This afternoon, I cried my heart out in a movie theater. I wasn’t the only one sniffling away for ten minutes or so. The movie was The Hunger Games. The scene that stole our hearts was when Katniss sang a song for Rue. Ironically, the same thing happened a year ago while reading the book. Same scene, same emotion.  This is the power of strong storytelling.

Today’s blog is my simple reflection on how an author—like the wonderful Suzanne Collins—makes moviegoers and booklovers alike, cry. Or laugh, wonder, and think.

Ever walk away from a book but a scene sticks with you in your head? The goal of small, poignant moments is to connect a reader with a character on an emotional level.

Take this scene from the Hunger Games:

All my bravado is gone. I’m weak from pain and hunger but can’t bring myself to eat. Even if I can last, eyes from some animal peer at me from the neighboring tree—a possum maybe—catching the firelight of the Careers’ torches. Suddenly, I’m up on one elbow. Those are no possum’s eyes, I know their glassy reflection too well. In fact, those are not animal eyes at all. In the dim rays of light, I make her out, watching me silently from between the branches.

Rue.

In one short scene, the author provides you with a likable impression of Rue and the heroine Katniss’s reaction to her. This scene initiates their friendship so when the tearjerker of a small moment appears later, it makes it so much more effective. Emotion: Worry for heroine mixed with compassion for little Rue.

Consider this scene from The Black Hawk by the fabulous Joanne Bourne:

She gave her attention to pouring hot water onto the tea leaves. Rain drummed on the roof. Since they were not talking, since they were not looking at each other, it seemed very loud.

He said, “As soon as you drink that, you should leave. It’s getting worse out there.”

I must do this now, before I lose my courage. “I am hoping to spend the night.”

This scene stuck with me for days. The simple act of preparing tea, so controlled and so nonchalant, contrasts beautifully with the tension between the hero and heroine.  The tea is prepared, swirled, and poured (before and after the excerpt above) yet it offsets the subtle internal dialogue between the characters. EMOTION: Anxiousness, hoping characters will break down the invisible barrier between them.

Consider this excerpt from The Lord of Scoundrels by the masterful Loretta Chase.

Her glance flicked over his companions. “Go away,” she said in a low, hard tone.

The whores leapt from his lap, knocking over glasses in their haste. His friends bolted up from their places and backed away. A chair toppled and crashed to the floor unheeded.

Only Esmond kept his head. “Mademoiselle,” he began, his tones gentle, mollifying.

She flung back the shawl and lifted her right hand. There was a pistol in it, the barrel aimed straight at Dain’s heart. “Go away,” she told Esmond.

Dain heard the click as she cocked the weapon and the scrape of a chair as Esmond rose. “Mademoiselle,” he tried again.

“Say your prayers, Dain,” she said.

This is one of my all time favorite small, poignant moments. What insight into both the heroine and hero—and a clever, never-done-before way of showing the darker side of both characters. The heroine clearly has had enough of Dain’s whoring ways, and what better way to prove her point! Emotion: Laughter.

 

Finally, the scene that prompted this post, from The Hunger Games:

“Sing,” she (Rue) says, but I barely catch the word.

Sing? I think. Sing what? I do know a few songs . . .

Sing. My  throat is tight with tears, hoarse from smoke and fatigue. But if this is Prim’s, I mean, Rue’s last request, I have to at least try. The song that comes to me is a simple lullaby, one we sign fretful, hungry babies to sleep with. It’s old, very old I think. Made up long ago in our hills. What my music teacher calls mountain air. But the words are easy and soothing, promising tomorrow will be more hopeful than this awful piece of time we call today.

           (Katniss sings song.)

Everything’s still and quiet. Then, almost eerily, the mocking-jays take up my song.

I love the bit about the mocking-jays and how even the mutated birds seem affected by Katniss’s humanity. This scene shows such strength of character for the author’s heroine that the movie The Hunger Games was able to effectively capture it, as well. Emotion: Compassion, respect, pride . . . you name it.

Next time you find yourself smiling or crying over one particular scene, stop and reflect on the author’s craft, and how she/he makes the scene stick within your mind as well as your heart.

Please comment and share your favorite small, poignant moments and why you remember them so.

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12 Comments

  1. Lori

     /  April 1, 2012

    My two favorites are,

    “God bless us each and every one.”
    “Please sir, I’d like some more.”

    Reply
  2. Hi Lori, Thanks for commenting. Love these moments. Michele

    Reply
  3. Great post, Michele. It is a truly talented author that can make us remember the small moments in addition to the Big Black Moment, or a pivotal scene. I just re-read Lord of Scoundrels, and that book is chock full of small moments. My favorite, which I highlighted the first time I read the story:

    A quicker nod this time. And then, “Yes, Papa.”

    Yes, Papa.

    And in Lord Beelzebub’s dark, harsh Dartmoor of a heart, the sweet rain fell and a seedling of love sprouted in the once barren soil.

    Maya Banks is also a master at this. Her writing packs a punch, usually in a small amount of words, and I’ve been known to shed a tear or two during one of her books.

    Reply
  4. Hi Joanna, wow, excellent example. Such a simple lead into a powerful final sentence, and it gives you such a clear idea about Lord Beelzebub (can’t stop grinning when I say his name, too). Michele

    Reply
  5. jennablueblogs

     /  April 3, 2012

    Michele,
    Love the post–you are right, Hunger Games had so many of those moments. I myself cried not only at Rue’s scene but when Katniss volunteers for Prim–still gives me goosebumps!
    just recently I read one that got me: Maria K. Alexander has a scene in Love’s Second Chance that comes to mind…the moment heroine falls in love with the little boy. It’s up to her if she wants to post it! Unpublished for now–but someday you’ll see it in print!
    Jenna Blue

    Reply
    • Aww, Jenna….how sweet of you to think of something from my story as a poignant moment. I’ve very flattered!

      Here’s the excerpt from Love’s Second Chance to which you were referring:

      “They settled onto one of the couches while the other kids assembled and sat on mats and blankets that magically appeared. Father Dominic had lit a fire in the massive stone fireplace and glow of the fire cast warm shadows over the room.
      Kate couldn’t help but study Lucas. He loved the movie and laughed at all the silly parts. Kate loved the feel of his small and warm body cuddled up next to hers. It reminded her of evenings she had looked forward to having with Tony and Mario. Evenings she would never have. The longing for family, her family, overwhelmed her so much that she felt tears well in her eyes. She tilted her head towards Lucas’s and breathed in his sweet little boy scent. He glanced up at her and gave her the sweetest smile. And in that heartbeat, she fell gob-smacked in love with a six year old.”

      Maria

      Reply
    • Hi Jenna, Yes, the scene where Katniss volunteers really set the tone of the movie, too. The audience knew that they were in for a suspense but with an underlying sadness (and maybe even statement about society today).

      Reply
  6. Great post, Michele. I just took my daughter to see The Hunger Games over the weekend. We loved the movie as well as the book and tears were definitely shed over Rue.

    Another movie I recently watched again was “Soul Surfer”. This is a wonderful true story of Bethany Hamilton, a young girl who lost her arm to a shark while surfing. It’s such an inspiring story. I didn’t read the book, but watched the movie, so can’t remember the exact dialogue. It was at the end of the movie where Bethany just caught the most perfect wave, one that would have allowed her to win the surfing competition, but it didn’t count. You could tell her friends and family were upset and wanted to challenge the judges. Her father looked at her and said something like:

    “But it didn’t count.”

    She looked at her father, smiled, and said. “Oh, it counted.”

    And she was SO right. I get goosebumps just remembering that scene. It’s a great movie if you haven’t seen it. It teaches about rising above challenges and believing in yourself. It’s great for a pre-teen girl.

    Reply
  7. Hi Maria. This is exactly the small moment idea I was referring to. You captured it perfectly. I love ending on strong, short sentences (after a more lengthy description). You did it SO WELL here – no wonder you’re winning contests ! 🙂
    Michele

    Reply
  8. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  April 8, 2012

    Hi, Michele,
    So late to the party this week! It truly is a gifted author who can put these small, poignant moments into a story and give you the big picture instantly. Kathleen Long does it (multiple times) in Chasing Rainbows, and our own Joe has done it in his ms, still to be published. Here is one of his perfect, lyrical lines that speaks volumes (hope you don’t mind, Joe!)…”a queen’s tears flow just as full and free as a slave’s”. That one line evokes all kinds of pictures, and makes you wonder, why is the queen crying. Of course, if you read the book up until that point, you know exactly why the queen is crying, and you are crying with her.

    Kristin Hannah is another author who is great at this…and in Winter Garden, one scene is so heartwrenching, it left me gasping. For years, Anya has barely survived in WWII St. Petersburg. Finally, she receives train tickets to freedom, and the promise of a reunion with her soldier husband. She packs her ill son and her daughter onto the train. Her son gets sicker, so she sends her young daughter on ahead to meet her father. After trying unsuccessfully for weeks to save her son, Anya boards a train to meet up again with her daughter and husband. As Anya disembarks from the train, she sees them and starts to run to them, when suddenly, a bomb explodes right on top of what is left of her family.

    I could list scene after scene from my favorite books, and I would venture to say that these books are my favorites in large part because of the author’s ability to evoke such emotion in one scene. Sometimes, everything that leads up to that scene makes it special. Other times, (like the opening of Anne of Green Gables), these scenes set the stage for the rest of the book.

    Janet

    Reply

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