The following is in response to The Hunger Games, a book by Suzanne Collins.
During this last few months I have heard a lot of praise for Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games—undoubtedly brought on because of the recent release of the movie based on the book—so I decided what the heck, I’ll pick it up. And I’m so glad I did! Collins has proved to be an amazing storyteller. I don’t want to ruin the book for those that haven’t read it with a huge amount of spoilers—and the fact that I am being cautious about not spilling the beans is a testament to how much I enjoyed the read—so I am going to talk a little bit about something I found interesting with the way the book was written.
From the very first sentence to the tension-filled conclusion of the book, I wondered why Collins decided to write it in the present tense. Maybe it seems so queer to me because I have simply never seen this in fiction—this is the part where you castigate me for not reading as much as I should. I checked the all mighty Google and it seems that most of the classics are in past tense—The Bible, Gilgamesh, and the epic poems by Homer, Virgil, Dante and Milton. So why has there been a shift to using the present tense, especially in fiction? I mean, if it was good enough for Homer in 860 BC then why not Collins?
Author of the literary article Fiction in the Present Tense, John Harvey reminds us of Roland Barthes’ novel Writing Degree Zero and the point that he made about the present tense: “Barthes noted that narratives in the past tense tend to place events in a neat order of a cause and effect, at too great a remove from the chaos of the present moment (Textual Practice, p.74).” Though I can see where Harvey and Barthes are coming from, I didn’t find myself confused in the chaos of the present while reading The Hunger Games. The overwhelming truth is that, writing in the present tense creates a sense of immediacy, therefore pulling the reader in. I know this because The Hunger Games was a very fast read, keeping me interested at every turn of the page. Perhaps in the past writing in the present tense caused a lot of odium for the genre of fiction, but this is not the case nowadays and Collins’ masterpiece is the shinning example.