Creativity is a remix: How Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games

Mar 27, 2014

Kirby Ferguson’s classic Everything is a Remix project has hopefully disproved the myth that creativity descends from the heavens and that art is only “authentic” when it’s completely original.

Artists borrow. Artists recombine different influences, find interesting intersections in the well-travelled roads of culture; they invite us to see a familiar world with new eyes.

I’ve long been a fan of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, and when I learned about how she came up with her idea for the trilogy, I knew I should share it with you all as one more inspiring story about how creativity really works.

And they say watching TV is bad for you…

Collins got the idea for The Hunger Games while flipping channels.

“I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me,” Collins told Scholastic. “One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.”

Note how she talks about “the lines” blurring; she’s talking about the lines of categories and divisions we habitually make between things, events, and places. When these slip, when things that don’t normally go together are put together, interesting things happen. Like Steampunk. Like Platform 9¾. Like a thousand great ideas.

The values that drive us: remixing childhood influences

Collins’ beliefs about war and violence and the anesthetizing effect of the news, which are the ethical backbone of The Hunger Games trilogy, were seeded in Collins’ childhood.

Collins talks about the influence her father had on her portrayals of war: “When I was a kid, he was gone for a year in Viet Nam. It was very important to him that we understood about certain aspects of life. So, it wasn’t enough to visit a battlefield, we needed to know why the battle occurred, how it played out, and the consequences. Fortunately, he had a gift for presenting history as a fascinating story. He also seemed to have a good sense of exactly how much a child could handle, which is quite a bit.”

She believes that her portrayals of starvation and economic disparity were also influenced by her father, who grew up in the Depression.

Filling in the details

Writers, artists, and all kinds of creative people know that while the initial idea or vision is often the heart of a project (and the driving motivation to finish it), it’s really the details of the project -- a certain side character, a type of serif, a few squares of color -- that make the difference between that final product fulfilling that initial vision or not.

These details are also remixes of our daily experiences. Here are some details about Suzanne Collins’ life that readers will surely recognize as influences in her writing:

  • Her father was knowledgeable about edible plants and would go into the woods to collect them.
  • She was trained in sword fighting.
  • Some of her favorite novels as a teen were Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Freelancers, have you ever thought about how you come up with ideas? Do you think that, like Collins, your best ideas come from the blurring or blending of two or three things?

Lead photo by Carissa Rogers on Flikr