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Conflicts of The Hunger Games

Studies have suggested that groups of one-hundred or less are pretty good at self-regulation. There is no need for organized law enforcement in such a small community because the members all know each other and are able to keep tabs on one another. If one member commits an act that is detrimental to the group, the other 99 are willing and able to kick their butt. Even in a small community, there are rules that are agreed upon: a social contract.
It isn’t in the group’s best interest if they can’t trust one another. If someone is lying, stealing, killing, or lusting after someone else’s mate, conflict will ensue and the transgressor will be booted out. It’s hard to survive in the world alone, especially if you suck at hunting or gathering.

In groups larger than one-hundred, it is imperative to have some form of social contract with rules that are enforceable and enforced. The golden rule of most societies can be boiled down into the loose statement: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This isn’t effective if you’re visiting a community of purple people eaters.

Ancient Egyptians had a long list of “I will not ...” in their Husia. The Jews and Christians embraced commandments which included admonitions to not worship different gods or idols, to not lie or bear false witness against a neighbor, to not murder, commit adultery, steal, or covet their neighbor’s wife. Hinduism’s rules of dharma encouraged patience, forgiveness, self control, honesty, sanctity, control of senses, reason, knowledge or learning, truthfulness and absence of anger.

In your story world, your characters will be subject to the rules of their society's contract. If Dick breaks those rules, there will be consequences. He may fight to change the rules or reveal the dark side to one of his society’s rules.

It is especially important in Fantasy and Sci-Fi when writing about alternative worlds that you consider what the social contracts of that world demand of the people in it. In a historical novel, it is important to understand what the social contract of the time and place required. Morals and practices changed over time and with geography. Small desert tribes had a different social contract than societies in king-ruled Europe and those of hunter-gatherers in Africa.

It is considered a plot hole if someone applies modern sensibilities to the people from an actual historical setting. That doesn’t mean you can’t take some artistic license. However, having Victorian girls behave like the cast from Jersey Shore does not work for most readers, unless you portray an alternate universe in Sci Fi or add a Fantasy twist. Errors of this type will, at the very least, make the reader cringe. At worst, your book will go on the to-be-burned pile.

The terms of the social contract in Dick and Jane’s world will put pressure on them to behave in certain ways. The constraints can make whatever they have to do to solve the story problem difficult, if not impossible. If Dick and Jane violate the social contract in their world, they will pay a price for it.

If you are writing fantasy, come up with your own ten commandments for your fantasy world. How are they enforced? What are the consequences for breaking them? Are some more serious than others? Are some ignored on a routine basis without consequence?

In the Hunger Games, the citizens of District 12 aren’t supposed to hunt outside the fence, yet Gale and Katniss do so regularly. Because they transgress, Katniss is better prepared to survive the Hunger Games, so breaking the social contract benefited her. Katniss and Peeta break the contract again at the end of the first Hunger Games which sets up the conflict for the second book in the series.

Think about your story. Have you directly or indirectly explored social contracts in your story world? Have you put it to work for you in terms of complicating your characters’ lives? Have you utilized transgressions and punishments?

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