There are lots of writing tips out there. I am reading popular science fiction to help me understand the “rules”.
The Maze Runner (book one of a series that also includes a prequel) certainly qualifies as popular. It rates 4 1/2 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with 324 reviews for the version I checked, and was recently made into a movie. It’s easy to read and I finished it in a weekend. I feel a bit overdosed on teenagers in dystopian worlds, so I don’t think I’ll read the next book.
The story’s setting is its strongest point – an enormous maze built from unclimbably-tall walls, some of which move at night, inhabited by weird and highly imaginative monsters. (How could movie makers resist these way-cool monsters?) The monsters may wander the maze during the day, but always, murderously, come out at night. Several dozen teenage boys live in the safe, central “Glade” where they raise crops and farm animals. Memories of their previous lives have been “wiped” and a new boy arrives once a month on an underground elevator. A few “runners” map the changing maze each day, seeking a way out. In over two years, they have failed to solve the maze.
The story follows Thomas, the latest arrival.
It seems obvious that author James Dashner intended The Maze Runner to be the first book in a series. Writing advice says “each book in the series must have satisfactory individual story arc resolutions.” It’s hard to discuss the ending without spoilers, but, while there is a major development, there is no solid ending to The Maze Runner – the ending sets up the next book. This criticism pops up in reviews of the movie, too. Thomas and the surviving boys (sort of) learn why the maze was created and why they were imprisoned there. The actions of the Creators of the maze seem counter-productive to their own goals – how did this help them? Baffling. And one of the characters, the only girl to ever arrive at the Glade, seems superfluous, only introduced to be there at the start of the next book.
One review on Amazon says such criticisms are misplaced, that everything is explained in the rest of the series. If you love the book, realizing there are two more books to buy may be a good thing. Personally, I appreciate each book in a series having its own ending.
Here are a few more observations.
Advice: Edit out typos.
Dashner’s book was beautifully edited.
Advice: Show, don’t tell.
Dashner provides a lot of action, so he follows this well. I did notice that the characters often refuse to answer each others questions. A little “telling” among characters would have been okay with me.
Advice: “There’s a concept behind [a series] that ties the books together and gives readers a reason to come back book after book… This concept will be at the heart of every core conflict. It will likely be the thing you say first when describing your series to people, as it will define what the series is about.” Janice Hardy
Dashner: The hook for The Maze Runner is definitely the maze, and it seems unlikely to me that the maze will reappear in the rest of the series. The second book has equally stellar reviews on Amazon, so this doesn’t seem to have been a problem.
Advice: Avoid saidisms – that is, the tags on dialogue should only be “he said” “she said” and, where it’s clear who’s speaking, drop them entirely.
Dashner: He mostly avoids saidisms – for example:
- Thomas nodded at him. “A beetle?”
- “Cuz you’re the newest Newbie.” Chuck pointed at Thomas and laughed.
But he’s not afraid of saidisms:
- “asked” (To me, this one seems impossible to avoid when the dialog’s a question.)
A few times I stopped reading to go back to specifically check on what Dashner had used, so his saidisms didn’t interfere with my reading. But saidism advice is repeated so often, I’m intimidated and try to stick to “said” and “ask” in my own writing.
One other note on dialog. Dashner uses invented swear words, and uses them liberally. (Is it true teenage boys can’t form a sentence without a vulgarity?) It worked okay for me, perhaps because invented swear words don’t hit the same spot in my brain as real ones. I find endless use of swear words annoying.
Advice: Characters should have demographic, family, and psychological histories.
Dashner’s whole premise of the boys having their memories wiped negates this advice. Take that! standard advice.
If you’ve read The Maze Runner and can compare Dashner to standard writing advice, or have other thoughts on writing advice, please leave a comment. Let us know what you think.
These are links to some of my other posts on writing tips:
Writers’ Resource: Critiques Available
Successful Novel Defies Standard Advice
Sphere: Hit SciFi Novels Follows Some Advice, Flaunts Other
Stephen King’s Writing Advice