Sunday, January 17, 2010

creating a page-turner

Knowing just when to end a chapter, while leaving your readers wanting more, is a craft. If I were an educator teaching my class the art of creating a page-turner, I would instruct them to read The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Delacorte Press, 2009). I had to force myself to put this book down when the clock struck midnight each night and I found myself still reading. "Just one more chapter, just one more..." the voice inside my head begged me, and I'd usually succumb. I finished the book after about one week, which is fast for me...I'm a slow reader.

The Maze Runner is about a 16 year-old boy who wakes up with no memory of his life, and realizes that he's been sent to a strange enclosure made up of tall, cement walls called the Glade, with about 60 other boys. Outside of the Glade is a maze, which for the last two years the boys have been trying to solve. Every night, the giant, ivy-covered walls close, shutting out deadly, killing hybrid machine-beasts, and every week supplies are sent from an underground elevator until one day it stops completely after the appearance of a girl - the first ever - who shows up with a message of the end.

It's a pretty dark book, all-in-all, but I loved that about it - definitely a "boy read." What I found most impressive, though, was that the author managed to keep the story moving along quickly, even though the majority of the book takes place within the walls of the Glade. It's very, very hard to move a story along and keep it entertaining, when you don't change the characters' locations. Think about it, even in real-life, those of us who work from home all day don't have a lot to tell our spouses or roommates over dinner, unless we had some interesting phone calls or emails. But when we move our bodies from point A to point B, or C and D, unless we keep our eyes closed, we encounter people and/or events and thus have more to tell. Changing locations, say, even something as simple as moving your characters from their home to school, is one of the main tools used to maintain a steady pace, while also adding to the plot. But with The Maze Runner, the farthest the boys go is out into the maze so the author is forced to find other ways to propel the story. He does this by not letting the boys rest (I was actually feeling mentally exhausted toward the end of some chapters) and he also brings us into the head of the protagonist by re-awakening some of his memories, showing us scattered events from his past. He did this so smoothly, that sometimes it felt like the book was written in first-person instead of third-person. Another tool the author used to keep the pace without changing locations, was that he gave the boys things to do. He kept stirring-up trouble inside of the Glade. The boys were constantly working to keep order and were always looking for a way out, their desperation was palpable.
Not to give too much away, but the book does finally end with a change of location, which will be revealed in the second book of the series, due out the end of this year, I believe.

After finishing this book, it's made me want to re-evaluate the ends of the chapters in my book to make sure that they're keeping my readers wanting more. If you're a writer with this problem, I'd suggest reading The Maze Runner, or if you're just looking for a good read definitely go and pick it up!

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