Monday, July 29, 2013

She felt confused.

About a week ago I posted on the MMW facebook page that I am reading James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner.” I had heard great things about this book, lots of “Oh, you HAVE to read this!” I get excited when I hear stuff like that, and I knew it was a hot commodity when I had to put my name on a reserve waiting list at the library to get the next available copy.

So I started the book, and the story drew me in right away. However, now that I have started writing my own book much more seriously, I have started approaching every book I read with a mental red pen. I am far more critical than I ever used to be. I feel like every book I read has lessons in it for me- great attributes I should emulate and weaknesses I should avoid. And so, sad to say, I’ve been mentally marking the heck out of “The Maze Runner.”

The main character, Thomas, is thrown into an extremely precarious and unnerving situation in the beginning of the book. It’s a great way to start, because the reader is just as clueless as he is. The problem is that the author doesn’t seem to understand that the reader feels just as clueless as Thomas, and he seems to continuously feel the need to tell us how confused Thomas is. Don’t get me wrong- there are several times when Dashner does a great job of showing instead of telling. Unfortunately, he just seems to get lazy at times and throw all this emotion-specific language around in the reader’s face.

Here’s an example: At one point in the story, another boy is in some serious trouble, facing punishment for something he had done to Thomas. As the reader, following the story right along with Thomas in a limited 3rd person POV, we know what has happened and how Thomas must feel. But, just to clarify, Dashner says,

“Thomas was horrified by the whole affair- he couldn’t help feeling responsible even though he’d never done anything to provoke Ben. How was any of this his fault? No answer came to him, but he felt the guilt all the same, like a disease in his blood.”

And then just 3 paragraphs later:

"Every word from the kid was like a fist punching Thomas in the stomach, making him feel more guilty and confused.”

Okay, out comes my inner editor:

1. We know Thomas is horrified, because we are horrified.

2. We know he feels responsible- who wouldn’t?

So if I were editing this, I would cut out the whole first half of that first quote and make it something like this :

“Thomas knew it wasn’t his fault, yet guilt swam like a disease through his blood.”  Short, sweet, same message.

As for the second quotation, to me, the first half of that sentence says it all. If someone’s words feel like a fist punching you in the stomach, isn’t it safe to say that means they make you feel awful? And like I said before, as the readers, we know exactly why Ben’s words make Thomas feel awful- we’ve been with Thomas this whole time. And in case we didn’t, we got it from that first quotation just a couple (short) paragraphs before. So, if it were up to me, I would simply say, “Every word from the kid was like a fist punching Thomas in the stomach.” Period. We know he’s guilty and confused. No need to feed us emotion words.

Let me grab one more example for you:

“Sadness filled him like a heavy poison. Alby’s screams, now distant but still audible, only made it worse. He had to squeeze his hands to his ears every time he heard them.”

Again, this just feels wordy to me. Clearly, the sounds of his friend (well, “friend” might be a stretch, but I think Thomas at least respects him) screaming would be disturbing to him, especially after the day this kid has had. But I think it would tighten it up a bit to say simply,

“Sadness filled him like a heavy poison. He heard Alby’s screams in the distance and squeezed his hands to his ears."

[If only he could shut out his own pain so easily. ooOOooOh!]

To me, that just paints a picture. He is sad. SCREAM. Hands squeeze to shut it out. Ouch, right?

When I write, I’m trying to always be thinking about decluttering and streamlining, cleaning and tightening- saying more with less (not that you’d know it to read my lennngthy blog posts). There’s a quotation out there that says something to the effect of, “You’re finished editing not when there’s nothing more to add, but when there’s nothing more you can cut.” Or, as Stephen King always says, “Murder your darlings!” Ha.

Anyway, these were just a couple of examples that stood out to me. But like I said, the story is really compelling, so I’m still enjoying the book. I was really hoping as I read that this was Dashner’s first book, because then this kind of stuff could be excused. But it’s not. It’s like, his 15th or something. I was talking with my mom about it and she says that she’s noticed that sometimes with successful authors their editors get lazier with each subsequent book. It’s a possibility, I guess.

So that’s my two cents. Maybe I’m being nit picky. And goodness knows he’s doing something right if he’s published over a dozen books and I’ve published, let’s see...none. (In all fairness, I haven’t actually finished mine yet, though I am plugging away diligently, so give me a break!) Anybody else want to weigh in? Anybody else play editor when they read?


  1. Kasey, I agree with your edits and now I can't wait to see read your stories because it sounds like you are a writer willing to trust your readers- one of my favorite traits in an author!

  2. Aww, thanks Tapper! I never thought of it that way. Now I know I have something to live up to! ;-)

  3. Ummmmmm . . . just for clarification, Maze Runner is Mr. Dashner's sixth book and his very first national publication. I'm sure it being his first, the publishing house took extra care to edit it well. I am also pretty sure that all traditional publishers, small and large, spend a lot of time editing their clients work. It presents a professional image to the reader of the publisher.

    I think the lesson to be learned here is that every single author has what they call individual voice. What I write is going to be drastically different that what you or Mr. Dashner writes. While some people use extra words, others write sparingly. Some use metaphor like its second hand, others write amazing action. Wouldn't it be boring if everyone of us wrote the same? Voice is what sets us apart as authors. :)

    1. Good point! Always something to consider. I guess I’ve gotten torn apart too many times for doing this that I assumed it was a big no-no. Must be a matter of taste. :-)



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