Shaky Confidence Thanks to James Dashner’s Eye-Opening Article

I completed my final edit/proofread on Monday, February 22. Now the 116,500 word novel is in the capable hands of my mother. While she isn’t a trained editor, she has an eye for mistakes and has been an invaluable helper over the course of my writing process. Not only did she help me hash out ideas for the novel, but this will be her third (or fourth…I may have lost count) read through. How she still enjoys it is beyond me.

I was feeling quite confident with the completeness of my book, and the fact that I was able to cut out 22,000 words. That is, until I picked up a book called the 13th Reality by James Dashner. I had read his novel The Maze Runner which I really enjoyed. So I decided to try his earlier work. And after about a chapter I realized that his writing style sounds a lot like my own. A lot of his phrases, word choices and character voices were the same as mine. So I googled his literary agent, thinking that if they enjoyed his 13th Reality series, they’d enjoy novel too. But I came across an article that pretty  much knocked the wind out of me.

It was written by James Dashner himself, entitled “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far.” And most of the things he mentions in this article are issues that I’ve already noticed about my own writing. The first point that struck home was his mention of characters. He says that in his early work, all his characters were the same person. All were him in disguise. And I’ve worried about that with my own writing. My secondary characters are all drastically different one or two-dimensional characters. But my four protagonists are the problem. They all have different interests, fears and motivations, but I feel that they’re all a part of me. And I’m sure that would be just fine as long as readers don’t pick up on that.

The next point that stood out was when he said his previous works were written in the style of a quick bedtime story. “This happened, then this happened” and so on. While I have tried to have more patience with my plots by adding more internal thoughts and emotions, I find that I often run out of words to describe what they’re feeling. If the my novel were written in first person, the internal dialogue would be much simpler for me. But I chose to go third person. And because there are four main characters (meaning four different perspectives), it really needs to be from third person.

Last he talks about heros and villains being more than two-dimensional. This is a lot harder than I ever expected it to be. Probably harder than anything I’ve had to learn. I read so much, and experienced so many three-dimensional heros and villains, yet its hard to translate that into my own writing. My original plan was to make my villain purely evil. But Dashner makes a good point about giving them strengths and weaknesses just like the hero. Readers need to experience hate and  love (or at leasy pity) for villains. The best example I can think of (and James Dashner mentions him in his article) is Severus Snape. Now that’s a guy that I went back and forth between love and hate 100 times.  Is he good? Is he bad? Good? Definitely bad. But maybe good? No, he killed Dumbledore. He’s as bad as they come. But he had to because of that binding oath thing. Would he have done it otherwise? All those questions rolled through my head in just one Harry Potter book. Maybe in one chapter. That is what I call a good villain. So now I’m rethinking my own villain and sub-villains.

Even though I’ve read these pieces of advice before, I’ve never taken them seriously. It’s because of Dashner’s firsthand experience, and the fact that he is still in his first few years of publishing, that I will take his advice to heart. And I hope that all the other aspiring writers who read this will do the same.

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