Thinkin’ on Thursday: How to Keep Action Taut, Dynamic

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the variables a writer must keep in mind while s/he writes an entire book. The number of balls in the air at any one time is staggering! Yet, we all have to do it. So I’m going to spend some thinkin’ time on a bunch of Thursdays (and maybe some occasional Tips on Tuesdays if I have some brainstorm idea to share) to examine those variables and illustrate examples from books I’m currently reading.

Today, I’m considering how to keep the action taut, tight, and dynamic. How to “keep things going.” As in: never give a reader a chance to put the book down.

Only minutes ago, I finished reading James Dashner’s The Maze Runner . . . and started The Scorch Trials (book 2 of the trilogy) . . . because I couldn’t just put the first one down and read (or even DO) something else! What made me feel like that?

(I don’t want to have spoilers in any of the books I’m using for reference, wherein Maze Runner is the first and is written in a YA dystopian‑style story.) That said, a teen boy is in a gigantic sort of elevator that’s on a long trip upward. He has no memories of who he is, where he is, why he’s on the move. By the time he gets to “the top,” he finds himself dumped into a large group of boys in a place they refer to as “The Glade”: trees, a run-down building on one side of the property, humongous rock walls that go up forever. All the boys are highly intelligent, including our hero. Yet none of them has any memory to speak of for some previous life. They don’t remember parents, family, friends, schools . . . anything. New kids arrive on a regular schedule, and supplies like food and medical items arrive weekly, by “elevator.”

So we begin the story with lots of confusion, many questions, and . . . no answers. It all goes downhill from there.

And ups the ante in terms of tension.

We see (and hear) weird and frightening and vicious creatures of various sorts, including lethal. In thinking of the boys, imagine really intelligent kids in a Lord of the Flies situation. They do pull together in Maze Runner out of necessity, because they are so intelligent. Some of them begin to have small bits of memory float back to them, so they learn ways to fight against their circumstances and work together. But one thing after another keeps happening, or going wrong, or being twisted from what they’ve grown to expect. All of that ups the tension. One girl ‑ with the promise that she is “the last,” arrives in the group — that twist alone guarantees more tension.

Now we have a twist every time we turn around: jealousy, failure of leaders, betrayal by a friend, deaths, no further “deliveries” — even of necessary supplies like food.

 

Finally, with the warning that the end is somehow coming, they are forced into making a break for it out of the Glade. New leaders emerge, but are not welcomed by all. A secret way of communicating helps some. Gross things like slime, blood, vomit may be just around the next page‑turn.

More things are discovered about where they are, leading to conjectures on what they’re supposed to learn from the experience. Possible ways to overcome are presented, then fail, or seem to fail. At every chapter, new problems or solutions or people influence the turns in the story. Take a look and start keeping track of how each segment amps up the action. How could you do this in your book?

On the positive side, new heroes emerge. But heartbreak may come with some of them. You never know . . . until you turn the page.

And that, my friends, is what keeps you turning the pages. If you haven’t read this one — don’t. Unless you have time to read all three. Or maybe all four, including the “prequel,” which Dashner recommends you read last. Oh. And you might want to read them before the movie comes out! All the while looking for how he keeps your pages turning, and how you can do the same!

See you next for Spellbinder Saturday!

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