Opening Paragraphs: Case Study #4: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air. His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up right against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness.

With another jolt, the room jerked upward like an old lift in a mine shaft.

Observations

The novel opens with the protagonist’s predicament in an unfamiliar situation. No name, no context, no explanation. There is a strong sense of disorientation and confusion, as the protagonist does not seem to have a will of his own. He is completely and utterly passive in this opening scene as he is trapped inside a metal elevator of some kind that rises with a jerk upward. As readers, we don’t know what is happening, we don’t know why he is there, and we don’t know what is going to happen next.

Analysis

There is no additional information given about the character’s identity or what on earth is happening in that scene. “He began his new life standing up” implies that the protagonist himself lacks both the knowledge of his present situation and memory of his past. The act of standing up requires some conscious physical control, and we can deduce that rather than knowledge, he probably lacks the memory to recall where he is. If his eyes are still adjusting to the darkness, we can assume that prior to his predicament, he came from a place that has some kind of light source–which is paradoxical since the elevator appears to be going up. Was he underground? Not much is clear at this point.

Hook 

This story’s hook is an example of in medias res–beginning in the middle of an action or a situation. The total lack of information creates a powerful desire to investigate–to know more about the story and find out what’s going on. This strongly propelled me to continue reading. It also made me curious about the character’s potential memory loss. I have really ambiguous feelings towards memory-losses; I think it can be a powerful story device when the trope is done well, but it can also be easily overdone and lackluster. I have yet to find out which one is true. Having that said, this story opening has successfully sparked the desire to read on. All in all it’s a pretty great hook.

(Extras: So I didn’t finish the book. Since Maze Runner is one of the most popular books in the YA genre, I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t continue because I found the narrative annoying…pretty much every single action or story event that takes place is accompanied by a description of the protagonist’s personal/emotional state. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that the protagonist is confused or scared or angry. And nothing much happens in the first 40 pages, and my interest waned considerably. Maybe the movie will be better, but I doubt it.)

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