Behind the Book: The magic of discovery
by James Dashner
In James Dashner’s popular Maze Runner trilogy (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure) teen boys arrive in a mysterious area known as the Glade with no memory of how they got there. Each day the boys send runners into the surrounding maze—which is filled with monstrous creatures called Grievers—hoping to find a way out. As the trilogy progresses, the trapped boys piece together the secrets behind their captivity and make their way into the devastated world beyond.
In a treat for fans of the series, Dashner has now published a prequel, The Kill Order, with answers to some pressing questions about the origins of the Glade and the virus that ravaged humanity. Here, he explains how he came up with the idea for this imaginative series, which has sold 1.4 million copies since its launch in 2009.
It’s kind of surreal to look back and think about how the Maze Runner trilogy came to be. It’s been such a part of my life for so many years that it’s hard for me to believe there was a time when it was never inside my mind. But, like all stories, it had a beginning.
In 2005 I had completed a series of books with a smaller publisher and was ready to try something new. Something big. And my desire to become a full time writer had grown stronger than ever. So I spent every spare moment and many long nights thinking and thinking and thinking. Pushing my mind to come up with The Idea.
I’ve always been a book nerd—a fiercely proud book nerd—and during this time of brainstorming and contemplation, I thought back to some of my favorites. Two seemed to stand out, and my mind kept going back to them. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I loved the character of Ender, and how he was stolen from his life as a small boy and thrust into strange, frightening circumstances, surrounded by others in the same boat. And then the concept of a bunch of boys stranded on an island and the consideration of what might happen there was always a fascinating read.
Anyone who has read The Maze Runner will immediately and without any doubt see how those two books influenced the story of Thomas and the Gladers.
One night I was going to bed, restless as usual because my mind was going a thousand miles an hour, and a few very clear pictures popped into my head. A giant maze. A post-apocalyptic world. Teenagers taken for an experiment, disoriented and scared. And then my thoughts reached supersonic speeds. I couldn’t stand being in bed anymore so I got up and went downstairs, found my “idea” notebook and started writing as fast I could. So many things that eventually ended up in the trilogy came to me that night. The ideas flowed like a waterfall, and there’s nothing in the world quite so exciting. For a nerdy storyteller, anyway.
I already knew, even in these planning stages, that it would make the most sense as a trilogy, with each of the three books having a very distinct and different role from the others. I also knew, even then, that eventually I would write a prequel. So much of the trilogy relies on the magic of discovery, Thomas and the others finding out how and why they’re in that situation. I feel like everything is answered by the end, but the prequel, The Kill Order, will be a lot of fun for fans of the books, to see firsthand why the trilogy was necessary in the first place.
When I first came up with the concept for The Maze Runner, I was so excited about this new story that it only took me two months to write the first draft of Book 1. But then a very long, and often sad, journey began to get that book into the hands of readers. I saw many rejections in the beginning. I parted ways with my agent. At one point I gave up entirely and started another series. But the story of Thomas stuck with me, refused to leave. I knew in my heart that it was special, and my wife constantly pushed me to not give up on it.
A year or so after putting it on a shelf, I pulled the thing back out. (Figuratively, of course, it was on my computer the whole time!) And I was appalled to see that it really, really, REALLY needed some rewriting. I had grown a lot since that first effort. So, I got to it, reworking the thing from beginning to end. And the final result was a much better book.
The rest of the story happened very quickly. I sent the book to Michael Bourret (officially known as the best agent on the planet) and he loved it. We worked together for a couple of weeks to make some improvements, and then he sold it very quickly, in a pre-empt, to Krista Marino of Random House Children’s Books. My life changed forever then, my dream of becoming a full-time writer finally coming true.
The response over the last couple of years has been exciting and humbling. The Maze Runner will always be a huge part of me, and it’s just so rewarding to see others taking it in as part of themselves as well. Hopefully, even greater things await on the horizon.