As you may or may not know, one of my favorite book series is the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer! According to Wikipedia:
The Lunar Chronicles is a series of young adult science fiction novels written by American author Marissa Meyer. Each book entails a sci-fi twist on an old fairy tale, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. The story takes place in a futuristic world where earthens, cyborgs, androids, and a race of moon colonists all coexist.
Doesn’t that just sound awesome?
Being a writer, I am able to read books with my ‘writer’s eyes’. Basically, this means that in my subconscious, I’m constantly analyzing a book’s characters, world, and plot to judge it. So in today’s post, I thought it would be fun to analyze the first 280 words of each Lunar Chronicles book with my writer’s eyes, and break down what made them work.
In order, the books in this series are Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter. Each excerpt is unabridged. Now let’s get started with Cinder!
THE SCREW THROUGH CINDER’S ANKLE HAD RUSTED, THE engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean.
Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket. A spark singed her fingertips and she jerked away, leaving the foot to dangle from a tangle of red and yellow wires.
She slumped back with a relieved groan. A sense of release hovered at the end of those wires—freedom. Having loathed the too-small foot for four years, she swore to never put the piece of junk back on again. She just hoped Iko would be back soon with its replacement.
Cinder was the only full-service mechanic at New Beijing’s weekly market. Without a sign, her booth hinted at her trade only by the shelves of stock android parts that crowded the walls. It was squeezed into a shady cove between a used netscreen dealer and a silk merchant, both of whom frequently complained about the tangy smell of metal and grease that came from Cinder’s booth, even though it was usually disguised by the aroma of honey buns from the bakery across the square. Cinder knew they really just didn’t like being next to her.
There are three major components that make up any literary work. They are : character, world, and plot. The start of Cinder focuses mainly on character, with hints of world.
The first two paragraphs detail Cinder’s appearance and go into the technicalities of her cyborg body. Instead of Meyer simply saying “Cinder was a cyborg” or even “Look at that cyborg!” she chose to show this in a unique way, further establishing her writing style. Meyer invokes sensory details, with the sentences “THE SCREW THROUGH CINDER’S ANKLE HAD RUSTED, THE engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.” and “By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean.” especially.
The third paragraph introduces two things. The first : specifically, how Cinder reacts after undergoing the tedious process of dismantling her foot, but more generally, a sliver of her personality. Think about it. Cinder could have reacted a number of different ways — pushing back strands of hair, throwing her head back, or slapping a palm to her forehead. But she slumped back with a relieved groan. This gives the reader an insight into her personality, and shows that while she is a cyborg, she is capable of feeling.
The second thing this paragraph introduces : another character — Iko! We can infer that Iko is Cinder’s helper and probably a friend, because Cinder relies on and trusts her to bring her a replacement for her foot. Being a cyborg and different, Cinder is most likely sensitive to others knowing about her parts, but it seems she is comfortable with Iko. This character dynamic is very important in the story later on, and the way Meyer establishes it early on is well done.
The last paragraph shows us Cinder’s status in society and a little bit of the world. New Beijing, stock android parts, and netscreen dealer all hint at a futuristic society. We also get a glimpse into how cyborgs like Cinder are treated — with disdain and contempt. This public animosity towards cyborgs plays an important role later on in the story as well.
Okay…I know this is getting long already, and that when something is over analyzed, sometimes, people get annoyed. If you’re getting annoyed, feel free to stop reading. If you’re not, great! You have my sincere thanks 😀
Now for Scarlet! SPOILER: I love Wolflet 😀 it’s one of my OTPs!!
Scarlet was descending toward the alley behind the Rieux Tavern when her portscreen chimed from the passenger seat, followed by an automated voice: “Comm received for Mademoiselle Scarlet Benoit from the Toulouse Law Enforcement Department of Missing Persons.”
Heart jumping, she swerved just in time to keep the ship’s starboard side from skidding against the stone wall, and threw down the brakes before reaching a complete stop. Scarlet killed the engine, already grabbing for the discarded portscreen. Its pale blue light glinted off the cockpit’s controls.
They’d found something.
The Toulouse police must have found something.
“Accept!” she yelled, practically choking the port in her fingers.
She expected a vidlink from the detective assigned to her grandmother’s case, but all she got was a stream of unembellished text.
28 Aug 126 T.E.
Re: Case ID #AIG00155819, filed on 11 Aug 126 T.E.
This communication is to inform SCARLET BENOIT of Rieux, France, EF, that as of 15:42 on 28 Aug 126 the case of missing person(s) MICHELLE BENOIT of Rieux, France, EF, has been dismissed due to lack of sufficient evidence of violence or nonspecific foul play. Conjecture: Person(s) left of own free will and/or suicide.
We thank you for your patronage of our detective services.
The comm was followed by a video ad from the police, reminding all delivery ship pilots to be safe and wear their harnesses while engines were running.
Scarlet stared at the small screen until the words turned into a screaming blur of white and black and the ground seemed to drop out from beneath the ship. The plastic panel on the back of the screen crunched in her tightening grip.
Going back to the idea that character, world, and plot are the foundations of a literary work, the beginning of Scarlet focuses mainly on world, with hints of character and plot.
The first two paragraphs give us a concrete sense of what’s happening in an abstract way, in terms of world and plot. What do I mean by this? Well, we can tell that a portscreen (love that word) is essentially a modern iPad, with futuristic perks: notifications that talk. And bam! we know that something’s wrong, right off the bat, because the main character, Scarlet, is being contacted by the Department of Missing Persons.
We can also see that Scarlet has been anticipating this comm. We get a glimpse of her personality in the way she reacts to it — rushing to halt the ship, which she is traveling in (a nod to world).
I think the comm is also a great way to show world, and how this futuristic society deals with this type of issue. We know where Scarlet is, too — Rieux, France. So we’re garnering tons of little details about world that help to ground us in the scene.
Plus — that ad! Pretty relevant and quite funny, for some reason. 😀
The last paragraph highlights character — Scarlet is obviously a hot-tempered person by the way she reacts to the disappointment. No limply hanging her head or sinking back into her chair for Scarlet! Her vision blurs and she’s crushing that port!
If you’re still with me, thank you so much! I hope you’ve enjoyed my analysis of the first 280 words of Cinder and Scarlet and are looking forward to Cress and Winter‘s break down.
Cress coming up!
Her satellite made one full orbit around planet Earth every sixteen hours. It was a prison that came with an endlessly breathtaking view-vast blue oceans and swirling clouds and sunrises that set half the world on fire.
When she was first imprisoned, she had loved nothing more than to stack her pillows on top of the desk that was built into the walls and drape her bed linens over the screens, making a small alcove for herself. She would pretend that she was not on a satellite at all, but in a podship en route to the blue planet. Soon she would land and step out onto real dirt, feel real sunshine, smell real oxygen.
She would stare at the continents for hours and hours, imagining what that must be like.
Her view of Luna, however, was always to be avoided. Some days her satellite passed so close that the moon took up the entire view and she could make out the enormous glinting domes on its surface and the sparkling cities where the Lunars lived. Where she, too, had lived. Years ago. Before she’d been banished.
As a child, Cress had hidden from the moon during those achingly long hours. Sometimes she would escape to the small washroom and distract herself by twisting elaborate braids into her hair. Or she would scramble beneath her desk and sing lullabies until she fell asleep. Or she would dream up a mother and a father, and imagine how they would play make-believe with her and read her adventure stories and brush her hair lovingly off her brow, until finally—finally—the moon would sink again behind the protective Earth, and she was safe.
Cress starts with quite a bit of backstory — thus, it focuses on character. Small hints of world are sprinkled here and there as well.
We can picture Cress as a dreamy, imaginative, lonely girl, who has been trapped in a satellite for a long time. We wonder why she was banished from Luna, what she is doing on this satellite, longing for more information — and it is this that keeps us turning the page. We learn about her attachment to Earth, her longing for family.
At my creative writing workshop, the Pen Wielders’ Society, to help the members better understand characterization, I devised a formula. MR.SF. It’s as simple as that!
M — Motivations. R — Reason to Root for Them. S — Strengths. F — Flaws.
This excerpt from Cress nails it all. It seems that Cress’s motivations are to make it onto Earth and the reason we root for her is because she is lonely, wistful, and innocent. Her strengths are her imagination and purity, but they may also serve to be her flaws.
Three down, one more to go!
Winter is the epic 800 page conclusion to the series and my favorite from The Lunar Chronicles. Here are the first 280 words.
Winter’s toes had become ice cubes. They were as cold as space. As cold as the dark side of Luna. As cold as—
“… security feeds captured him entering the AR-Central med-clinic’s sublevels at 23:00 U.T.C.…”
Thaumaturge Aimery Park spoke with a serene, measured cadence, like a ballad. It was easy to lose track of what he was saying, easy to let all the words blur and conjoin. Winter curled her toes inside her thin-soled shoes, afraid that if they got any colder before this trial was over, they would snap off.
“… was attempting to interfere with one of the shells currently stored…”
Snap off. One by one.
“… records indicate the shell child is the accused’s son, taken on 29 July of last year. He is now fifteen months old.”
Winter hid her hands in the folds of her gown. They were shaking again. She was always shaking these days. She squeezed her fingers to hold them still and pressed the bottoms of her feet into the hard floor. She struggled to bring the throne room into focus before it dissolved.
The throne room, in the central tower of the palace, had the most striking view in the city. From her seat, Winter could see Artemisia Lake mirroring the white palace and the city reaching for the edge of the enormous clear dome that sheltered them from the outside elements—or lack thereof. The throne room itself extended past the walls of the tower, so that when one passed beyond the edge of the mosaic floor, they found themselves on a ledge of clear glass. Like standing on air, about to plummet into the depths of the crater lake.
The first 280 words of Winter focus mainly on world, with hints of character and plot, much like Scarlet. (This is kind of a funny coincidence because Winter and Scarlet become close in this book.)
The way Luna’s court and government operate is pretty clear in these opening paragraphs. Thaumaturges seem to have much power. Rescuing *not interfering with, ahem* shells is a crime. Shells are taken from their parents at an early age.
We are also treated to a detailed view of the throne room, presumably where the court meets. We can picture colors of white and pale blue and gray — these hues perfectly match the mood and tone of the scene.
In terms of plot, it seems that on this particular day, Winter and the court are present at a number of trials. This serves as a little foreshadowing for an even bigger court issue, one that could possibly affect the main character (and no, I do not say this just because I know what’s going to happen next).
While all this is going on, Winter is undergoing something mysterious. Her belief that her toes are growing so cold they will snap off soon is grounded by the author’s choice of words, especially “Winter’s toes had become ice cubes. They were as cold as space. As cold as the dark side of Luna. As cold as—” That first sentence is a metaphor, not a simile, making it seem all the more real. The following sentences use similes for the same reason — to illustrate the cold further and show that Winter is going through something scary. The lack of panicky emotions makes us think that this is not something unusual, and the way Winter deals with the situation confirms that.
This concludes the analysis of the first 280 words of each Lunar Chronicles book.
I had lots of fun writing it! I hope you had fun reading it as well.
Let me know in the comments below what you thought of this post! I’m thinking of possibly creating a few more like it. Thoughts, opinions on which book or book series I should do next? I’m open to book suggestions!