For the last couple months I’ve been enjoying a book series, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. And by “enjoying” I mean flailing and screaming and crying and fangirling and all around obsessing. It has kind of been my world.
As I writer, my brain automatically soaks in writing lessons while reading. Subconsciously, I’m constantly asking myself questions as I read like, “Why do I love this part so much?” “Why does this feel slow?” “That was such a good scene, what type of wording was used?” It’s a curse of the writer, we can’t help it.
So since I
enjoyed obsessed over The Lunar Chronicles so much, I decided to share some writing lessons I learned along the way. (No, this is not an excuse to fangirl about the books. Of course not. . .)
On the back of one of the books it has a quote by Entertainment Weekly saying, “A cross between fairy tales , the Terminator, and Star Wars.” They weren’t even kidding. This series is fairytale retellings, but set in a futuristic, sci-fi version of our world. The Cinderella character is a cyborg. Then you have a little Rapunzel who can hack her way into any computer. Little Red Riding Hood wears a red hoodie, flies a spaceship, and is a good shot with a shotgun. While Snow White lives on the moon. That all sounds absolutely crazy, but Marissa Meyer made it work, and made it fun. It’s own uniqueness causes it to stand out, to be intriguing. Marissa Meyer thought of something insane—Cinderella being a cyborg—and turned it into one epic tale.
Writerly Tip: In a large world with so very, very many books, movies, and TV shows floating around, it can be hard to write something unique. Choosing two or three or even a dozen completely unrelated genres and smushing them together (such as sci-fi fairytale retellings) can make one’s story stand out amidst the millions.
When I first started diving into these books, I feared a lot of the characters would be similar. At first, Scarlet seemed a lot like Cinder, while Winter reminded me somewhat of Cress. But after first impressions, I quickly realized these characters were all very different people. Not a single character in the entire cast were copies of each other. Every single one had unique traits and personalities, resulting in the perfect mix of people. I loved how their opposite personalities bounced off each other, each in different and interesting ways. I also liked how there was at least one character for everyone. This cast had enough diversity that anyone could find someone they liked. For example, Scarlet wasn’t my favorite character, but I’ve seen a lot of people say they loved her. There was a nice balance between each character and points-of-view, to keep everyone happy, no matter who is their favorite and least favorite character.
Writerly Tip: If you’ve found you have similar characters in your novel (I’ve been soooo guilty of this!), try changing one of them up, give them something to set them apart from each other. It’s also great when there’s a mix of people in the cast. Readers are going to be various, and though no writer should ever attempt making everyone happy (trust me, you’ll never be happy yourself if you try that), it’s good to have some diversity in your cast.
These are fairytale retellings, so obviously there’s a lot of romantic relationships (which is another thing the author did so well, I was shipping everyone like crazy!), but what really struck me were the friendships. We start out with complete strangers and follow their journey and get to know them for a while. But then, by the end, we have a crew of wonderful friends who makes us readers yearn to have our own awesome friendship group to save the world with. As I said in my last point, each unique character bounced of the other in an interesting way. What I really liked is how they were all constantly paired off in different sets. One would think whenever they split up, the couples would stay together, but that wasn’t the case. Sometimes you’d have Cress and Scarlet’s guy off on an escapade. Sometimes two of the guys would split off together for a mission, etc. As a result, even though there were quite a few characters, they had each formed special friendships with the other, and all together made a spectacular (and adorable) crew.
Writerly Tip: I’ve found people love reading about friendships (I certainly do!). So even if you’re writing a romance book, don’t forget friends can be a fun part of the story as well. It’s also important to establish the different dynamics between each character. Character A and B may be in love, and character C is A’s best friend. But what kind of relationship does characters B and C have? Everyone reacts differently toward people. It’s important to remember that while writing, especially if you have a large cast. Plus, establishing different relationship dynamics between all the characters is just FUN.
Large and Diverse
(without being overwhelming)
One of the biggest things I noticed while reading this series is how the author seamlessly made it seem so large and diverse without overwhelming her readers. Essentially, this story is about an evil queen who lives on the moon attempting to take control of Earth. So, basically, you’ve got a story about all of Earth and a big civilization on the moon. That’s two entire planets and, somehow, Marissa Meyer magically made it feel like both planets and all the people within were ALL characters. I know that sounds crazy and overwhelming but don’t worry, there was obviously still just the few main characters. These main characters, though, traveled a lot, and met a lot of people, and dealt with a lot of world leaders and aristocrats and laborers, etc. etc. As a result, it felt so big, like all of Earth and the moon were included in the series. And yet, sometimes it feels like a simple storyline. The way Marissa Meyer managed that blows my mind. It was masterfully done, and I only wish I could make my stories have such a large scale! Without completely confuzzling my readers that is.
Writerly Tip: As I said, the characters traveled a lot and came across many different people groups, which I think was the biggest key in making it feel so large and diverse. The characters themselves were also varied (as mentioned) and had drastically different life experiences that added in the diversity and impression of largeness.
This was another thing I absolutely loved about Marissa Meyer’s writing. Her writing style is very simple, not heavy or flowery (which I actually love with these types of books). So very, very many times I got so lost in it I completely forgot I was reading, to the point that one time I got disoriented after reading because I seriously forgot I even existed. That’s always what I want in a book! But what I found was the best part of her writing style was the body language descriptions. I fail at describing body language so bad. Far, far too often I fall into that “he smiled, she laughed” pit and can’t find the imagination and words to climb out. Like I said, these books have a simplistic style, and often there are “he smiled” descriptions. But between those are little gems of body language that gives you such a clear picture of what the character is doing.
For example: “She sniffed, then tilted her head way back and inhaled deeply in an attempt to keep tears from falling.”
See? It’s nothing complicated or flowery, yet it gives you such a clear picture. We’ve all done this gesture before. I bet you’re seeing yourself doing this at some time or another right now. I found all sorts of these little descriptions in the books that gave me such a vivid picture, while steering clear of the cliché “she smiled” sentence.
Writerly Tip: You can tell Marissa Meyer studies people and takes note of our little everyday gestures. As a writer, it’s important to observe. To grasp things from real life and put them into words to give readers a clear, realistic picture. Like I said, body language descriptions is one of my weaknesses. This series has inspired me to be more observant, maybe even jot down little gestures I take note of and see if I can describe them well. I think it’ll be very beneficial for my stories.
Love the Story
I have absolutely zero doubt in my mind that this author loved her story and characters. The passion she put into these books oozes right from the pages and makes them shine.
Writerly Tip: We should all write what we love. Yes, we’ll have bad days and struggle to get the words out and need breaks. Even feel like quitting. But, deep down, we keep going because we love the story. If you’re writing a novel just to get it done, that’s going to show. If you’re writing a novel because you love it, others will love it too, because you put your love and passion right into the words. You put effort into it. I’ve read books that were bland because the author just wanted to get it done and put no real work into the story. Writing is HARD. We should only ever put all that time and work into something we absolutely love. Trust me, your readers will thank you.
Give Us ALL the Feels
This sort of goes along with the last point I made. This series gave me allllll the feels. One time I was so amused I had to put the book down and take a second to compose myself. Multiple times I got teary-eyed. A few moments I wanted to scream. My heartbeat sped up during plenty of scenes. It was intense and hilarious and ridiculous and fun and heart-wrenching. It had it all, and I believe that was because the author loved it. She wasn’t just trying to get from point A to point B and be done with it. She put effort into making her characters loveable, into causing all sorts of crazy disasters for them, into making meaningful scenes and ridiculously amusing ones, sometimes both at the same time! That kind of writing takes work, but if you love your story, it’ll hardly feel like work at all.
Writerly Tip: I strongly believe filling a novel with a mix of emotions is important. I don’t want to read a book that makes me depressed the whole time. Give me a few laughs, please! Yet I also enjoy crying over fiction. I don’t know why, but I know I’m not alone. Us readers want to feel, in every way. I personally believe pacing is a strong factor in this. (Which may become a topic for a blog post, I have quite a few thoughts on the subject, but I’ll summarize it here.) I’ve read books that were so action-packed they left no room for me to feel anything for the characters. On the flip side, I’ve read plenty of books that dragged on and on and oooon and was basically nothing but the character talking about their feelings. Balance is key here. The Lunar Chronicles provided plenty of sweet scenes with the characters talking and pouring out their feelings or just having some deep inner monologue. But in between these scenes there was action and danger around every corner. It sent my emotions on a whirlwind, and I absolutely loved it!
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In conclusion, this was a really, really good series! It wasn’t perfect, no story is. To contradict my last point, the pacing sometimes felt slow. Well, not slow exactly, there were just a lot of scenes that I felt could have been skipped or compacted into smaller scenes. Mainly in the last book, Winter. While the first book, Cinder, was a good size with tight writing, Winter was a 800+ page monster and had a few parts I felt weren’t entirely necessary to the overall story. But I didn’t even mind because I didn’t want the story to end at all. Aside from that, a lot of the plot was cliché and I didn’t absolutely love all the characters. Though I came to love most of them, two in particular are officially some of my favorite fictional characters ever.All in all, it was a well told story. And hey, even though I chose to focus on the positive parts of the book to glean writing knowledge from, we can absolutely learn from negative parts of books just as much.
Note: These books are a secular YA series, but as far as secular stories go, they were quite clean. There was the occasional curse word, and I very much mean occasional. There were about two or three bad words per book. Nothing major at all. The violence never got too graphic. These are fairytale retellings, so there’s definitely some lovey dovey stuff. Lots of touching, hugging, kissing, etc. But again, everything stayed surprisingly clean.
With all that said, the prequel novella Fairest was not clean. This little story is about the villainess, so I guess it’d make sense it had some pretty icky stuff in it. But I was still disappointed. I very much think series should stay consistent with the type of material they have, and Fairest almost felt like a book from an entirely different series. It had a lot of adult content that I felt did not belong in The Lunar Chronicles.
But anyways, I didn’t mean for this post to be a book review or anything (though it kind of turned out that way). I just wanted to give a warning before anyone goes rushing out to buy the books. If you do read the series, I’d suggest skipping Fairest. It’s not important to read it to understand the rest of the books.
Also, in addition to the prequel, this series has a ton of short stories that go before or between and even after the series which can get confuzzling, but I enjoyed the overall story way more reading the short stories along with the main books. If you’d like a list of them and my personal recommendation of what order to read them, do ask in the comments!
Who else ends up accidentally (or purposefully) analyzing books to improve their own writing? What’s the biggest writing lesson you’ve learned from reading? Most importantly here, have you read The Lunar Chronicles? If so, FANGIRL WITH ME. Who’s your favorite character? (Cress and Thorne forever! <3) Do you agree or disagree on any of the points I made? Share away!