Giving Fact to Fictional Characters: The Cast of Cinder
By Marissa Meyer
I’m one of those writers that comes to know her characters over many drafts. Although I typically start a manuscript with some of each character’s basic stats in mind (occupation, age, physical description—although all of these things have been known to change over time), a character’s personality usually develops slowly. A joke here, a hint of back story there, a surprising decision that I hadn’t planned for. It seems to work for me.
But there are some elements of a character that I don’t like to leave up to fate. Things that need to have some basis in reality if they’re to ring true to me, and the reader. These are the things that generally require a bit more effort and a lot more research.
My main character, Cinder, is a cyborg—part girl, part machine. Her cyborgness not only affects the storyline again and again, but it also changes the way she reacts to things. When I was revising the book,Cinder’s cyborg skills started out pretty dull and useless, but became more complex (and awesome) as I reworked the story. And with each change in her cybernetic make-up, her personality became more real and natural.
Part of the difficulty during those first couple of drafts was that all I knew about cyborgs prior to writing this book was that Darth Vader was one. A lot of research had to be done. I perused science journals and articles and watched videos on camera-eye implants and mind-controlled prosthetics and hearing aids that were wired directly into the nervous system. I’m happy to say that, with a few questionable exceptions, all of Cinder’s abilities are plausible by today’s technological knowledge.
Prince Kai required a much different type of research—research into empires, royal families, and monarchies. Today, there are few royal families that act as much more than figureheads, but the royal family in Cinder are literal rulers of the Eastern Commonwealth. Although there are advisors, representatives, and cabinet members, which are barely touched on within the book, all major decisions reside with the Emperor.
In researching the power of Kai and his father’s positions, I read up on the current Japanese Emperor (Japan being the only country in the world that still has an Emperor, although again it’s mostly symbolic). I also researched different types of government systems: constitutional monarchies vs. absolute monarchies, democracies vs. republics, etc. Although in the end I maintain that this fictional future has a fictional government, and I know it doesn’t exactly mirror any government we have in place today, I hope that the politics will come across as believable and natural to readers.
Queen Levana and the Lunars
Perhaps the characters that required the most research were the Lunars, which has some irony as they also required more imagination and pseudo-science than other characters. The Lunars, an evolved type of humans inhabiting the moon, have powers of mind-control. They can twist the thoughts and emotions of other people, Lunars and Earthens alike, essentially brainwashing them.
The Lunars’ powers have changed a lot over the course of writing Cinder (in some of the early drafts they could throw fireballs out of their hands!), but in the end I wanted their powers to be at least reasonably plausible. It was important to me that in this futuristic world there remained a hint of science behind even the most absurd elements of the world-building.
In order to achieve this, I researched different military experiments on brainwashing and mind-control, animals that had unusual senses generated by bioelectricity (such as sharks who use it to track their prey and birds who migrate during the winter), and how genetic mutations come to infiltrate a society. Although I’ll be the first to admit there are holes in my pseudo-science that had to be filled in with creative license, I’m glad that the research I completed led to a history and explanation of the Lunars that actually kind of makes sense.
I hope that research, in the end, makes for a villain much more believable—and terrifying—than any amount of magic and sorcery could have accomplished.
Marissa Meyer is the author of Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles. Follow her on Twitter (@marissa_meyer) or become a fan at facebook.com/lunarchronicles and facebook.com/marissameyerauthor.
Many thanks to Marissa for coming over and guest posting for us, it was lovely to hear from you :)