About a year ago I wrote a novel-length fanfic about Superman called The Metropolitan Man. This blog post will make absolutely no sense to you unless you’ve read that first, and, as per the title of this blog, is probably something that you will find boring. At any rate, since this is currently my longest (completed) work of fiction, I thought that picking it apart to see what works and what doesn’t might be helpful for future writing projects.
- I went with a historical setting – the 1930s – and I think it did a lot to ground the story in the real world, which is a hard thing to do when you have supernatural elements.
- For the most part, characterization went well. When writing fanfic there’s always a pre-existing characterization, and that means that you have to write along the lines of what other people have in mind. It’s a narrow tightrope to walk, but I think that I did pretty well.
- For the most part, the plot went well – the plot was fairly tight, one event flowed to the next, and the actions and reactions of the characters made sense within what had been established for them.
- There are a lot of small scenes that I like, little details that make the city and world feel more alive. Part of this is that grounding in the setting.
- Lex Luthor seems like he’s smart – much smarter than I am. I used a lot of tricks to accomplish that, and I’m glad that I didn’t get too many people telling me that Lex was being stupid.
What Didn’t Work
- When I said “for the most part characterization went well” there was one notable exception – Lois Lane. Her purpose in the story was to provide a contrast to the two principle characters, as well as a B-plot of her figuring out Superman’s secret identity. For the most part, I think she accomplished that, but I tried to keep a realistic shifting of emotions for her which didn’t come off well. In my own personal life, especially when there’s a lot going on, my moods shift, and I have personal revelations that get canceled out and the whole thing is confusing. But while I might find that to be a realistic reaction, I don’t think it’s terribly good fiction. It’s better to have a characterization that you hammer home over and over with slow and gentle shifts than to try to make someone as weird and complex as a real person – especially when they’re the only one that’s like that among your principle cast.
- There’s a scene where one of Lex’s henchmen screws up and kills Ma Kent, in part because of the unforeseen event of the Dust Bowl which interferes with plans that had been put into place. He kills her mostly on accident. This is the first major thing that goes wrong for Lex, and the first time I wrote it, I think I flubbed it. I fixed it somewhat before the next chapter went out, but I still think that it’s a weak point of the story – something that feels just a bit forced or unnatural.
- The ending is the weakest point in the whole piece. I think that building up to the final confrontation went well, and the final confrontation itself went well, but the resolution came too suddenly and I don’t think was foreshadowed enough. I’ve thought a lot about how I would change the ending, though I have no intention of doing so (mostly because I think that an author is better of not endlessly rewriting, especially when the work has already reached its audience). I’ve gotten comments that the ending is sad, which I’m totally fine with and intended, as I see the story as a tragedy. I’ve gotten comments that the ending never delivers on a promise of reconstruction, but I don’t feel like I ever made that promise. But I’ve had people say that the ending felt too much like luck, and on reading it, I somewhat agree with them. It’s a planned for sort of luck, the luck that comes from having lots of plots in play and plans within plans, but it’s luck all the same. And at the same time, I didn’t want for Lex to win simply because everything went his way. I think that if I had to do it over, I would include a scene from Superman’s perspective, to show that he had options and took the one that was the most “good”, and that’s what got him killed. It’s a somewhat cynical downer ending, but I think it would massage out some of the luck, and it’s kind of a downer ending either way.
- The prose was a little too lacking in emotion. A lot of the dialog is dry and descriptive, or focused on details. There are a few key emotional scenes that I thought were powerful, but it could have used more emotion in the day-to-day. This I’m less sure on – I think it might just be how I write, and one of those things that I get criticized on for future projects, but writing emotionally is one of those things I find difficult unless I can convince myself to really feel it.