Friday, February 27, 2015

The Metropolitan Man: Post Mortem

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.

What Worked

  • 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.
Overall, among those people who have bothered to rate it, it has four stars. I think that's more than fair - my own rating would probably be more towards three and a half, though that might be because the flaws are all quite apparent to me, or because I've spent more time looking at the failures than the successes.

3 comments:

William Russell said...

I wouldn't, like, beat yourself up about any 'dryness'. Unless you want to be someone who always writes deeply poetic stuff full of hinted meanings but no real answers etc. I think criticism could also be made of that sort of writing. Some people might like one style, but there'll also be people who like the other.

Personally I enjoy reading both styles, and too much of one makes me crave the other. I really enjoyed reading The Metropolitan Man, and would read something in the same style in a heartbeat.

Once-Over said...

I have to say that I've had "The Metropolitan Man," favorited in my web browser for at least a year before finally deciding to read through it fully yesterday. I had heard it was one of the "greatest Superman stories" told but I've always had a personal disdain towards fan-fiction and so put it off. Well, I have to say that after finishing the story I regret not reading it sooner. It's really quite amazing.

I enjoyed the grounded setting of the 30's, I enjoyed the realistic analysis of Superman's powers, and the deconstruction of his mythos; including how he reacts to events and how others react to him. And while the story isn't perfect (whose is?) I think you did a fine job crafting a story with an interesting take on Superman and some wonderful themes.

I agree with many of your own criticisms. Lois Lane feels a bit too antagonistic towards Superman which doesn't feel natural and the ending could have used a bit more polish. Basically, I felt the ending didn't tie things up like the themes of the story quite as neatly as it should have. It just kind of happens without any sort of foreshadow or real reflection. However, all in all I believe that the story is quite wonderful despite these minor flaws, especially the ending. I for one am not upset with the fact that Superman dies or that the story is a tragic one.

While I'm sure you won't reveal to anyone your own personal interpretation and meaning behind the story I felt that the theme of the story was one of fear. But not just any kind of fear rather fear of the unknown and fear of being controlled. "The Metropolitan Man," in the story does not refer to Superman but that of Lex Luthor. Lex is the perfect example of the limitless potential of humanity, he is a self-made man who rose to wealth and power using nothing but his wits. There is no obstacle he cannot overcome given time, education, and resources.

Superman, on the other hand, is the idealized/fantasized version of perfection, a literal avatar of good and righteousness. However, his innate abilities are all manifested physically and are ones he was bestowed with upon birth, none were abilities he had to work towards achieving; he simply is. He doesn't accomplishes through brute strength/powers, similar to the Judaeo-Christian concept of GOD. He judges, fairly, and then through his force acts doling out "punishment."

To Lex, the metropolitan man, Superman is an affront to everything humanity stands for. Rather than treat this GOD with reverence and respect he (and many others) choose instead to meet him with suspicion and fear for things he could possibly do. But, I do not believe that Luthor actually hates Superman because he poses any real threat but simply hates the notion that Superman believes himself to be the arbiter of humanity. A man who has never had to struggle for a single moment as Lex did his entire life. The notion that this man, no this alien, could be a symbol for humanity is an insult to Luthor. That idea he could judge anyone while he is incapable of experiencing pain is repulsive to him.

Once-Over said...

And that was why he had to die. Superman's final offer to Luthor I thought was quite brilliant and illustrated this point as well as just how much Superman did not understand Luthor who serves as a realistic representation of humanity as a whole. In the end, Superman's offer Lex a reprieve, a chance to actually help Superman use his powers to achieve the maximum amount of good. But, as enticing as the offer sounds it still places Lex in a metaphorical cage, it's a very nice cage but a cage nonetheless. He must do things on Superman's terms or he will be reigned in under the constant threat of force. And, true to his humanity he simply cannot accept those terms even in the face of possible death.

Superman's death is tragic because he wishes for nothing more than to do good for humanity but what he doesn't understand is that humanity does not accept authority very easily. This is why GOD is often viewed as an abstract entity, never interfering with free-will only passing judgment after your death. This can be accepted by many humans because it leaves them free to carry out their lives, in addition to the fact that there is no concrete proof he exists always watching, judging.

Superman's direct intervention puts him at odds with The Metropolitan Man, a man of reason, wit and intellect who believes that humanity's problems can be solved by humanity through patience and the constant seeking of knowledge. Superman saved a woman from a burning building, the Metropolitan Man passed the Equal Rights Amendment so that they could save themselves. For humanity to grow Superman had to be removed, he was a retardant to human advancement. Thus, Superman create the perfect obstacle for man to overcome.

Who Killed the Man of Tomorrow? It wasn't any GODS or Kings, just a man; or rater a Metropolitan Man.