Gwenda Bond: Five Things I Learned Writing Lois Lane: Fallout
Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight.
As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy…
How to channel my inner Lois Lane.
The first question everyone asks me about this book is how it came into being. Was it my idea or theirs? How did I score such a sweet gig? (I always want to say: Believe me, I don’t know what they were thinking either! I’m just grateful.) The answer is that I was approached via my agent about whether I was interested in writing Lois Lane as a teenage reporter. I asked if I’d have freedom to flesh out the concept, and the answer was yes. So my answer was YES PLEASE.
With a side helping of terror and secret worries that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Because, truth is, I adore Lois Lane (and Superman) and always have. This was a dream project, dropping from the sky into my lap at the exact perfect moment when I could say yes and get started right away. But . . . what if I screwed it up? Well, you can’t be so afraid to screw up that you aren’t willing to try.
I had to channel my inner Lois and be determined to do my best, while developing the superpower of shutting out the worries about being the person who screwed up a showcase for one of the greatest characters ever created, one known around the entire world. I think, though, that this lesson is applicable beyond this specific book—at least, I plan to treat it that way. If we’re not challenging ourselves to do something a little or a lot terrifying as writers, where failure is possible and has consequences, then we probably should be making bolder choices. That mix of terror and determination is where good writing lives.
Exploit the strengths of your chosen form and genre.
Lois is obviously one of the best known characters in pop culture, period, the end—and for good reason. Since her first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938 (also Superman’s first appearance), she has been an inspiration for so many of us. She’s a working woman, a truth-seeking journalist willing to do anything to get the story. And her boyfriend has traditionally been pretty interesting too. Lois Lane is probably one of the few characters in the world that we could all list off traits for and hit most of the same ones: stubborn, loyal, tough, witty, driven. She’s a hero. A superhero, even though her lone superpowers are her personality, her pen, and commitment to justice.
She’s had many, many incarnations. Some wonderful, some . . . er . . . less so. But one of the things that makes a character an icon is the ability to survive good and bad portrayals.
What I wanted was to truly use the thing that novels provide that other forms of storytelling can’t in quite the same way: a close-up of the character’s interior life. Getting the balance of Lois’s tough exterior and more vulnerable interior right was challenging, and my editor helped me with that lots, but it was key in hopefully making my teenage Lois feel not just like the versions who’ve come before (though I did want to reflect them), but like my Lois too. This is Lois becoming who she is and finding her place in the world, something young adult fiction is uniquely poised to portray.
My process is still changing.
Never in a million years would I have thought myself capable of writing as detailed an outline as I did up front for this book, and—largely—sticking to it. But it’s what was required to make sure everyone understood my concept of the book and its world and characters, as well as how the story would unfold, and so I did. And it came remarkably fast.
The lesson I learned here is that sometimes by deciding we know exactly what we’re capable of as writers and defining too strictly what our processes are we may box ourselves into the same old thing when a new approach is required. I’m much more open to considering different methods of preliminary work on a story now, or even if I hit a wall during the writing. Outlining in depth doesn’t require that I stick to it devotedly if a better idea comes up in the writing itself—but it did make me stop and question. Am I making a change that’s actually better or just different?
If I don’t enjoy living in the world of the story or the point-of-view character’s head, what are the odds the reader will?
This isn’t a likeability thing at all, but it is an experience of the story thing. I know for some writers, having their work described as fun makes them want to run screaming from the room. But I actually want my books to show the reader a good time, particularly this one. To me, fun isn’t antithetical to deeper layers of meaning or characterization. The two can go hand in hand.
Lois fans are the best.
This speaks for itself, but the dedication and smarts and support of the Lois Lane fans out there since the book was announced up through today (and I’m guessing tomorrow and the day after that!) is something—like this project—I could never have known to dream for. And something, like this project, for which I’m tremendously grateful.
And I hope if you aren’t a Lois Lane fan already, Fallout will make you one. Join us.
Bio: Gwenda Bond is the author of the young adult novels Lois Lane: Fallout and Girl on a Wire, among others. She has also written for Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications. She has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie.