Sunday, November 15, 2009

Identity notes and commentary: 01 - "In the Cold Rain"

"Notes and commentary" gives some added context to the chapters and the process of writing them, somewhat in summary of the experiences I relate from my blog here. There may be spoilers in the commentary that follows; hence, on the front page it is hidden with a "read more" link.

What I will say, though, is "first chapter, woot?"

Something you might glean from my blog here is that I was "finished" with a draft of this chapter in July.

It's not exactly August right now. Or September. Or October. So what happened? That's a complicated question, and there's no simple answer. In this, I think my desire to shortcut the outlining process failed me, although my faith in an outline that is constantly updated and sometimes disregarded has inspired me to leave it somewhat deliberately unfinished for this reason. There's no accounting for further development, after all, and I hoped that I could save myself some unnecessary work by broad-stroking a lot of the details. Perhaps that was wrong.

Still, I think I attribute most of the difficulties with this chapter to depth, or lack thereof. One thing I wanted to do in Identity was explore character depth a lot more fully and write out and connect scenes as much as possible (some of my more normal, choppy style can be seen in act 5). Flow, I figured, must be important, and preserving the flow and integrity of a story was something I felt my writing lacked. In short, I was afraid my writing read too fast and, in so doing, actually read slow (I did read that somewhere, anyway, that more detail makes it fast, paradoxically). Writing is complicated, though, and so simple intentions seldom translate well.

On the whole, though, I think I succeeded. Compared to the first draft, the depth and complexity of characters is much improved, particular in characters not central to the chapter, such as Ukyo and Shampoo. Indeed, in the first draft, Shampoo didn't even bother to attack Akane, and Ukyo was just smug as ever about her relationship with Ranma, in part to assert it and defend it, but still, there was nothing so ghastly as the attack in act 2 (the whole act I created from nothing after the first draft--originally there was just a scuffle, nothing more). Some might say this "improvement" is all negative. All I can say is that more focus on all the fiancees will feature in chapter 3.

And right now someone's going, "But your chapter 1 took 4 months and 30 thousand words!" I do find that 30k mark somewhat...excessive, but numbers shouldn't be a deal-breaker by themselves.

Admittedly, there were a lot of things that bothered me about this chapter in the first draft. It takes place over two days. Even that doesn't change in the final version, and while that struck me as fast, it also didn't serve any purpose to drag it out. Such would only dilute the strong emotions everyone experiences.

The second thing I didn't like was how Ukyo came off: smug and assertive really without redeeming quality. Someone might be going, "No, that's your current version," but it really isn't. You may not feel it as immediately due to not being in her point of view (don't worry, you will be), but Ukyo's a character in conflict. She doesn't come right out and say she wanted Akane dead. I think most of the time, you ask her if she did or does and she'll vehemently deny it, and not just to protect herself, either. Ranma has to catch her on it. She doesn't like that she felt that way, and in context of her promise to him, it's an untenable state to want Akane dead, for any purpose.

The third thing was how Akane came off. A major aim of the revision was trying to make her descent into old paranoia more realistic and logical to the reader. Some might say it's not logical at all and that she would never accuse Ranma of going behind her back to romance the other girls. To them, I say, "What series have you been reading or watching?" That's exactly Akane, and we see in her how she's tried to battle against those tendencies, tried to make herself perfect (as she conceives it) for Ranma...and failed to do so. Her need to have Ranma's confidence is just an incarnation of a greater need: to be his equal or to be at parity with him. To be a partner, not a subordinate. In some ways, this is impossible for her. She can never be the martial artist Ranma is. In others, she only wishes to uphold what society sees as her role. That is something worth exploring, and I do want to put under the magnifying glass that dissonance between what her expected role is and who she wants to be (and how that's changed due to Ranma), but that will have to feature later.

On the whole, though, the chapter is rather strange, in the sense that it's a lot of time spent on dynamics that, without giving too much away, won't be developed a lot over the course of this first book (out of three, mind), yet the mysterious enemy who's taken Jusenkyo will come closer to front and center, rather than playing a satellite role in each of the 5 acts of this chapter. That was actually a major barrier to me committing to do it this way, but I in the end, though the plot may not come to bear fully on these relationships for a while yet, they are important setup for the events that follow. They give context to why Ranma would leave Nerima when he could've done so many times before.

Or maybe I just didn't want to give up Ranma using the Shishi Hokoudan. I changed a lot about this chapter, from the sorcerers coming to Nerima (unworkable; why would they come?) to first-person in Akane's POV (which would've been really bold but really, really hard for an ensemble piece like this...will be) to 18 other things. I even considered writing Eclipse, my Star Trek idea, or The Color Red, which, if you know The Bitter End, well...let's just say Zen's story was my second introduction to Ranma 1/2, my first being tvtropes, and while I disagree with some of his character interpretation (okay, a lot), the issues explored are real and central to humanity. That's the key to any good story. In Zen's piece (because I really don't want to have to type out more italics right now), it's a battle against rage that consumes you. In mine...well, I'll hold out on that one. For now.

On the whole, though, I'm really pleased with how this chapter saved itself.  I feel that the expansion it underwent is natural and really served to give the conflicts meaning.  That's all an author could ever want.

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