Friday, January 22, 2010

Identity 02 - "The Village"

Chapter Two, "The Village," is now on I've revised the act breaks with roman numbers and titles: this, I feel, is a happy compromise between splitting the chapter into further parts and giving more of a segmented feel, something people feel they can put down for a bit when they need to. And, for that matter, I ended up quite liking the titles, even though they were originally placeholders in LaTeX.

Coming soon: Chapter 03 - "Journey to Jusenkyo": Akane, Shampoo, and Ukyo settle debts of honor and guilt with themselves and their families, freeing their hearts for a mission to mainland China, the search for Ranma.

Commentary on "The Village" is below.

As I mentioned in commentary for "In the Cold Rain," original drafts of the novel had the Ki Sorcerers seek out Ranma in Nerima. In retrospect, I could well have done that, but instead, I chose to have Ranma go to Jusenkyo and encounter them there. Akane, Ukyo, and Shampoo will still have to prepare for their mission to China, but that story will have to wait for chapter three.

Over the course of writing this chapter I've still been worried about speed. It's not that writing fast is necessarily important, certainly not at the cost of quality, but I do want to make the process efficient and reduce frustrating roadblocks. There's a lot of story to tell. On balance, I realize there may be too much to tell, and perhaps I could afford to take a hard look at what's ahead and pare down more. It's something I'm hesitant to do, though. What's as important as plot and events is pacing. What happens to these characters is a series of small challenges that build. Presented as one big dilemma it doesn't act the same or behave the same. Some people change based on one moment, but I don't think that's how all or even most people work. The events that shape our lives are several moments put together, and that's what I try to capture in my writing.

Ironically one of the moments I first imagined about this chapter, with Ranma waking up in his hut, I had to change. Initially, Kohl was going to be there with him, an introduction to the Sorcerers' village, but I struggled to find a reason for him to stay there. I found the two characters actually had good chemistry together (acrimonious chemistry, but chemistry nonetheless), but ultimately, it served no purpose, and it was more interesting to have Ranma strike out alone, with people watching him. A lot of things I imagined had to be cut, and things I had yet to conceive of before I started actually writing blossomed beyond my imagining. The battle in the lower village I built largely on the fly (though the war it took place in was, for lack of a better phrase, all part of the plan). When I conceived of the ritual at the spring, I didn't initially want to make it clear that they were cursing babies, but there was really nothing else to hold attention if I didn't. When I outlined the battle within the tower, I'd thought there would be only one fountain, but the placement became problematic for the number of channelers there would be.

One thing I did worry about was how disconnected this village was from the Ranma canon we know. To counter this, I tried as much as possible to emphasize Ranma's craftiness and wits or, when those failed, his raw emotional drives. He's sensitive to his curse, and these people really push that button of his. I hoped that, by always looking for ways out, Ranma would carry the reader's interest. Even when the village's mysteries deepen, that's not what Ranma wants to know for the sake of knowing. He looks for how these intricacies might help him escape.

There are a lot of little oddities that evolved over the writing of this chapter. Writing chapter one, I didn't have any idea what kinds of weapons these people would use. Throwing stars, like the ones I mentioned, are Japanese in origin and thus don't really belong (whoops). Ranma lampshades that daggers aren't great weapons to poison people by cutting, either, but this is a case of irony. Even knowing that, I resisted the idea of darts or other objects, stabbing more traumatic than I wanted, even if just from a dart. For similar reasons, I changed the Sorcerers' weapons from spears to staves (and doubly appropriate, at that).

Once I read that it's a bad idea to show villains in such depth or detail so early in a story, that it's better to leave them in the shadows, to menace the heroes in ways that we must only imagine or fear. I think, to some extent, this was true in Battlestar Galactica (the new one), as the Cylons made a much better enemy when their motives were ill understood, mysterious. In some ways, I've chosen the other direction. I want their motives (largely) understood. We know the Sorcerers seek to replace their Sieve, and that is why they searched for Ranma. There are deeper reasons, but that suffices, for now. There's room for mystery in a story, of course, but I still find the idea of motives and goals on collision course to be attractive. When you understand a conflict, when you can imagine how it might've been avoided, maybe it makes that all the more tragic and powerful. Again, I cannot say.

There are more things that I created more or less out of whole cloth while writing. Sometimes, this bothers me, for I wish I could foresee what would be needed to give proper context. I'm not sure if this is a failure of the outlining process. In the past, I've expanded from outlines freely. Indeed, I view expansion as natural and necessary, as things need to build naturally (compare this against what I said about character evolution), but the difference is that in outlines, sometimes you need to cut things out, rearrange, or replace. Again, not unexpected, but I'd rather, at times, that these passages I cut were placeholders, not things I really thought would work. For a time, I had Ranma encounter Lieutenant Xiu atop the waterfall, where the Sorcerers would've trained in advanced tactics (stuff too dangerous to do on palace grounds). I tried several times to make this scene work before dumping the whole line altogether. I even rewrote the open to get more momentum. Stuff happens I guess.

Of course, much of the driving action with this chapter has to do with the "Sieve of Ki," what his purpose is, and so on. Over the course of drafts, the Sieve became the central plot device for the novel as a whole, replacing a much weaker idea that I'd started with: a cursed tribe that hunts down people who deny their own curses. Not that that couldn't be interesting, but it just didn't resonate with the issues the Ranma characters have. Thus I invented the Sieve, and as I needed to better define the Sieve's purpose, I began to borrow freely from Star Wars, specifically Knights of the Old Republic II (a good game; would've been better if they'd had time to finish, but I digress). A key concept in KoTOR 2 was the protagonist had been cut off from the Force. He represented a wound, a void that grew natural bonds with others. That concept heavily influenced my idea of the Sieve, along with the connotations of the word (a sieve filters, straining out the unwanted). There's a lot of little hints in that scene, too, where Ranma meets Tilaka. To some extent, I cheated. Tilaka refers to the Sieve's duties using she, though I know not all languages would even make the distinction in that context, but for what bounds English provides, it does give a clue that Tilaka doesn't see himself as male. This chapter is full of little hints like that; to tell the truth, it's something I probably enjoy a little too much. The story may not be a mystery per se, but I think every story needs to have unanswered questions whose answers are hinted at but may not be explicitly stated for a time--perhaps a long time.

At any rate, I realize this may not be what people expected, that in the wake of a chapter heavily focused on character interactions, we get this strange mystery about a village we don't really care about--save that their people are holding Ranma. Ultimately, I rely on you, the reader, to tell me if this carried interest or not.

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