Friday, July 2, 2010

Identity 4.4 - "Water"

"Water" on FFN

When I was drawing up the outline to "Monsters and Demons," I originally thought it would work something like this: Ranma for an act, Shampoo and Ukyo, then Akane; Ranma again, Shampoo and Ukyo, then the finale. That's actually probably not the original order I had in mind (I think I wanted Ranma to be second in the order of three initially), but it's what I soon settled on--it was a lot easier to put Ranma first and leave what happened to Jusenkyo in mystery--and that's the basic structure (aside from splitting the last act into two parts) that persists to now.

When you do a story with several plot lines (see tvtropes; what I'm doing I think is considered either "Two Lines, No Waiting" or "Third Line, Some Waiting"--considering that the Akane/Kohl subplot gets a bit less time than the others, I'm tempted to call it the latter), you have to consider that it essentially means the plots by themselves might not work if told separately. The interweaving effect allows you to, in some ways, shorten both plotlines and remove what might be considered dull and boring. In this case, we've not seen Ranma since act one. The implied passage of time is enough to make us interested in what's happening to him. If I had to show that directly, it would slow down the pace of his plotline considerably. At least, that's my theory. It means, I hope, that I can just jump into his story again and not spend too much time detailing everything that's happened to him.

One of the big things I had to pin down was the role of Henna in this chapter. She's a priestess for the Sorcerers. What does she want? To help the animals? That's boring. Ranma doesn't buy it, and neither should you. And (I'm not sure how obvious it is), you might get an understanding of what Henna wants, even before I've really revealed it explicitly. It's not just to conduct an experiment. This is deeply personal to Henna, and it's that personal connection that I really came up with and emphasized here, not in act one. In fact, trying to retroactively work that into one didn't work--it felt too clumsy. Don't worry if you don't see it yet. Come act six, it'll all be very neatly spelled out.

It was around the time of this act that I started thinking more about humor. I read once that people will read your stories if you get them first with humor and then go into the deep stuff that you want to go into. Humor is just more accessible to people as an initial emotional reaction. To this point, Identity hasn't been a humorous story. That's not really going to change. But I am thinking carefully about ways to maintain moments of humor to lighten the mood where appropriate, to provide contrast against the darkness that can overtake later on. The good thing about having more humor is that, when you do go into the black, you can really kick people in the balls, so to speak.

Perhaps that was a bit of an inappropriate image.

But, I do like writing humor at times, even if pure comedy isn't something I find very interesting to write. It was for that reason that I felt I could get away with breaking the fourth wall a tad, where Ranma begins to "hear" the narrator in his head. That and a moment in act five are really fun moments, and I tried to keep them from going too far while also having them stand out. It's a tricky balance. I've always liked writing Ranma as a naturally snarky fellow; when he gets irritated, he snarks, and it's really a lot of fun to write because few things really bother him, but he can get just a bit ticked off at a lot of things. It's his way of resisting defeat in some sense. Even in Sorcerer captivity, he can't help but verbally jab at them. That's why I like Ranma. He can be a prankster, but as often as not, he shows irritation through wit. To us, his remarks are funny. To him, he's just speaking the brutal truth as he sees it, trying to cut through the b.s. that annoys him.

All along, I've tried to portray Ranma as a truly resourceful, cunning character, one who is most of the time a good person but who carries with him a bit of a ruthless edge, a survivalist mentality. He's not going to hesitate to kill rabbits. He mostly leaves people alone unless they bother him. He doesn't have a problem not fighting fair. The experience I talk about him having with starvation and dehydration I see as natural extensions of Genma's ways, which depending on their luck, I imagine, could dip into those very desperate levels very easily. In some respects, this is different. Ranma's magically weakened in ways he doesn't understand. That makes it worse.

Once again, we come back to weakness and inadequacy. I truly see this as driving a lot of the characters. Ranma fears himself an inadequate man or husband. Akane hesitates to confess to him, thinking herself an inadequate wife. With Shampoo, she wonders if she's done an adequate job and fulfilling her duty to the tribe, in seducing Ranma to take him or in training to be a warrior to fight alongside him. Ukyo wonders if she's a good enough daughter along with her efforts to win Ranma. I must stress these are my interpretations of the characters, that the behaviors they display in canon are merely consistent with one conception of those interpretations but do not prove them true. Is Akane really that blindly confident in her skills, or is she overcompensating for a perceived flaw? All I'm suggesting is the latter, though I don't rule out the former.

Do you remember in "Black and Red" that Akane seems to vaguely remember Kohl's communion with Sindoor? That's basically meant to make the last scene in this act more plausible. Without it, Ranma doesn't know the Sorcerers' reinforcements are coming, and that's important. Critically important.

Of course, there are some things I still wonder about, thinking whether I should've done them differently. Ranma's encounter with the Amazons in the tunnel is at once logical and yet colored by his weakness, harkening back a comment I made in reply to R. T. Stephens on his review for last act: people can do logical things for illogical reasons, using logic to justify an act that they'd already decided to do. In my mind, that's the way people work. Logic is often secondary to emotion, and Ranma, feeling weak, can't help but be a little afraid. It overrides his usual bravery, for he knows he doesn't have the strength to back it up.

A lot of the logical issues in this chapter go back to the fact that I didn't even want Ranma at Jusenkyo initially. Knowing that, you can see the issues I faced. I didn't want Ranma to actually meet with the Amazons and escape; hence, he's afraid to go face them after he's been shot. These are, I think, the subtle things authors do to justify what they want to happen, and you, the reader, must be the judge: do the reasons we give for actions and events make sense? Are they logical enough to excuse the times we steer the story in the directions we want? Look at the passage when Ranma's shot and decide for yourself. I stand ready to accept any judgment.

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