Friday, July 23, 2010

Identity 4.7 - "To Slay the Monters within Our Souls"

The final act of chapter four on

I've actually been working on chapter three of "Before and After" for the last week or so, and as a result I'm even further behind on Identity, but I felt it was time to look at something different. I think it's good to change gears that way every once in a while. If I've learned anything from coming back to that story, it's to remember always to keep in mind a character's emotional journey.

Anyway, commentary below.

What's the point of a chapter where, in the end, almost everything is the same as when you started? What's the point when, in the final analysis, Ranma's still a prisoner of the Sorcerers and Jusenkyo is even more impenetrable than it was before? None of the main characters have died or anything drastic like that. It all seems like a total Shaggy Dog Story. It all seems like it was for nothing.

I could defend my choice in this matter with a pure statement of facts. The facts are that some things have changed from beginning to end here: Cologne now knows the Sorcerers' objective is Saffron, and she'll be quick to share that with the others. Ranma has grown immensely in magical capability and power, and that is something that can't be erased. Akane has had a tough dealing with the Sorcerers in a way that could, given the chance, strongly motivate her for the events to come.

Ultimately, however, the only defense I have is what comes after this chapter, not anything that resides fully within it.

I know it must be particularly funny when you take the result of this chapter and go back to what I said before: that one must be willing to do things that are inconvenient for the plot because it would be too contrived, too convenient, to do otherwise. Is it convenient that Kohl chooses to release Akane? Is it convenient that the Sorcerers can send a hundred-man force to Jusenkyo so quickly as to overwhelm the Amazons there? Ultimately, only the reader can decide. All I can do is show that I planned things to happen this way; I didn't pull this Sorcerer army out of a hat. We knew it was coming since act three or four, after all. That's the benefit of planning. It dulls the impact of something that might otherwise have to be inserted without a moment's notice. And I can say definitively that I didn't do this without a lot of consideration, but I stick by the story before me. I think what's to come will make it fit.

In a lot of ways, this was a complicated chapter to write. I didn't expect it to be this long, but on balance, I shouldn't be surprised. When you have a chapter that has a lot happen, it will take a long time to tell in a pacing that makes sense. We have multiple events transpiring across two different places or more. There are perspective jumps without scene breaks because, ultimately, what I felt needed to be followed was the progression of causality, of decision-making. Ranma gets moving up to the peak to look for Akane largely because he can see Cologne's attack going on above and knows he's running out of time. We shift to Kohl's perspective after Akane falls because the scene is still unfolding, and someone needs to be at the center of the point of view. Despite its length, the chapter maintains a brisk pace, in my mind. There isn't a point of break or a respite. Everything just keeps going.

It's a bitter thing to have your heroes fail, and to justify it, I feel it may take more of a threat than the minimum really needed to expect a retreat, a setback. To this point in the story, no one on the Amazon side had seen a Sorcerer turn a person to ash. They fought against tough odds and persevered, yet I thought if anything could make the Amazons shake in their boots, the spell that decimated their forces 20 years ago would do it, and for Kohl to realize just how potent and dangerous that magic is seemed appropriate for the moment. There's a good reason Kohl's surprised to unleash that power. Again, my only defense is in the context provided after the battle.

I felt it was very important for Akane not to be a simple bystander, a damsel in distress, for this battle. Even crippled as she was, she makes an honest attempt at escape, at distraction, and to an extent, it works--maybe not the way she thought, but it does work. She's not going to bowl over a Sorcerer army, but one-on-one she can inconvenience even Kohl, and once again, there's the dissonance in Kohl between begrudging respect and duty to his tribe. And that hesitation costs him. You might even say it's part of why he doesn't want Akane there any longer, but I also think his entreaty for her understanding is genuine. Akane herself may not stop trying to find Ranma, but it's expedient if the Amazons get out of Kohl's way, and I think he too is frightened by the magic he unleashed. Who can say.

And what of Ranma? What does he get for his trouble? It may not seem like much, but consider the powers he's managed to tap into, not from training or time but simple emotional desperation and need. In some ways, I must admit it's a little tough writing for something like Ranma, where the rules of combat or magic are often malleable to serve comedic timing. It often means you have to balance one instance or depiction against another in the same canon, but in the end, all you can do is pick the way you want to portray things and try to be consistent (if that's important to you--it should be clear that one need not strictly do so and still have a successful work, for after all, that's the very problem being faced).

So what are the monsters and demons of this chapter, then? For my part, as I've said in the commentaries for many of the preceding installments, it's that feeling of weakness and helplessness that we all face at one point or another. Even when Ranma was weakened, he stared blindly into the abyss and found that last bit of strength to tap into. Even when he thought he could do nothing to find Akane, he made one last effort to buy time and let the others get to safety. Akane herself, too, crippled and wounded, provides a critical distraction at a time most needed. That's the kind of story I'm trying to write here--one where people face up to their shortcomings, their fears, and come out the better for it. One must swim, dive, and sink into the abyss to do it, but eventually, they come up in the light.

But, of course, part of the fun is seeing just how black the water can get. That's my opinion on the meaning of monsters and demons, anyway, but as always, when something isn't spelled out in text for you to read, you should feel free to find the meaning that appeals to you.

What monsters do you see when you look into the mirror? What monsters lie within your soul? What demons would you banish from the quiet corners of your mind, so that you may sing and ponder and dream?

The answers to these questions are different for all of us, and in writing, I hope to explore these characters and discover a unique solution for each of them.

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