Now that school's settling back in, I really should have time (eventually) to do this post I've had sitting for a couple weeks on translation and connotation. There's also something interesting transpiring on the tvtropes Ranma fanfic recommendations page, which I may comment on depending on how it develops. All I'll say right now is that it does bring into question how good a recommendation page is if some folks who make recommendations have, well, poor taste. Taste is subjective, you say? Well, that's true, too, which is why it's not clear-cut, but I digress.
Anyway, as usual, commentary below.
When I picked up this chapter to start editing, I had some concerns. There were things I wanted to get across--Kohl's suspicious nature, how Tilaka sees herself, how Ranma would try to make his case to get to Phoenix Mountain, and so on--but I worried that this installment wasn't about goals and confrontation, and without confrontation, that would make the act weak. To counter this, I came up with various ideas--one in particular to have this act take place at a camp outside Mount Phoenix, with Kohl trying to find out what happened to his scouts. In the end, however, I felt that readers would care even less about that, and to pull that off, it would require even more jumping around in time. That's something I used to do quite a bit, but of late, I've tried to be more sparing with the device. That's a philosophical choice, of course, but it seems to me like as a general rule, things should be told chronologically as much as possible, to avoid giving readers whiplash. Yes, it can be broken, but breaking it should be justified.
So instead, we have an act focused mostly on the Sorcerers and Kohl. Kohl is an interesting case because, when I conceived of the character, I thought he would be fiercely loyal, and he hasn't really turned out that way. This all goes back to making Tilaka a more important character. By making Tilaka someone so important to Kohl, I'd pitted Kohl against Sindoor, even if only subtly. The result is that Kohl doesn't really trust or even like Sindoor, the person he should be following without question. But Kohl doesn't seem to trust anyone, with a possible exception of Tilaka. And Kohl's frustration with the situation is genuine: even in a position of power, Kohl doesn't really have full view of what's going on; only Sindoor does. I will say that I feel Kohl is loyal to his people without question, but that's a generalized loyalty. It's the difference between being patriotic and following a specific leader.
As I hinted in chapter two, Tilaka sees himself (or I should say, herself) as a girl and lives that way when given the choice. She's lived as a boy for so long because her cursed body--the one that's female--isn't so attuned to magic, just as the villagers aren't. I've had some trouble developing Tilaka because I couldn't really get a handle on what she wanted or how she would go about achieving it, and that bothered me. If a character's important, they absolutely must want something. For them to be interesting, they should take steps to get it. This is what drives a story, and it's best to keep named characters to a minimum if they don't have something they want or if they don't seek it out. I do have a solid concept of what Tilaka wants--maybe you'll catch a hint of that in this act--but working out how she goes about getting it has always been a bit puzzling to me.
What this act does get into is the mythology of the Sorcerers, so to speak (using that more in the X-files sense than anything like ancient myths). To me, Sindoor in particular is the absolute driving force of this story. Though we seldom see into her head, it's what she wants that makes everything else move forward. Sindoor is the leader of a people who use magic in everyday life. Sindoor uses magic herself and listens to the ripples of ki. She has warriors who embrace magic fully, yet she herself doesn't seem to believe in it--or at the least, she's losing faith. She sent a priest to Jusenkyo to pursue other bodies that the Sorcerers might use. Even Kohl senses it: Sindoor fears something. Maybe it's the destruction of her village. Maybe it's something else.
Maybe you remember she told Ranma the story of the battle at the waterfall, of Prince Bailu who obliterated the Amazon army and turned them to ash?
Why, then, would she claim no knowledge of that story to Kohl?
More than that, why doesn't Kohl know it? The Amazons all do.
These are questions, of course, that I have planned out answers to, and maybe that's a bad thing--not that the questions have answers but that I'm planting these questions so early. I have this tendency to make stories into puzzles, but puzzles confuse people. That said, I do think people can feel some sense of continuity, of reward, when they see how all the pieces have been laid out, just waiting to come together. I leave it to you to decide if this is enjoyable or not.
But aside from simply posing these questions for the sake of screwing with people's minds, I do think it's worthy to consider. If you were someone like Kohl, if you'd spent your whole life in this village, and you realized you couldn't completely trust the leader of your people, how would you react? Admittedly, Kohl can't do a whole lot about it, and he's not at the point where he thinks Sindoor is working against the village or anything like that, but for whatever reason, this woman says she trusts Kohl more than anyone else, yet he feels like he knows nothing. What does that say about Sindoor? What does that say about Kohl?
Kohl, for his part, has made a choice. Though Sindoor distrusts magic, Kohl embraces it. He might dislike his girl body, but he's not at all afraid of magic. Despite Sindoor's warnings, Kohl is a pragmatist--nay, he has faith in the ways of his people and in magic, and that's why he uses it. In that way, Kohl and Sindoor are opposites, even though they're both capable of manipulating people.
I really enjoyed writing the scene in Sindoor's court where Kohl eggs Ranma on. For Ranma, it must be a particularly jarring sense of vulnerability and panic. He doesn't know what Akane's told Kohl. He doesn't know what they did to her. It's as Kohl says--letting Ranma know that he knows fundamentally alters the balance of the interaction. It makes Ranma panic, if only a little, until he remembers that Akane is safe with the Amazons, not in Kohl's custody. That Ranma is so jumpy about Akane is, in part, my own choice. I don't think someone can recover from seeing or thinking a loved one died very easily. Perhaps it even rises to the level of post-traumatic stress. That Ranma has kept his feelings to himself for so long only compounds the issue.
In the end, this act is called "Riddles," and while I struggled with a title at first, I can't think of anything more appropriate. I think this installment shows clearly how people lie to each other, manipulate their friends and enemies, to achieve the end they desire and how, in such a climate, it's hard to trust anyone at all.
As I mentioned at the end of the act, I'll be taking an extra week to get act four ready, as that is literally, at this point in time, all that is written beyond outlines for act five and chapters six and seven. I'm hoping the extra week will give me time to finish the chapter before I post act four. I'm not sure how many break weeks I'll need to get back on track with sufficient buffer. This story isn't writing itself as quickly as Echoes, to be sure, and as I've noted, the acts have tended to get longer, on average, which only compounds the issue. Still, I've enjoyed the regular feedback I've received from a consistent posting schedule. I still want to maintain the one-week schedule if possible, if only to push myself into writing consistently, but we'll have to see. This has all been an experiment, after all. A good one, I think, but it still requires some careful planning and understanding.