Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Before and After" 03 - "After Bardiel"

The third chapter of "Before and AFter" on

After taking a while to work out act 5.2 of Identity, I felt it was time to write this chapter of "Before and After," and I think it was a welcome break and chance to refocus. As usual, more thoughts on the themes and experience of writing this chapter below.

Sometimes, you have a story in your head, but you just can't figure out how to get it started, or you get started and you realize midway through that something's really just wrong, and you need to go back and fix it. I've heard before that you can't be afraid to tear down everything you've done if you know you can do it better, and while I seldom do that for analytical reasons, sometimes, you just know that what you have is missing something, that what you've already written, as much as you may want to stick to it, just isn't right.

It's for this reason that, as I write this right now, there are about six alternate copies of this chapter on my hard drive--some for trivial reasons like changing a paragraph to suit the mood, but most because around 3000 words in, I realized the chapter needed something more. It needed a sentiment to tie everything together; it needed reorganization.

I actually had the idea about dreams and dreaming before I started really reworking the chapter. The crux of the problem, instead, was the confrontation with Gendo, something I'd intended, originally, to start the chapter and set up the conflicts to follow, but more and more, I realized it didn't make sense to start there. Rather, it made the most sense to end there--or at least, to end as close to it as I could. Once Rei had spoken to Gendo and Shinji, everything else was done, and I realized there was more story to tell than that.

One thing I try to do is make sure every character has something they're after, something they want, even if that's not what drives them at any given point in time. You have paramedics trying to do their jobs here. You have Hikari who's worried for Toji, you have Asuka who's trying to protect Hikari, who may well be her only real friend in town. There's Gendo, who's only looking out for Yui, and there's Fuyutsuki, who's devoted to Yui in his own, low-key way. I know it's tempting, as an author, to use characters to merely advance story, and indeed, often times you must do that. What purpose does the nurse in the ER serve? What purpose does the guard in the cell block serve? In truth, they're there because it would make less sense if they weren't. They're not developed because they can't be, because they shouldn't be, but even so, I think it's good to make sure they make an impression. Do you remember how the nurse caught Rei trying to go out naked? Do you remember the guard, who was so easily intimidated by the weak threat of Gendo's ire that he let Rei do what she wanted? They're little moments, but they mean a lot.

When I really embraced the idea of dreaming, though, I felt I should truly run with it. Evangelion is a great series for playing with perception, with states of mind. I wanted to get to the idea of a part of Rei residing in Unit-00, and this seemed like a great opportunity. I will admit, it's not something you can prove, outside of the one line in episode 23 where she references directly "the me inside Eva," but it's a sensible theory. It adequately explains what Shinji saw in episode 14 when he tried to sync with Unit-00; it explains why Unit-00 went berserk before the series and necessitated Shinji's arrival. But it's just a theory, even still, and while ordinarily I hesitate to use fanon-esque theories, however sound they may be, it's much harder to completely avoid them when you write a story that deals with those issues in real time, as opposed to something that looks backward, like Identity.

Of course, whenever an author admits they thought there was "a lot more story to tell," that's code for "it's a lot longer than I thought it would be," and that's every bit as true here. Originally, I thought the progression of the chapter would be this: Rei's called to Gendo's office to discuss why she didn't fire, she goes see Shinji in the hospital ward, she dreams the traincar scene, she goes back to see if Shinji might stay, and then the ending where she's rejected by Unit-01, by Yui, which leads into the last bit. You can see I reordered things significantly, added quite a bit of work with the beginning (where Rei sees her "first" self, where Rei goes to the hospital herself) and middle (all the scenes at school). All this, I felt, was necessary to get Rei's emotional state of mind right. I realized in the first few drafts that Rei knew too much too fast, and part of the experience of first-person is getting to know things in the sequence the POV character learns them and reading their reaction.

Of course, introducing so much stuff really slowed everything down, so I had to be careful about emotional impact and pacing. Things in this chapter take a lot longer to develop than I imagined, as I purposefully put on the breaks so Rei, in essence, wouldn't get ahead of herself and feel stuff I wanted her to feel later. I think it would've been valid if Rei had realized she did care for Shinji much earlier than she does, but it only has impact where she realizes it, not anywhere else. Separating the traincar scene so far from where she actually talks to Shinji, I had to repeat myself a lot to make sure those ideas were remembered and fresh when she finally did get to see him. The sequence of events makes sense, though, and that's important.

In fact, a lot of the things I added I added not because I wanted to but because I realized the timing of the chapter--and, hence, the whole timing of episode 19--was very very fixed. The battle against Bardiel takes place on what we'll call the afternoon/evening of Day 0. When Toji wakes up, Hikari says he's been asleep three days, and this scene is before Shinji's thrown out of Nerv. Thus, I chose my timeline: Asuka and Rei are outside Shinji's room the night of day 0 (perhaps, by that time, it's the morning of day 1). I chose to have the traincar vision take place overnight that night. Hikari also says that Shinji's been discharged the day before Toji awakens; hence, he's not discharged here until day 2, even if it's early morning day 2. In essence, I packed the chapter more full of stuff because I knew I had at least two days to fill, and I didn't just want to skip over them.

Attention to detail is important to me, although sometimes it has to be compromised. When I started writing this story, I realized I absolutely had no idea how to handle something: what does Rei call Asuka in her mind? It's not "Asuka," certainly. I figured "Soryu" or "Pilot Soryu" would make the most sense as being not friendly but also not disrespectful, simply very neutral. Only while watching 2.0 and rewatching episode 14 did I realize it was more likely she just calls her, literally, "the pilot of Unit-02." And so, to be consistent, I would've had to veer from what I'd already done and use a totally clumsy moniker that, well, I can't imagine even Rei would stick with if she wrote about Asuka for any length of time. Maybe it works better in Japanese; I don't think it works in English. Hence, I've done what I've done and stuck with Rei calling Asuka by her family name (or variations thereof) most of the time. In places where it wouldn't be clumsy to work in "the pilot of Unit-02" or "Unit-02's pilot," I think I'll try to use that, but it's tough. At best, where Asuka's name could be used, I think of ways it could be avoided without making the construction overly clumsy. As always, a writer must strike a balance.

It's kind of the same thing as I did with Gendo. I chose the phrasing "the Commander" largely because I thought it conveyed a higher level of respect, in an English-speaker's mind, than "Commander Ikari," which, while maybe the literal or exact translation of what she says and how she refers to Gendo almost exclusively, doesn't really capture the kind of reverence I think she'd associate with him. Again, I think this is an English/Japanese distinction; it happens to a lesser extent with Misato and In English, to repeat names often strikes as clumsy, while in Japanese it's normal and even, if I've heard correctly, more polite than even using a pronoun. Hence, it's a balance between the letter of what is said and the sense of things.

One thing I will say about Rei is that it's very difficult to find a good balance between stating what she feels and implying. My concept of her is that she's likely to understate whatever she's feeling, in part because she doesn't understand it, in part because she doesn't have the words for it. The result, however, makes it tough to convey how much in pain she is through her own voice. She's going to say she hurts. She can describe it in quite a bit of detail, but she's not the kind of person to dwell on it, and in truth, it's actually easier to rely on other people to say she's in pain. It's because she'd never complain about it that she doesn't get to describe it with as much time or detail as any other narrator would.

A lot can be said of why I chose to keep Rei in pain for this chapter. I mean, who knows how long the residual pain of having a limb taken off would last? Here, it lingers for a couple days, and that pain becomes symbolic of Rei's relationship with Gendo and how he won't show compassion for anyone, not just her. It's Yui he loves, no one else. And all Rei's looking for is some way, some person, to help deal with her pain.

Of course, after Gendo, the person she looks to for help with that is Shinji, and in his current state of mind, Shinji's less than receptive. I have a hard time pinning down what Shinji's problem is. You can see what my theories are, but in the end, he's a very complex character--his motives are seldom simple, his reactions are layered. I see a strong contrast between several aspects of Shinji. One aspect is a normal, compassionate, ordinary kid. Another is so scarred by his abandonment at Gendo's hands that he comes in very timid and passive. A third is so angry, by comparison, that he lashes out at the people who abuse him. And it's hard to say any one of those traits dominates. I think, naturally, what Rei likes about Shinji is his compassion, but that timidness and anger within him can get in the way. What's tragic about Shinji leaving her isn't that he's a pure monster at heart. It's that he's not.

And when Rei's abandoned, all she wants to do is die, but as we know, her death isn't to come just yet.

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