Saturday, August 21, 2010

Commentary - (5.2) "The Message"

Sorry I'm late with this commentary, folks. Here are my notes on act two of chapter five.

I've said before that whatever you write will tend to balloon and grow. I suppose this isn't strictly true. Sometimes what you write will end up being very short, especially if you know you want to do something but you haven't really thought through how to get there. I think the better statement is that what you plan to write may end up shorter than you think, but the natural reaction to that is to pad it out until it feels right.

I say padding and that word sounds bad, but I think there's a simpler rule to consider: does the scene serve a purpose? Is that purpose important enough to justify the scene's existence? Is there a way to condense and cut things down to speed up the flow of plot?

I'll be the first to admit that I seldom cut things, and that's probably a weakness. I haven't done a major cut and restructuring since I posted chapter one and inserted the whole second act while rewriting Ranma's confrontation with Ukyo. I do do a lot of rewriting while I'm writing an act (I've been having that experience right now with act four). Maybe that makes up for it. Maybe not. In the end though, I can only express surprise that this act ended up as long as it did. Given that this seems to be a trend, I'm wondering if perhaps I'm suffering from some general length inflation. The same way chapter one ended up at 30k words, a length unprecedented for me, the acts themselves are getting longer and longer on average too as I stuff more content into them.

I like to deal a lot in psychology and reaction, and Akane's reaction to learning that they left Ranma there---that however indirectly, her presence compelled him to do face the Sorcerers alone. Some people might call that angst, but the word angst seems to hold negative connotations these days, bringing to mind images of overblown reactions and long, needlessly detailed ranting and outward expression of turmoil. Maybe it's just me, but you can probably tell I prefer the more subtle, more internalized reaction. This, of course, runs the risk of making everyone behave and act the same way, and that's something I want to monitor, at least in my own writing. There are some people who would confess their problems to any passing stranger. I don't think Akane, even as outwardly friendly as she is, would do that. Actually, no, I take that back: maybe to a stranger, to someone she just met, but not to any of the people around her in this act. They're all involved, too.

I've said before that Ranma visiting Akane was something I'd envisioned for a while. It was actually quite a bit harder to write than I thought it would be, just to pin down the nature of the interaction. Ranma outright telling Akane everything that's happened would be dull and boring. Showing her through a vision seemed like an attractive alternative, and having Ranma stick around for a bit to talk to her seemed unavoidable. There is bonding here; there's understanding, but it's not complete. For my part, I don't think Ranma has seriously considered that Akane might really like him back. It's a common sort of blindness--that wanting something to be true makes one doubt any sign of it. Perhaps it's overused in fiction. But I also think Ranma doesn't see himself as deserving any such feelings from her. There are things the egotistical Ranma might say---that he's the best, that he's strong, and so on---but these are also things he can imagine don't wow or impress Akane. In that sense, what makes him attractive is something he himself might not understand or doesn't think anything of. What appeals to Akane? His protectiveness, when it's not stifling. His vulnerability, when he doesn't shield it or hide it. His sense of justice--not to say Ranma's a crusading Lawful Good, but I'd call him more True Neutral: he can steal food from people, from trees outside hospital buildings, and so on, but I do think he tries not to take from people who need as much or more than he does. I think he reacts strongly to people do others injustice but doesn't really go looking for it.

Honestly, though, there's the sneaking thought at the back of my mind that the Ranma/Akane romance right now really doesn't have a lot of foundation other than "I like that person because they like me back." Well, no, I take that back, too: I think they would respect each other even if they weren't attracted in some way, but I really feel like these two are missing something vital. While they may confide in one another when appropriate, I still think there's something fundamentally missing. R. T. Stephens may have said it best: they still both suffer from the Hedgehog's Dilemma: that as they grow closer, it hurts. All of Ranma's relationships have problems, and while I did want the scene in this act between Ranma and Akane to be touching and cute and all that, that disconnect between them is still there. It's not going away.

But let me talk about the Phoenix for some moments. Something readers of at least the New Ranma Project may notice are the alternative spellings that I use: Keema instead of Kiima, Korma in place of Koruma, Masala rather than Masara. I believe the older spellings to be simple artifacts of romanization and, well, they didn't have wikipedia or perhaps even google to cross-reference with back then. But like with Shampoo and Mousse, I think these spellings best reflect what Takahashi meant to get across.

I've said before that I think everybody thinks what they do is right. In retrospect, I want to amend that: I think everybody rationalizes what they think and do. Actions are justified as right or moral or necessary...or they're excused as out of our control, as something else possessing us, and so on. There's a tendency in some circles to make evil people who act for the sake of being evil, and I've always felt that was shallow and inadequate. You can look at Echoes: in that story, we have a character called Imi. She duplicates the thoughts and memories of people she touches and hears them in her own head. Everyone she touches like this hates her for it; they hate being trapped in her mind, for that's how they perceive it. And circumstances happen such that, while trying to exorcise the voices from her mind, she kills someone she'd copied, and this so shakes the voice in her head that it fades to but a whisper. Faced with an effective method to quiet her mind, she decides that the only way to be free is to kill everyone who's touched her. Is she a monster? Perhaps. There are people she comes to care about, whom she tries at all costs to avoid touching lest she face the choice whether to kill them or live with their voices in her head. I'll always view her as a tragic character.

And that's why I like to view a lot of things and people as their own little tragic stories. The Phoenix are no exception in this regard. At the same time, people justify or explain their actions, but others are free to judge them, as Mousse does when he calls Keema out. Where is the truth? How should we judge the Phoenix? That's a personal decision, of course, and I merely try to show how characters think of themselves.

That said, I'm not making the Phoenix sympathetic here for the sake of just exploring that mindset. We already know the Phoenix are going to turn on the Amazons for something. Perhaps something of Keema's arguments explains why.

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