Friday, August 13, 2010

Identity 5.1 - "Night of Magic's Coupling"

The first act of "Ashes" on

I've been a little behind the 8-ball on the chapter of late, but having restructured act 4 a little bit, I'm confident I can get it back running and finish up in a couple of weeks. I also have a post I want to make about word choice in writing and translations, but that will require some time.

Anyway, as usual, commentary below.

As I've spoken about before, sometimes when you write a long story, you have a couple scenes that you know from the start you want to portray, and while those scenes may end up very different from what you initially imagined, it doesn't change that getting there was something you knew you wanted to do, that a short scene has basically dictated a lot of the path of the story. This whole act is, in some way, all meant to get to Ranma visiting Akane by use of the vision dust, and while that's not depicted here, it's the end result that I meant to get to.

I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to get there. Way before I had really thought about how this act should work, I thought maybe, during the ritual, Ranma would steal some dust from Kohl or someone else and do it that way, fully on his own, but there were some basic problems with that idea. One, I couldn't have the ritual of the night take place outside. ...well, strike that, you can do that outside, but that wouldn't really conceal what was being done. I toyed for a while with a plot about a fountain that the Guard use to change their bodies when they need to, but I nixed that idea, too. When I really started thinking about this chapter and what I wanted to happen in the next, I came up with the idea of an ally among the Sorcerers---someone who doesn't necessarily like Ranma (gee, does anyone among the Sorcerers treat him with civility?) but feels they have no choice but to work with him. That's the rope-maker, and it's still a character I'm trying to develop, but in a lot of ways, I've had the foundation for that character already in place for a long time now.

Yes, the rope-maker has a name, but that won't be revealed until much later.

The rope-maker was really the best choice out of people who could be on Ranma's side. Of course, that's a short list. Initially, I thought maybe Tilaka would be working with Ranma in some way, but Tilaka lacked the real motive to do so. There's something Tilaka wants, of course, as everyone wants something, but to have Tilaka help Ranma implied Tilaka would cross the Sorcerers, and that's not what he would do. What Tilaka wants is much simpler than that, so I had to delay what I wanted to do with him until act three.

And so we have the rope-maker and her story. I think the tale of how the spring came to be really speaks for itself, and if you buy into it you can really draw a lot of conclusions about the Sorcerers and what they're doing, how they came to be. That said, there's still a bit of a twist that, if you think about it, isn't too hard to see either, even now. For reference, though, of course go back to Cologne's tale of the Sorcerer War in "The Nerima Conclave" and Sindoor's account of the waterfall battle in "The Sorcerer's Den."

Ranma, of course, merely finds this tale kinda sorta interesting, but he's focused on the task at hand--getting out, doing something productive while he's held captive. That's why finding out about the ritual isn't a priority to him; it's merely what he's forced into doing. Yes, it's convenient that the place where the ritual's happening is so close to the lab where the dust is made. I can only justify that in the sense that it makes sense that important things are going to be kept or done in and around the tower. It's definitely important that Sindoor and the Guard keep tight control over the ritual; you can't have it happen in everyone's beds. They don't want people indulging themselves and losing control.

I've probably danced around it enough at this point. What's up with the "ritual," you might ask? Why would someone need to give everyone in the village numbers and have sex with only the partner they're assigned? Is the problem that they don't have sex at all, that Sindoor doesn't want them to have sex and enjoy it, that (as Ranma thinks) they know something's wrong just in their minds when they do it? For now, I merely present options. I did try to make clear that, as Ranma observes, they're not enjoying it. They're not having fun. It's what they're obligated to do, and it's not romanticized, not in the least.

But, it is a good deal of what Identity is about. I've often had trouble trying to categorize the story into something conventional. There are moments of romance, but it's not a romance story. There are action scenes, but it's not an action story. There are brief glimpses of humor, but it's not a comedy. So what is it, then? I won't deny the story is more serious than not. I suppose the only way I can describe it is as an exploration of the human mind, of what drives us and compels us, of what we feel at our inmost depths, and there're few things more frightening to people, on a universal level, than to look at your own body and think that you were born with the wrong kind, with something that doesn't reflect you who are. And there are lots of people out there who go through that. It's a tough topic to tackle without degenerating into gender stereotypes (even though those stereotypes can be part of what help people identify with one gender or another), and in the case of this story, I can't say I know for sure what the psychology of it would be. I can only imagine the spectrum of reactions ranges from denial to suspicion to fully embracing the gender one is forced to live as, as if to convince oneself it's right.

But I also want to play another side of it, a side where we see people embrace a gender of their choosing as much as what they "should've been."

For those that might be worried the story will descend into a full-bore exploration of this topic, I can assure that it is but one component, and while it may make up the bulk of one character's storyline (guess who), it's also largely theirs and the Sorcerers'. Different characters have different issues they're facing. In the case of Ranma, his girl body is just part of his overall complex.

Anyway, I think that's good for now. A lot of this act is really getting at the mystery of things, and even in this commentary, where I usually don't have a problem talking about spoilers, I'm hesitant to go into detail when things are still left in a sort of nebulous state---when the mystery is really only half-revealed. But as satisfying as emotional release can be, I think intellectual revelation can be good for a reader, too. For someone like me, whose education really leans more into analytical fields rather than art and creativity, it's fun to make a little puzzle and try to let things add up to the desired sum, so to speak.

At any rate, that concludes this commentary. See everyone next week for "The Message."

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