Friday, September 10, 2010

Identity 5.4 - "Scars"

The long-awaited (and just...long) fourth act of "Ashes" on

Identity now has a thread the Fanfiction Forum, where drafts of new installments will be posted some days ahead of the final release.

I know I'm late, but commentary below.

If I had to encapsulate this act into a nutshell, it'd be this: that we all want something, that we have motivations, and to achieve our goals, it's often times a struggle within ourselves to get them. Sometimes, we struggle against the memories that haunt us, as Cologne does. For others, like Mousse, it's a struggle to seek something when we never have known what it feels like to taste its nearness. For Akane, it's the struggle to do penance while not losing sight of yourself.

I struggled mightily to get this chapter off the ground, not really knowing where to start. I'd wanted the group to jump into the fight with the Phoenix, but that felt like the pacing was off. There was no buildup, just action, and I think the secret to good action is good buildup. I don't know when along the drafting process I came up with the idea of Cologne going to see the Sorcerer prisoner, but I'm glad I did. It gives insight into Cologne's mind, and it sets up things to come. It wasn't enough to say that the Phoenix would be angry that Ranma set the Sorcerers against them. You had to see it in real time to believe it, just as Cologne had to see it to believe it herself. I think it makes the driving conflict of the act that much more believable, even if it doesn't make it any more logical.

Truth be told, it was and is a little sticky. That's how it is when you know you want conflict to be there, but you have to logic it out.

I really didn't know what to call this act until I got to the passage about Akane and scars. That really named it for me (even though I'm afraid I'm abusing title dropping a bit much), and as said in the chapter, the scars we carry on the inside matter as much, if not more, than the ones we bear on our skin. In the context of Akane, I think it can be reasonable to say Akane from the manga isn't that sympathetic a person. She can be genuinely nice, but she can also lash out. She didn't seem to want to change; at most, she seemed afraid of change. I do think she mellowed out some over the course of the series, but like all the other characters, she never really sought to confront those demons.

In a lot of ways, then, I've forced her to do so. Her behavior in chapter one isn't all her fault, but it is ultimately her responsibility, and she takes that to heart. She gains the desire to change. In a real sense, I feel I've made her more sympathetic, but not because I transformed her character overnight. She's flawed and imperfect like the rest of us still; the struggle she faces makes her more like us, more real.

It may be a little strange that, in this chapter, there's much more focus on Akane than there had been earlier, where the spotlight was more equally shared with Ukyo and Shampoo. In truth, their stories kind of stopped with the end of chapter four. Stopped isn't the right word; more like "went dormant." Ukyo and Shampoo have never seriously questioned that they love Ranma and want to fight for him. Akane, on the other hand, is asking if she's deserving. I could've gone into Shampoo's head during the passage with Ryoga, but I felt that, in all honesty, Shampoo isn't going to hesitate to do what needs to be done for Ranma. Her nature is that when she doesn't get what she wants, she pushes harder for it. That can't go on forever, of course, but I don't think what Cologne asks her to do here gives her even a moment's pause. Ukyo, not being in the loop, faces no real struggle, either, except against the Sorcerer. In short, their internal struggles here were uninteresting or nonexistent. That's not to say they're unimportant to the plot; they're not. What they go through here will shape them and set up the next arc where Ukyo and Shampoo return to the stage as major players.

I will admit, though, that it'd be appealing if they had more to do right now.

It's interesting to me how this chapter grew and took form. I didn't plan it to be nearly this long (to date, it's the longest single act of Identity, and even longer with the modified final scene(s)), and structurally, it seems simple. Cologne visits the Sorcerer. She goes to see Akane. Ryoga and Shampoo kill a Sorcerer. Mousse kills another. Keema finds out something's up. Cologne kills the last Sorcerer. Keema captures the Amazons, and we see Akane failed to kill a witness. The end. But it's all about pacing, and, well, maybe so much time spent on pacing slows it down. I'm not sure. It feels right to me, but that's...not exactly good enough to know for sure it's right.

I've spoken before about humor, and I tried to make sure it was still present in a balanced mix here. Keema's breasts are in Korma's line of sight. Ryoga...has a terrible idea about how to ambush a Sorcerer. Mousse is surprisingly a better fighter as a duck. I've been told I have an odd sense of humor. I know I tend to go for the embarrassing or the ridiculous. I'm not much for writing slapstick (but, obviously, reading it in the manga was great). I've thought maybe I should write comedy sometime, just to see how it feels, but I don't know that would really interest me.

As I said at the top, I now have a thread about Identity on the Fanfiction Forum, where I'd posted a draft of this act and intend to keep doing so while updating the story. I didn't get a lot of feedback (not surprising; it's not like I just started the story and someone could follow), but the process of doing so motivated me to rewrite the final confrontation of the chapter, which if you check on there, was very different to begin with. In short, it was a much simpler sort of "Akane stops Cologne from killing the last scout, and Keema confronts them right there" type of thing. It was...dramatic, but it also felt cliched to me, an overly blunt show of self-righteousness that didn't really put any emphasis on internal struggle. Hence, I rewrote it, and I gave Akane the personal choice--should she kill to save Ranma? Can she bring herself to do it? I think the new ending as written is much better in the sense that, if only for a moment, you think she might really have done it. Maybe not for very long, but I'd hoped to write it that way. I think it's totally in character that she doesn't, though.

Anyway, as long as this act was, as much more there could be to say, I think I'll stop here. I'm already late with this commentary, and on the whole, I think the act really speaks for itself. Keema is no friend to the Amazons now. We'll have to see how she reacts in the final act.

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