Thursday, January 31, 2013

First Ones 05 - Assassins - notes

I took a break during the writing of this chapter to pen “Direction,” the Katawa Shoujo story that I’m still in the process of editing and publishing. I learned a lot during the writing of that piece to try to organize my chapters better and in a way that will be easier to write—and I also learned that no amount of organization makes up for enthusiasm.

That’s not to say I don’t want to write this piece. I do. But with any long piece, it takes a lot of energy and persistence, and the high that you have when you start it wears off over time. I felt that with “Direction,” even though I was able to maintain a high level of activity (partly aided by winter holiday) to finish it, just on a smaller scale. With longer pieces like this one, you ultimately just have to grind it out, even when you don’t want to write, even when you’re busy. It’s a long and continual process, but it is what it is.

What I realized after writing “Direction” and coming back to this chapter was that it was way too long. For “Direction,” no chapter had more than five scenes, and I was able to reach healthy lengths on the order of 9000-13000 words or so. When I came back to “Assassins” here, I realized I had at least eight scenes, perhaps nine or ten! A bit ridiculous. I pared it down somewhat and reorganized some things, but even then, the battle scene in Germany (which plays out as one big scene) ended up much longer than expected, even though I compressed it significantly.

This chapter ended up going into territory beyond what I initially expected. I was going to make it about Keel and his followers trying to assassinate the Prime Minister and Misato’s subsequent pursuit. I ended up cutting that entire attempt out for length, and Misato pursues Keel Lorenz entirely on her own.

The chapter is quite long, but I failed to find any obvious points to cut without consequences. The initial scene sets up Misato’s state of mind. Her conversation with Rei helps flesh out their relationship, as with the situation between her and Hyūga.

I originally had planned a ball for Misato to attend after returning from the LCL sea, where she would meet with Shinji, seeing he’d grown close to Asuka, and receive her pendant from him. I ended up cutting this from the outline and finishing out the boat scene as we see it now.

This chapter is all about Misato’s growing cynicism toward humanity—it’s more about her struggle with her outlook than against Keel, really. The mayhem in the streets—that people would even go along with Keel at all—damages her. What she saw when she emerged from the sea, how the police could only keep the crowd under control under threat of gunfire, catalyzed her drive. Her descent continues with her stark threat toward her prisoner and her wielding of a rocket launcher against the German fighters, culminating in her execution of Keel. Until that point, I don’t think Misato crosses the line. She dances around it, flirts with it, but that execution is really when she steps over, when her fear of humanity’s failings as a whole drive her to make a bold decision.

The wrong decision, as we see, but a decision nonetheless.

There were some other things I scaled back or changed. Originally, I wanted Keel to escape Erbach and Misato to shoot him with no one else around, making the secrecy of the murder more plausible, but that would’ve required her to go alone, which would’ve been massively unwise—or premeditated, or both. The result is that Misato’s decision is more spur-of-the-moment, and I think that’s a good thing.

One of the parts I considered cutting was the conversation between Shinji and Misato. It doesn’t really serve a lot of purpose as far as furthering the plot, but I felt it was too important from a character standpoint to cut out. I haven’t spent a lot of time with Shinji since chapter three—even then, one of my pre-readers has long expressed his preference for that chapter’s original draft, which was written in Nozomi’s perspective instead. I admit, I grew a bit bored with being confined to just Shinji’s perspective. Either the story had to be shorter, so I could stay solely in his viewpoint, or it had to be longer, so I could give everyone more time without seeing them only once or twice.

So it was really after chapter three that I decided to turn the piece more into an ensemble work, focusing directly on a lot of these characters, rather than on just Shinji’s view of them. That means it’s been a while since we’ve seen Shinji—not since the beginning of chapter four, at least. I always had in mind this character arc for him though: the idea that he would slowly move into a greater and more pivotal role. I felt this scene was important for that, as well as for the acknowledgement that Rei cares for Shinji deeply (whether it’s truly romantic love or something different isn’t something I care to quibble over). So while I seriously considered axing this scene because it contributed to an already huge chapter (seriously the largest single chapter I’ve written since the original “In the Cold Rain” in Identity or “Pilgrimage” in Echoes), in the end, I could see no way to redistribute these elements which I considered so crucial.

A note on research: research is very important to me, mostly because I can’t be bothered to create too much out of whole cloth. So the town of Erbach in the German state of Hesse is very real, and Google was quite helpful in providing aerial photos and images of the town.

Next time, we’ll be with Asuka.

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