Society speaks to me, and says: your narrative is not right.

Society speaks to me, often harshly. Frankly it’s enough to make me stop writing for long periods of time.

Here are some of the things it says to me in the night when I’m trying to write:

  • Racism is fun!

    • Your main character is Inuit. Why not make them half-white so that people can identify with him better?

    • Is it realistic for an Inuit to be educated? Aren’t they a bunch of drunks? That would be more realistic.

  • So is transphobia! Especially with a radfem bent!

    • HAHAHA your character thinks she’s male! How disturbed. You need to show her recovering from this delusion or else you’re being anti-feminist, especially since she’s your main character!

    • Why are you rewarding your sexually deviant character with romance? That’s unrealistic. And your character is totes sexually deviant, because she’s not straight, therefore she’s obsessed with sex.

    • What is this misgendering thing you’re accusing me of so shrilly?

  • Let’s not stop at transphobia. Where’s the fun in that?

    • Your character referring to … fine, THEMself … as being of both genders is just confusing. Confusing loses you readers. And you want readers, don’t you?

    • I have no belief in your character that refers to themselves as male one day, female the next. It’s arbitrary and disrespectful of gender. Didn’t you know there’s only two and you can’t be both? DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER.

  • How about some internalized racism? Even more fun!

    • Why are you making this character half-Vietnamese, half-Chinese? They are like, the same, right? So you are just writing a samey-character. Make him half-white! Better audience identification and contrast and theme!

  • WHITE MAKES RIGHT

    • Why are you giving your characters non-Western names? I mean, yes, they aren’t white, but everyone knows non-white characters in the West always have Western names, to reduce cultural friction. Don’t you want to be accepting of other cultures, especially white culture? Anyways, non-Western names are SO HARD.

    • Why are you portraying your white characters as being subtly racist? This upsets me. Are you ungrateful for being born in the best first-world culture in the world? ARE YOU?

    • You must always have at least one white person, or else it’s not realistic.

  • ABLEISM: WHAT’S THAT

    • Why is your character complaining about the prosthetics this advanced society gave him? Why doesn’t this advanced technology make his severe injuries all go away? WHY ARE YOU NOT MAKING YOUR CHARACTER ABLED IN THE FUTURE WHERE WE CAN FIX THIS SHIT?

    • You have to justify your character being disabled narrative-wise. Being abled is the norm, after all. Unless you are writing a message story, your main characters should be able-bodied.

  • Grand-daddy of them all.

    • Don’t be such a politically-correct pussy. You have a character who’s non-white, disabled, and transexual. That’s such a bingo card and obviously you’re leaning on this crutch because have trouble coming up with an interesting character. I know this because other people write really interesting white, straight, able-bodied characters and don’t need that crutch.

I once told a friend of mine of some of these misgivings which I attributed to society’s impression on me. Her response was pretty much, “This is just your problem. Those racist, sexist, transphobic, heteronormal, ablelist thoughts are ALL YOUR FAULT FOR BEING SO CLOSED-MINDED.”

Some days I just want to kill myself instead of writing.

Writing Dissonance: kishōtenketsu, or, plot without conflict

The West holds very strongly to the idea that you can’t have plot without conflict. Every writing book, writing blog, writing article I’ve read about plot emphasizes this point strongly. And I was despairing, as I often do, about the validity of my writing, because I have a very difficult time generating a plot in this sense.

Some time back I ran across this article: The Significance of Plot Without Conflict. I didn’t think much of it after that. After all, I could still learn to plot the right way.

So I was talking with a friend of mine about how I can’t write a plot. I write things like I’d Rather Be in Love and 15-and-4, which people have liked in the past but have always asked me to expand into stories, or else that they can’t link to the writing pieces because “they aren’t stories” and so on.

This morning I decided to find that article again and read it, on a whim. And I thought more about it this time around, since I have finally admitted to myself that traditional plot is difficult for me.

Then I realized: I write kishōtenketsu: a conflict-less plotting style. What provides interest in this kind of plot is contrast. In a way, it’s a four-panel manga strip:

1. Introduce the status quo.
2. Develop the status quo’s world.
3. Introduce a surprising element.
4. Bring about conclusion of element’s change on the status quo.

That doesn’t sound boring. It sounds different. Not the West’s cup of tea, so to speak, but at the same time… I find that I do like stories written like it, and that, just as with Western plotting, there are badly written kishōtenketsu, and well-written ones, and even kishōtenketsu that can almost fool you into believing they have a conflict.

Actually, it’s amusing to do this exercise: you know how there are some writers who, on analysis of plot, will try to shove every story into a three-act structure? Even plays that are 5-act, like Shakespeare’s? What if we tried to cram every plot into a kishōtenketsu structure? Granted, this is more of a petty vengeance on my part, as I am annoyed by the number of times stories have been pressganged into further interpretations of The Hero’s Journey.

Let’s play with this idea, though!

Lord of the Rings a la kishōtenketsu:

1. Hobbits live in a wonderful quaint world.

2. We explore this world, and then the wider world of Middle Earth as the Ring is taken on a quest.

3. Surprising element: due in large part to the betrayal by Sean Bean Boromir, Frodo and Sam have to take the Ring to Mordor by themselves.

4. They do this, and their relationship is strained by and grows through this hardship.

From this point of view, it almost doesn’t matter that at the end eagles swoop in and save everybody.

Let’s look at something else in more detail; that is, chaining kishōtenketsu. Here’s part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a la chained kishōtenketsu (with each kishōtenketsu labeled by letters):

A1. The wizarding world is introduced briefly.

A2. Harry Potter’s mundane world is introduced in contrast.

A3. The letters from no one arrive.

A4/B1. The Dursleys grab Harry and flee to an isolate lighthouse.

B2. Harry Potter’s birthday arrives.

B3. Hagrid arrives. We find out that Harry is a wizard.

B4/C1. Hagrid takes Harry away to Diagon Alley after a confrontation with the Dursleys.

C1. We are introduced again to the wizarding world. Quirrel is involved.

C2. We are introduced more deeply into the wizarding world with Diagon Alley, this time contrasting with the mundane world.

C3. The surprising element is introduced gradually: Voldemort.

etc.

How about many murder mysteries?

1. The world is explored. People’s motivations in particular.

2. Murder occurs, changing the world, and spurs the detective into action.

3. The aha! moment of the detective.

4. Explanation and comeuppance of the murderer.

This actually also doesn’t quite fit, but then again, others have tried shoving murder mysteries into the Hero’s Journey, which fits about as well: wrinkly and ill-tailored.

So when I look back on the work that made me happiest to write it (which is perhaps not a good measure of what a writer should write), I see much more strongly the kishōtenketsu structure than a three-act structure (or a five-act structure, or what have you). It fits me and my writing like a glove.

Now, how to reconcile this with the fact that I live in the West and, frankly, the West does not like conflictless plots?

Well. I guess I either have to accept that I’m never going to write crowd-pleasers, or else I’m going to need to learn to plot with conflict.

Arachne Drinks More David’s Tea

MY NEW FAVORITE TEA BLENDER. They are like the BPAL of teas. Even if not all of their teas are a hit with me, it’s not for lack of their trying, and it’s a fun experience.

By the way, I found out through Google that they discontinued their Buttercream blend. WHYYYYYYYYYYY

Cream of Earl Grey is a rather nice Earl Grey blended with vanilla and cream flavorings. I cannot drink this steeped at anything other than the lower end of three minutes; any longer, and the black tea takes over the taste of the vanilla, and it becomes a plain Earl Grey to me. That said, it is one of my favorite vanilla-and-Earl-Grey blends, and compares very favorably (and possibly exceeds) the Queen Mary blend of similar name.

Bollywood Chai is bright and spicy, as befits its name. It’s also sweetened by the candy-covered fennel pieces, which gives the loose tea a visual pop that is rather attractive. In essence, it’s a sweet spicy tea. I liked it enough to buy a tin of it.

Le Digestif is meant to be a medicinal tea for the stomach, combining just about every herbal remedy from various cultures. It tastes disgusting, but I guess in extremis, I will find it handy.

Tropicalia is a fruit tea with little sugar hearts in it, which results in a very sweet tea with a pina colada flavor. It’s too sweet for me, who tends to prefer her tea without sweeteners, but it is pretty good iced.

Green & Fruity is wonderful. It reminds me of Mighty Leaf’s Green Tea Tropical, except this is a green rooibos tea. Tropical fruits turn out to blend really well with green rooibos.

Orange Blossom is a vanilla-orange red-and-green rooibos blend. I’m not sure I like it; it’s, again, too sweet. I prefer Mighty Leaf’s Orange Dulce, because the black tea gives it some bite that goes well with the sweet vanilla-orange flavor. A comforting blend, but ultimately not a stayer with me.

Pink Lemonade I have discovered I can only drink as an iced tea, and even then I much prefer Harney & Sons’ more sublime fruit teas. However, if you like a punch in the taste buds, Pink Lemonade is more than willing to oblige.

Checkmate is the first black tea and white tea blend I’ve ever tried, and I suspect most blenders would never have tried it, but David’s Tea is different. And the blend actually works. There’s coconut and chamomile in it, but the black and white teas actually produce a chocolate flavor. It’s now my favorite white tea blend.

Movie Night takes the concept of genmaicha (also known as “popcorn” tea, due to some of the brown rice kernels popping like popcorn in hot enough water, or just coming pre-popped from the toasting process) and pushes it with apples and actual popcorn. It is a green tea, but this is definitely one of the David’s strange blends where the tea takes a backseat, quantity-wise, to the other ingredients (something other blenders definitely do not try; it’s either mostly tea or no tea at all). This results in a low-caffeine tea and interesting flavors. Movie Night tastes like a night at the movies, and is interesting enough to give it more tries.

Cocoberry is a maté blend with berries and coffee beans, which definitely puts it even more into the stimulant territory. It’s alright, not my favorite maté blend ever, but still pretty good.

Vanilla Orchard is one of the few oolong blends I’ve ever tried, and it’s AWESOME. For some reason the vanilla works extremely well in an oolong, and while there is some floral taste here that works in tandem with the vanilla to produce a smooth cup, it still surprises me. I’d always associated oolongs with smoky flavors, but I guess the smoke helps the vanilla stand out.

Arachne Reads The Last Unicorn: Chapter 4

Now we depart more from the movie—or rather, the movie departs more, if not entirely, from the book—and the unicorn and Schmendrick are traveling together. While this is an interstitial chapter, Beagle nevertheless makes it interesting to read (or listen—did you know that Peter S. Beagle narrates The Last Unicorn for his audiobook? I love it, usually, when authors narrate their own books).

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Arachne Reads The Last Unicorn: Chapter 3

“There has never been a spell on me before,” the unicorn said. She shivered long and deep. “There has never been a world in which I was not known.”

This chapter is, on the one hand, solely about the escape of the unicorn and the magician Schmendrick from the Midnight Carnival, and in particular, the claws of the harpy Celaeno. On the other hand, it’s also about how the world no longer sees magic; or, rather, if it does, it is the dupe’s magic that Mommy Fortuna wields. Mommy Fortuna has to put a horn on a unicorn for people to see her for what she is.

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Arachne Reads The Last Unicorn: Chapter 2

The second chapter is entirely about the Midnight Carnival, and I really quite love it. As sad and pathetic the seeming-spelled beasts are (I think the movie didn’t have the Cerberus-illusion dog, nor the spider whose own belief bolstered the spell) the concept is still intriguing. Maybe Mommy Fortuna’s magic is shabby, as Schmendrick says, but she still caught a harpy, however briefly.

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