Kishotenketsu, Story Structure, and the Nonviolent Imagination 


What is Kishotenketsu? It’s a four-act story structure characterized by a twist in the middle. 

As you can guess by the name, it’s Asian, originating in Chinese poetry and developing in many forms of Japanese poetry and storytelling.  It’s the story structure Studio Ghibli often uses in its films. 

But why should we care? Because unlike western story structures, Kishotenketsu is not rooted in conflict, and doesn’t rely on conflict to maintain interest. 

That isn’t to say that it excludes conflict, but that it doesn’t require it like the typical western storytelling. 

I’m not alone in my belief that we in the western world are primed (through a “mean world” viewpoint) to support war and nationalism by the stories we hear  from early childhood on. 

Western storytelling’s three-act structure is pure conflict: 1) introduce conflict 2) escalate conflict, 3) resolve conflict. And when conflict is resolved, at least somebody is going to lose, to suffer some kind of harm, be it physical or emotional or social.

Traditional three-act storytelling comes down to winners and losers, and I think we can do better. 

Kishotenketsu is a tool to help me do better, as a writer, yes, but also as a person in general. My nonviolent imagination needs nourishing,  just like everyone else’s. 

Kishotenketsu helps me imagine story structures that aren’t just boring navel gazing,  stories where things happen, even action things, but where the very heart of the story isn’t a struggle or conflict.

It’s also helps me imagine win-win situations, situations where conflict can be averted by reconciliation of opposites.

And it’s helped me learn to write short stories, which is something that completely escaped my understanding before 2017.

I think that’s enough for now: I’ll be revisiting this topic soon.

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What I Like: New Reviews Forthcoming


When I restarted this blog a few months ago, I tried something called “12 word reviews.” 

They never really felt right or caught on, probably because 12 words isn’t enough for any real information,  just a little snark.

 https://youtu.be/Pubd-spHN-0

And that meant I had to tack a few paragraphs on, which meant it wasn’t really a 12 word review at all.

But I do still want to talk about some things, mostly books, so I’ll drop the gimmick and just talk. 

Before I start, here are a few things I like to see in media: 

  1. Female (or otherwise non-male) lead roles
  2. Multiple female characters
  3. Who aren’t female re-skins of tired masculine stereotypes 
  4. Major characters (including leads) who are people of color
  5. Multiple non-white characters, including women of color
  6. Characters who subvert or just don’t fit gender conventions, in whatever way that fits the setting (including LGBT+ characters) 
  7. Perhaps most importantly,  a story that doors not perpetuate the myth of redemptive violence

    1-6  are partly on general principle (representation is a good thing)  and partly because I’m sick of reading,  playing,  and watching the same white male (anti) hero for the 800,000th time. 

    7 is because we are indoctrinated from early childhood with the idea that what makes the world better is killing or beating up the right bad guys. 

    It’s great training if you want a populace that uncritically accepts every war, bombing,  and use of torture the men in high places want to enact,  but it goes against the teachings of Jesus (and many other religious as well).

    Even the churches get in on this act when they teach preschoolers a sanitized version of David and Goliath (and forget to mention that David grew up to be a rapist who murdered his best friend to cover up his crime).

    So when I write about a book, movie, or game, I’ll most often keep these things in mind,  as well as the standard information,  like how i had to force myself to stop reading and go to bed,  or how the actual prose style worked out. 

    The Violent Imagination 1: Self-Justification and Police Dramas

    I really like Major Crimes, TNT’s The Closer spin-off featuring Mary McConnell as Captain Sharon Raydor, who’s replacing Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgewick) as the leader of a Los Angeles police unit tasked with investigating murders, kidnappings, and other (drum roll please) major crimes.  I’m actually watching the show now, like I never watched The Closer.

    And I think I know why.

    Under Deputy Chief Johnson’s watch, there was a lot of “we’ll bend and break the rules, but it’s okay, because we’re the good guys.”  This escalated to the point of setting a gangbanger up to get killed because they thought he got too sweet a deal for turning state’s evidence.  The entire unit, Chief Johnson included, were effectively murderers.  How do we sympathize with that?  How does the use of police authority and resources for extra-judicial killings not disgust us?

    The same kind of self-justifying evil leads to hatred from the pulpit, protests at gay soldiers’ funerals, pepper spraying peaceful protesters, beating suspects even after they’re handcuffed, indefinite detention, and waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay.

    It leads a nation to declare its “manifest destiny” to spread “Christian civilization” from the Atlantic to the Pacific, no matter how many “savages” they have to murder along the way.  It leads a bunch of good religious folk to yell “we have no king but Caesar” and “crucify him,” until Pontius Pilate washes his hands of it all.

    It’s a vile and insidious mindset, one that steals our empathy and threatens our very humanity.  Whenever somebody truly believes their side is “the good guys,” everyone outside that group had better beware. Self-righteousness, self-justification, self-idolization … they lead to cruelty, arrogance, and suffering.

    This is utterly incompatible with Jesus’ teaching, yet it rings from pulpits and across the Internet.  “Slap the gay out of your children,” one preacher says from the pulpit.  “Build a fence and lock the gays away,”  another preaches.  Sure, when it gets that outrageous, people push back, but every day I see anti-gay rhetoric across Facebook and the web.  Quieter, sure, less extreme, but possibly uglier in its pervasiveness.

    It doesn’t matter if being gay is a sin.  As Christians, we are called to be better than the world, to love our neighbors and our enemies [Matthew 5:44]   Instead we wallow in the spirit of the worst of the Pharisees, so certain that we’re right that we don’t even try to love our neighbors.

    And I can’t stand to see it glorified on cop shows.  They stack the premises by making sure we, the audience, know the suspects are guilty.  They manipulate our emotions, creating the false dichotomy between “we break the rules to protect you and enforce justice” and “if we followed the rules, the bad guys would go free.”

    The problem is in the real world, you don’t know who’s guilty and who’s innocent, not 100%, not ever.  Those rules are there to protect the innocent from false accusation, coerced confession, and brutality AND to protect the powerful from becoming corrupt, lazy, self-justifying tools of oppression.  And that’s exactly what the Major Crimes unit was under Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson.

    But Captain Raydor is the very opposite.  Originally introduced in The Closer as a painfully by-the-book foil for the loose cannon unit, she’s not their boss.  And she’s made it her mission to make them obey the rules, come hell or high water.  She’s just as tough and strong-willed as Brenda was, but she serves the law, rather than acting like a law unto herself.  And that’s something I can admire.