Bury It and Rise Above: Chvrches’ “Bury It” Video, Kishotenketsu, and Race

Chvrches’ Bury It video is a great example of something called Kishotenketsu, which I talked about last week. 

Here’s a refresher: kishotenketsu is a mostly Japanese story structure that doesn’t rely on conflict to creat interest. It has four acts:

Ki – Introduction

Sho – Development

Ten – Twist

Ketsu – Conclusion 

Ki – the three young people (animated versions of the band Chvrches: Lauren, Iain, and Martin) are standing on a rooftop looking at a pile of random-looking items they’ve gathered. Lauren raises her hands and concentrates.

Sho – Lauren lifts some of the items telekinetically, holding several up at once. Iain and Martin join in, making individual items spin or lift.

Ten – (animated version of) Haley appears on a nearby rooftop. Random items float up in front of her, forming floating stepping stones, and she walks across the gap between the buildings. She then shows Lauren, Iain, and Martin just how much can be done with their power, including encasing herself in a ball of light and flying.

Ketsu – Lauren, Iain, and Martin join her, and they fly through the city together, happily, fully, embracing their abilities/creativity/identities.

There’s no conflict in the video, although when Haley first appears, she’s introduced the way enemies often are in comics and animation. Animated Iain almost falls when he tries to fly, then catches himself and flies off to join the others, but nobody sabotaged him, and it was a moment, not the main plot of the story.

I believe the story in the “Bury It” video closely follows the kishotenketsu form, whether anybody on the creative team intended it to or not.

There’s one more thing I love about this video: the parent carrying a baby, who was endangered by Iain’s near-fall was a black father. In the past, that would have universally been a white mother.

Black men haven’t been seen as parental in popular culture until recently. Neither were white men, but it was far worse with black men. Little things add up, and every subversion of the “savage black man” and “not a father” stereotypes (invented to justify slavery in the Americas and conquest in Africa) is a good thing, in my mind.

Did I mention I love this video?

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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.

Rebuilding My Fiction Muscles by Starting Small

I often have trouble getting started on projects. I think it’s because I know just how long writing a novel takes,  just how much can go wrong in the process.

I know from experience just how easy it is to either not finish, or have to drag myself across the finish line by sheer force of will, spite-writing something I’ve grown to abhor. 

I’m not really art a place, personally our emotionally, where I can spend that kind off time writing something I don’t enjoy. 

And I can’t really face the thought of putting hours and hours into something without finishing it, ending up with nothing to show for it. 

I remember feeling like this year’s ago, and I’m going to do what I did then: I’m going to write shorter things, things I can finish in a day or two, even at my current limited time and energy budget. 

These may be short stories, even flash fiction. They may just be scenes. They may never be a part of any larger work. 

But they will be short-term, achievable objectives, things I can pan ahead of time and then do. 

I know I said I was going to do something like that at the beginning of the summer,  but the difference was that those had to be complete sorry stories,  Asics I got jammed up trying to think of plots and premises for them all. 

Now, it just has to be short,  achievable. 

I hope to rebuild my fiction writing muscles to the point that I can duo NaNoWriMo in November,  and carve out enough time early in the morning that I won’t inconvenience my family while I’m doing so. 

Nothing helps you sided like confidence and practice.  Nothing builds you’re confidence and motivates you to practice like success. So let’s build some small successes. 

Adam West and the Meaning of Art

When I was younger, I never “got” the old Batman series. All I saw was the low-budget cardboard props and sets, the ham-acting, and the sheer silliness of it all. I thought it was dumb (except Julie Newmar. I always liked her).

But my Mom told me a story from when the show was actually running. 1966-1968, she was in college. Protests, counter-protests, and authoritarian crackdowns filled the news cycle.

The Vietnam War was escalating, and the news reports coming out of the media were little more than propaganda. If that many enemy soldiers were killed, week in and week out, there’d have been nobody left in North Vietnam to wave the white flag.

The shadow of the draft fell over every young man on that campus, and every young woman who loved a young man.

It was a tense time, even for a college student who only wanted to graduate, get married, and begin her teaching career. And there were a lot of students like that, male and female, who were, frankly scared.

But everyone would gather together around the dorm lobby TV (6:30 pm, I believe), to exchange the very real madness of their times for the surreal, campy madness of Adam West and Burt Ward.  Batman meant something.  That goofy, campy, surreal show really meant something.

In other words … Adam West was the hero the sixties needed, if not the one it deserved.