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A Diet of Literature: 11, 12 & 13


I heard about Kishōtenketsu a couple of years ago when listening to an episode of Bookworm. Michael Silverblatt was interviewing Ocean Vuong about his novel On Earth We are Briefly Gorgeous and questioned him about the plot structure. Vuong explained it was based on the Chinese four part narrative structure called, in Japan, Kishōtenketsu. It is a structure that, rather than relying on conflict to drive the story, as western plots do, instead relies on proximity. I’ve been trying to use it in my own stories ever since, with varying degrees of success.

Instead of a plot based on ‘want’ in which your main protagonist is ever more challenged until she finally both gets what she wants and has become a better person, Kishōtenketsu, it would seem to me, gives you a character, develops her a little, showing her in a situation for example, then, apparently, abandons her by switching to a totally different scenario with different characters. The resolution then connects the two. I’m guessing the tension that drives the narrative is in the disjuncture.

Day 11: Lafcadio Hearn: Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

Ooh, I thought, as I opened the link to day 11 of The Guardian’s Literary Diet, I might learn more about Kishōtenketsu here. I didn’t, I only had time to read the first story and I became so rapt in it that I didn’t pay enough attention to the structure. But, thinking about it now, there were two distinct spheres of action which kind of bumped into one another. I’ll have to read it again. I’ll have to read them all. There is a facility to download the book to a Kindle, but, as ever with things like this, I couldn’t get it to work. It’s not them, it’s me! 

Anyway, I urge anyone who writes fiction to give these stories a go, we could do with alternatives to fighty plots. Simone de Beauvoir said the job of the writer it to make goodness interesting, maybe Kishōtenketsu is a way to do that?

Day 12:Seamus Heaney: Mossbawn Sunlight

The link The Guardian supplies here takes you to The Poetry Archive where you can not only read the poem Heaney wrote about his aunt, but hear him read it to you, like a favourite uncle. The sort you hope will come for Sunday lunch or Christmas because you know he won’t get drunk, will, instead keep everyone entertained with stories of the old days and help your mother do the dishes. 

I have a huge boxed set of CDs containing all but the final one or two of his collections, all read by the man himself. But, still, it was a joy to listen here.

Day 13: George Saunders: Congratulations By the Way

George Saunders has been on my list of must read authors since I read a short story of his on some online platform. Which, I can’t remember. It was probably The Guardian or the New York Times, but it could have been The New Yorker or The Paris Review or, even, Vogue. The only thing I remember about the story is that it left me awe struck. Not long after this he won the Booker, for his debut novel!

This speech shows he’s not just a fine writer, but a fine human. I have a plan (ambition?) to read fifty books this year, one a week with a two week crumple zone, he is now acid etched onto my list.


As the sound on this video is somewhat echoey here’s a link to the text.   

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