Category Archives: Japanese

Balance of Power in Relationships

Assuming the romance between two characters is appropriate (i.e., within acceptable cultural guidelines), in terms of their ages, there’s another factor that can sometimes give readers pause:  the balance of power between them.  I’ve recently come across this in a novel that takes place in feudal Japan, and I’ve been running up against it, as I write Shinosuke. 

Basically, if one character is in a position of relative power over the other, it makes readers a little squeamish, when a romantic relationship starts up between those characters.  Teacher-Student is one example, even if the student is over eighteen, and another is Employer-Employee.  There is also the potential for this issue to come up any time the age difference between the two characters is more than a few years, especially if one is between, say, eighteen and twenty-five.  The reader finds herself wondering if the romance is real, or if the subordinate character simply feels that they have no choice but to go along with what the dominant character wants.   Or, in the case of a large age difference, the younger character may be subconsciously dominated by the older character.  (This, to me, seems less of a concern in a contemporary story, than in a historical.  Young people growing up in the modern Western world are no longer raised to automatically defer to their elders.  Kids today!)

This is particularly an issue in feudal japan, when dealing with the relationship between a samurai and a commoner.  Samurai had the right to kill any commoner who displeased them!  So, getting back to my story, from the get-go, the relationship between Shinosuke and Senpachi is imbalanced.  Obviously, Senpachi has no intention of harming Shinosuke, but Shinosuke has no way of knowing that.  Even if the samurai says, “I would never harm you,” Shinosuke would have to be pretty naive to believe him.  And even if the character believes Senpachi, the reader might think Shinosuke is being a stupid teenager.

(The issue I had with the first third of the samurai novel I’m currently reading, which is otherwise well written and enjoyable, is that the lord made it clear that the other character’s life was at his disposal several times, imprisoning him and punishing him in ways that would have Amnesty International sending reports to the U.N.  While it was perfectly in keeping with the culture and period, I had a hard time sympathizing with the main character falling in love with this man.  On the other hand, I suspect it was meant to appeal to the BDSM crowd — of which, I am not a part. *)

So, what to do, what to do? 

Well, step one is to make damned sure Senpachi doesn’t ever mistreat Shinosuke.  He’s teaching the young man bushido — the Way of the Warrior.  And as a teacher, he will have to be stern.  But most readers have seen enough movies like The Karate Kid or even Kung Fu Panda (which we watched last night — not bad!) to recognize the difference between stern and sadistic.  Whether I can pull it off will simply depend upon my writing ability. 

Step two is to make the romance almost entirely Shinosuke’s idea.  There is simply no way to have Senpachi broach the subject without it appearing that he’s abusing his position as mentor to the young man.  In fact, he will have to put up some resistance.  His attempts to rebuff Shinosuke, and Shinosuke’s hurt over having his advances refused, will, one hopes, eventually make the reader sympathetic to Shinosuke’s cause — i.e., winning over the heart of Senpachi.  We then move from “Why is that lecherous older man hitting on his student?” to “Why can’t that jerk see how much his rejection is hurting Shinosuke?” 

Welcome to Romance Plotting 101!

*NOTE:  It’s also a common element in manga, which may be more pertinent.  I’m a fan of manga and anime, but I often find the dominant/submissive elements of the stories not to my tastes.

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Brief detour

So my writing — and indeed, my life, in general — was derailed this weekend by a doctor’s office calling me Friday morning, as I was getting ready for work, and saying, “You need to get to the Emergency Room — now!”

“But I feel fine….”

Now!

Well, it was a teensy bit less dramatic than that, but still pretty frightening, because they wouldn’t tell me in detail exactly why I had to go to the ER, and even after Erich drove me to the ER, it took an hour or more to find out what was going on.

I’d been feeling pretty awful for the past three months.  It started as a “flu” on the first weekend of January, and for a short time, I felt better.  But then it came back, with exactly the same symptoms — aching all over and dead tired, getting progressively worse throughout the day, and frequent uncontrollable shivering.  But no fever to speak of (it turned out, I’d had a fever of about one degree, probably most of that time, but it’s easy to think of that as not really a fever).  And no other flu symptoms, such as coughing or stuffed up sinuses. 

Once my doctor eliminited the flu, and other possible flu-like viruses, we started testing for lyme disease and chronic pain conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibro-myalgia.  We also tested for HIV and a host of other diseases everyone dreads.  But fortunately, everything came up negative.

What did suddenly turn up on Friday was strep bacteria — in my blood.  This is a pretty serious condition, if it isn’t caught.  I gather that it could be fatal.  Especially, if you have a malformed heart valve, like I do, which is at risk of being eaten away by bacterial infections. 

How the bacteria got into my bloodstream is anybody’s guess.  Perhaps through a cut in my mouth or overzealous flossing.  At any rate, I spent four days in the hospital, being fed antibiotics through an IV, and being scanned, x-rayed and prodded in all possible ways, except fun ones. 

During that time, I had little to do, between proddings, so Erich brought my laptop, so I could catch up on my writing.  Unfortunately, it turns out that, when nurses are waking you every three hours to draw blood or take your temperature, you tend to be tired all day long and want nothing more than to nap.  I managed to get a small amount of writing done on Shinosuke — my samurai novel — but only a few thousand words.  The characters are at least beginning to build a relationship, even though it isn’t yet romantic, at all.  But hopefully, now that I’m home again (and on a regular course of antibiotics for the next six weeks), it will start moving faster.

On a side note, Zack and Larry Make a Porno has now been renamed to We’re Both Straight, Right? and a cover has been picked out.  Novellas in the 2011 First Time Daily Dose anthology don’t really have unique covers, but they gave me some standard covers to choose from, and one fit the tone of the story well.  I also received my check for it in the mail today!

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Writing about ancient Japan

After a week of plotting and research, I’ve begun writing my samurai novella.  Now, I know what you’re thinking:  is a week really enough time to plot and reasearch a novel about a time period and culture I’m far from an expert on?

No.  Absolutely not. 

But I was starting to get bored.  And the biggest threat to any story, at this stage, is to find it dull before you’ve even begun writing.  The problem is, what keeps me interested in a story is the dramatic tension between the two love interests.  And in a story where there are few obstacles to the characters, apart from psychological/emotional obstacles, that tension doesn’t really manifest itself well in an outline.

What keeps Senpatji (the older samurai) from immediately falling into Shinosuke’s arms is guilt.  He killed Shinosuke’s father (though there was a good reason for it, at the time).  Shinosuke knows that Senpatji and his father were friends, but he knows little else.  So he sees this handsome older man, who is willing to teach him the ways of the samurai (bushido — the way of the warrior) and who dotes on him, and it’s not surprising that he falls for Senpatji. 

If I had Senpatji simply accept this, it would be a dull, dull story.  So, I have to make him constantly aware of what he’s done, and constantly keeping Shinosuke at arms length, despite his growing affection for the young man.  And the only way I can pull this off, is to write it out dramatically.

Which means that I keep stumbling over matters of history and protocol.  What did falconers do with the birds when it started raining?  Did they cover them up?  Or were the birds considered tough enough to endure a little inclement weather?  How does one greet someone of a higher social class, when they enter your house?  How does the fact that Shinosuke’s mother was once samurai herself affect the way she relates to her samurai guests?  Does Senpatji and his friend acknowledge that she was once samurai, or is that too tacky?  (I’m leaning towards tacky, but Senpatji is introduced as an old friend of her husband’s.)

All these questions will have to be answered, and will possibly force sections to be rewritten.  But it’s my opinion that the primary thing is to get the story down on paper.  Once you have a first draft, you can rewrite to your heart’s content.  But that first draft must be done, or nothing else will follow.

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Konban wa!

So, while I’m waiting for responses from various editors and readers about three of my stories, and Murderous Requiem has stalled yet again, I’ve once again been bitten by the Japanese bug.  This is a phase I go through about once a year, in which I become completely enthralled by Japanese culture.  I take side trips into Chinese culture, as well, but generally I prefer Japanese. 

I first got bitten by the bug when I was in High School, and James Clavell’s novell Shogun had just been made into a miniseries.  I don’t recall whether I watched the series first or read the 1,000-page novel first.  But I loved it, at any rate.  So I began trying to teach myself the Japanese language and devouring books and movies about it.  Thirty years later, I still can’t speak the language, though I know a lot of words and tourist phrases, and I’ve still never been to the country.  But I still love it. 

So, I decided to adapt a story from Nanshoku Okagami (which translates to The Great Mirror of Man Love) by Ihara Saikaku (1641-1693).  Which story, I won’t say, because then everybody will want to adapt it, but it’s a tragic love story about a samurai and his young (male) lover.

In the time period, it was typical for adult samurai and priests to take on young boys as apprentices and lovers.  Typically, the boy would be between the ages of 10 and 15.  However, in the interest of continuing to have a writing career after the story has been made public , I’m going to let historical accuracy slide a bit on that point and make my young lover 18.  Additionally, I’m going to lower the age of the samurai (who probably would have been about 40 in the original tale) just seven years older — 25.  If that sqwiks publishers, I’ll consider tightening up the gap.  On the other hand, some fellow authors have suggested it would be much more plausible, if the samurai were 30.  I’ll have to think on that.

The ending is…well, let’s just say the the stories in Nanshoku Okagami don’t generally tend towards happy.  So it will be a break for me.  But now and then I like a sad story.

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