Speculative fiction writer, translator, and editor

This thread originally posted on December 3, 2022 gives an overview of some questions you can ask yourself to begin unlearning eurocentrism, and how that strengthens your craft.

(1/32) unlearning eurocentrism and white supremacy by deliberately flouting the norms and “conventional wisdom” of writing advice


(2/32) not one response to the OP has called out any kind of sociopolitical aspect to writing; instead there’s a lot of hypercorrection like “show, don’t tell” and “don’t use is/was” and “don’t overexplain”

none of that will CREATE emotional impact and resonance without a framework

(3/32) here’s a course I just published that establishes a writing framework that DOESN’T rely on parroting eurocentric writing advice (much of which, I must remind people, stems from CIA anti-communist efforts of building “american literature”): s.qiouyi.lu/courses/subjec…

(4/32) as concrete examples of how I did this:

(1) I introspected on the color symbolism defaults that I encounter in literature. why is white considered pure and good, and black considered corrupted and evil? why is black considered morbid, when white is the chinese color of death?

(5/32) 8 years later—yes, 8, bc I asked myself this question when I was still on tumblr and challenged myself to keep thinking of other ways to execute this color duality—I wrote the first passage here from #InTheWatchfulCity, which derives resonance from the color setup in the second:

“White is the color of death,” La Sombra says as the shadow grows. “The color of pictures and clothes and bones left untended and eaten by the suns. But black?” Her eyes glitter in the light of the dancing flames. “Black is the color of life. When you dig into damp, dark dirt to plant a seed, or look at the space between stars, wondering—that’s life.”

The journey isn’t as rough as he expects. Having the mule certainly helps—he wouldn’t have been able to navigate the more treacherous stretches on foot. It takes him four days to get to Cadena, where low, adobe houses sit squat on the horizon, bathing in the suns. The faces of the houses are wan, the cinnabar-red and earthen yellows all faded and muddled together into dusty hues. The roads are hard-packed dirt in the same muted shades. But surrounding the houses are plants in various hues in vibrant glazed pots that dot yards with color. Despite the heat, children chase after one another in the streets as their guardians sit on porches, several of them embroidering as they chat.

(6/32) (2) I asked myself why people of color in fiction are overwhelmingly described with food terms. not just “chocolate” and “caramel,” but also “almond-shaped eyes.” I discovered that culturally we suck at describing brown & yellow colors because people don’t find them prestigious

(7/32) so I did a tumblr series where I deliberately found non-food ways to describe earthy tones, and I started a tumblr called monolidmakeup so I could curate a bunch of pictures and find ways to describe eye shapes, leading me to the “willow-leaf eyes” that I describe Vessel with

(8/32) (3) I asked myself why “conflict” seems to be such a core of storytelling. must everything center on opposition and scarcity? why is the individual (“man vs. x”) considered the atomic unit of storytelling? can we not tell stories about cooperation, and collectives?

(9/32) #InTheWatchfulCity contains conflict, but the core frame story is about a cooperative, mutual, nurturing attempt to create connection that is liberating—for whatever “liberation” means to them—to the characters

I also now curate a #ConflictlessStory tag

(10/32) I also created a framework that reframes what we often call “conflict” in stories as “desire” instead: people have wants and needs that sometimes overlap, and sometimes are incompatible, and trying to meet them or deny them is what drives dynamic stories s.qiouyi.lu/courses/lesson…

(11/32) the above framework draws from accessibility theory: sometimes the needs that people have in order to access a space are incompatible, like a person with severe dog allergies trying to share space with someone who has a service dog, and the goal is to find suitable compromise

(12/32) this also involves (4) reading with a critical eye for assumptions

you can see this especially well in fanfic

overwatch is one of the only fandoms where the most popular ship contains a man of color in a property that is not all people of color (so MDZS doesn’t count for this)

(13/32) and it was just absolutely fascinating to see how people would fuck up hanzo’s characterization, because they drew from their stereotypes of what asian men act like

#InTheWatchfulCity contains two stories that began as hanzo fanfic, to deliberately make his interiority complex

(14/32) these two stories also began as hanzo fanfic:

“Side Hustle,” as cowboy/hanzo fic december-seas.com/fiction/side-h…

“Box Tied,” as mercy/hanzo fic, december-seas.com/fiction/box-ti… which takes mercy’s whiteness as something to subtly call out in the text, to show that whiteness is a lens

(15/32) and along with that came the question of (5) what is passivity? is passivity “bad”?

tl;dr “passivity” is a term of judgment that western literature applies to characters, many of whom are actually operating entirely outside of a western framework of “active storytelling”

(16/32) just because a character is subtle, or is forced to react to their circumstances rather than enact something, doesn’t mean the character isn’t of value, and doesn’t mean the story isn’t worthwhile

it is an utter illusion to think we have complete agency over our lives

(17/32) anyway, to conclude this thread cuz I gotta eat and run errands, here are some questions you can always ask to do this kind of thing:

(18/32) (1) “what is [some term or concept]?”

people may think you’re ignorant or stupid for asking something “basic”

don’t get your answers from those people.

get your answers from people who go “you know what, wait, how DO you define that,” as they will articulate their assumptions

(19/32) but in order to communicate effectively, you MUST be able to hear many, many people giving their own definitions, and from there realize that “a good story” or “strong characterization” is INCREDIBLY different across people and contexts, *freeing* you to do what you want

(20/32) if someone DOES belittle you for asking, it is likely (1) because they don’t fucking know themselves, or (2) their response is tied up in some larger sociopolitical ideology that is a better explanation for their behavior (e.g. racistly thinking BIPOC won’t get it)

(21/32) (2) “why do we believe [concept]?”

why do we think a romance must have a happily ever after to be a romance?

why do we believe a character must change the world for the story to be satisfying?

then, even more importantly:

(3) “does it have to be that way?”

(22/32) (4) “why do we do [some practice or norm]?”

why do we say to remove as many adjectives and adverbs as possible to make prose “lean”?

why do we say not to “info dump”?

and, subsequently,

(5) “is it still a story if we do it a different way?”

(23/32) ultimately leading to core questions that will make you go “holy fuck, I don’t even know,” and subsequently, “holy fuck, you could do this a bajillion ways”:

• what is a story?
• what is a character?
• what is theme?
• why do we tell stories?
• why do we remember stories?

(24/32) once you have your list of unanswerable questions, questions that you could not possibly fully explain even if you wrote a thousand books on it… you will have a writing career for life 🙂

(25/32) (and as a footnote, another unquestioned assumption: “writing career” is not the same as “being published.” I use “career” to mean a long-term occupation that involves skill development, which is entirely independent from whether you receive outside validation for your work)

(26/32) also!!! this course is 100% free to access, and YES, you may freely save and redistribute it, including for money! I would LOVE if people like, sold zine printouts of this, for example! my goal with my courses is never money, but always knowledge creation and redistribution

QRT: https://twitter.com/sqiouyilu/status/1599112858734047232

(27/32) oh! I also made a tumblr called brown eyes are fucking gorgeous to counter the notion that one must have emerald or sapphire orbs to be a fantasy heroine

QRT: https://twitter.com/sqiouyilu/status/1599121377625542656

(28/32) backed these tumblrs up to my site so y’all can see what kind of work I did to curate galleries and immerse myself in NON-eurocentric imagery!

chromaticdieselpunk – dieselpunk, without the nazis – s.qiouyi.lu/tumblr/chromat…

fuckyeahdarkeyes – s.qiouyi.lu/tumblr/fuckyea…

(29/32) monolidmakeup – s.qiouyi.lu/tumblr/monolid…

sinochesters – supernatural, but racebent, what if everyone’s chinese? – s.qiouyi.lu/tumblr/sinoche…

more to come!!

(30/32) ok!! here is the visual scrapbook I made around 2012 when I started doing a lot of this work, to collect aesthetics that weren’t centered on eurocentric values

worldsandverses – s.qiouyi.lu/tumblr/worldsa…

(31/32) the tumblr fuckyeahthingstiel sets out to try to answer “what is a character”


every single post on this blog is ostensibly “castiel,” yet the requirement is that he NOT take a human form

how far can we push the conceptual bounds of “character”?

QRT: https://twitter.com/sqiouyilu/status/1599133902542884865

(32/32) another really, really great way to explore the bounds of character is to check out the anthropomorphism fandom tag on AO3


every work in here uses an inanimate object as an animate character

so what turns “inanimate” into “sentient being”?

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