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.