I stumbled across a video about the Kishotenketsu four act story structure, and as a frequent reader and watcher of asian stories, I was interested from the get go. It’s marketed as the story structure without conflict, so let’s take a look.

Resources

There is this video that introduced me to Kishotentesu is “From Yonkoma to Your Name – Japan’s Four Act Story Structure“.

Then there are several articles on writing blogs. Kishotenketsu: The four act story structure by Kate Krake, Kishotenketsu for Beginners on mythic scribes has a few good examples, and there is this article on words like trees, especially focusing on the conflict. Wikipedia even shows country and art form differences for the four acts.

How to use it?

Kishotenketsu consists of four acts that tell the story.

  • Ki: Introduction of characters and setting.
  • Sho: Development of the characters.
  • Ten: Twist that lets the story take an unexpected turn. This is the stories climax.
  • Ketsu: Conclusion wraps the story up and brings together its threads, that seemed unrelated until now.

It is called a structure without conflict, but that’s only partially true. There is no central conflict that forms the stories arc, therefore no villain or mighty antagonist. This does by no means result in a story without conflict. With Kishotenketsu, the conflict is smaller, more everyday-like or internal. Because conflict is, what engages the reader.

When to use it?

Western readers are not used to this story structure. You should keep this in mind, when using it. It’s more experimental. I also imagine this structure to be better suited for a short story or novella, rather than a novel.

Use it, when your story idea does not feature a villain or central conflict, but if you feature a big twist. It seems best suited as a showcase for a good premise or to show the everyday life of a very special character.

Why use it?

It somehow is the counterpart to the action packed pulp fiction formula. Therefore give it a try, if you want to be low on conflict with your story. If you want to create a more harmonic, peaceful story experience, because you are sick of live threatening conflicts everywhere.

Also try something new. Especially if you like to watch anime or read manga, trying your hands on this structure might help to get a better grasp at your favorite stories. And as always; you might gain some unexpected experience.

Example

For this story, I want to use a Japanese theme. I also know the Japanese word for strawberry – which is “ichigo” – and I want to include that.

  • We have a friendship between a princess and a samurai. He has something to do with strawberries (I will figure this out later) and she calls him “ichigo”. Their relationship is complicated, as their societal state is very different.
  • They try to make him climb the social ladder by pushing the popularity of his strawberry farming. Finally, their works seems to pay.
  • The shogun claims the princess families land and people, by sending ninjas and warriors to burn their house down. The samurai manages to save his lady friend.
  • Now she is down on his social state and helps with the strawberries. Their friendship is saved despite all her loss.

I will go down the rabbit hole by researching strawberry farming in japan. All for the story of the strawberry samurai.

Plot a Short Story with Kishōtenketsu

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