Kishōtenketsu is a traditional plot structure in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean literature and poetry, originating from the classic Chinese four-line poems.

What makes it unique

Kishotenketsu derives its narrative tension from contrast: the baseline in the first two acts vs the twist in the third. It may feature conflict but, unlike the traditional [[!Three-Act Structure]] in Western storytelling, it is not driven by conflict. I have heard it described as a reverse three-act: what the three-act calls the inciting incident, kishotenketsu calls the climax which changes the status quo of the first two acts.

Kishotenketsu is similar to the [[!Three-Act Structure]] in that it also goes beyond traditional storytelling and is used in poetry or even arguments and sentence structure.

The structure

Diagram of the 4 acts of Kishotenketsu

  • Introduction (ki) - Exposition and information introducing characters, setting, etc.
  • Development (shō) - An expansion upon the introduction, leading up to the twist but not introducing major changes.
  • Twist (ten) - An unexpected development, the biggest in the narrative. "This is the crux of the story, the yama (ヤマ) or climax".
  • Conclusion (ketsu) - The ending or reconciliation bringing together the previous acts and how they all fit together.



Tags: #storytelling