I have a confession: I’m a writer who doesn’t consider himself well-read. Sure, I’ve read a lot of speculative fiction, but outside the genre, I haven’t read much. I’ve read some of the English language classics and a smattering of world fiction, but overall, I haven’t read a great deal of non-speculative fiction. So why do I admit this?
I’m intrigued by story structure. Yet nearly everything I read has a conventional structure, namely the dramatic arc, in which the action rises to a climax before falling to a denouement. The story is inherently built around conflict and its satisfactory resolution. This is the typical structure for most modern “western” literature. It’s what I studied in English class in school, and what most writers learn. It’s what I write and preach to fellow writers when I critique their fiction.
While “western” literature maybe dominated by the dramatic arc, “eastern” literature often follows a different structure, called Kishōtenketsu. Instead of the rising action, climax, and falling action structure, Kishōtenketsu follows a four-stage pattern: (1) Introduction, (2) Development, (3) Twist, and (4) Conclusion. In the introduction, the characters and setting are introduced, and then further developed in the second stage. In the twist, a seemingly unrelated element is introduced. The twist appears disconnected from the introduction and development of the story until the conclusion, which connects the events and often results in a reframing of the earlier events to change the reader’s perception. Conflict, while often present in the story, is not the central core.
I find this story structure intriguing, and I wonder if I could actually write a short story using it (let’s not think about selling it yet). With the exception of the “The Story of an Hour” (which seems to be the most cited English example of this structure), I don’t think I’ve read a story with a Kishōtenketsu structure. I would like to because I’d like to see how it’s done. If you have any reading recommendations, please feel free to leave them in a comment.