Kishōtenketsu is a unique story structure commonly found in East Asian narratives, particularly in traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean literature. It offers an alternative approach to storytelling that subverts the traditional Western concepts of conflict-driven plotlines and three-act structures.

The term “Kishōtenketsu” consists of four Chinese characters, each representing a different narrative element:

  1. Ki (起): Introduction
    • This is the beginning of the story, where the setting, characters, and context are established.
    • It sets the stage for the narrative without introducing a conflict or problem right away.
  2. Shō (承): Development
    • This section further develops the story without introducing a direct conflict or confrontation.
    • It expands on the characters, their relationships, and their motivations.
    • It may introduce new elements or situations that create intrigue or curiosity.
  3. Ten (転): Twist or Turn
    • The third part of the story introduces a sudden twist, unexpected event, or change in direction.
    • It may present a conflict or challenge that disrupts the initial harmony established in the previous sections.
    • The twist adds tension and generates interest, providing a turning point in the narrative.
  4. Ketsu (結): Conclusion or Resolution
    • This is the resolution of the story, where the narrative elements are brought together and resolved.
    • Unlike Western narratives that typically prioritize conflict resolution, Kishōtenketsu emphasizes a harmonious resolution.
    • It often focuses on the exploration of themes, emotions, or reflections rather than a clear-cut conflict resolution.

Kishōtenketsu showcases a different approach to storytelling by emphasizing gradual development, unexpected twists, and a more contemplative resolution. It eschews the conventional Western emphasis on conflict-driven plots and instead seeks to create a sense of balance and harmony within the narrative structure.

Here are ten brief examples of Kishōtenketsu narratives:

  1. The protagonist, a young musician, dreams of becoming a star. They practice diligently (Ki), gain recognition from a talent scout (Shō), but unexpectedly lose their voice due to an illness (Ten). They find solace in composing beautiful music and become a successful songwriter (Ketsu).
  2. A young girl moves to a new town (Ki), where she struggles to make friends (Shō). One day, she discovers a hidden forest (Ten), where she finds a group of talking animals who become her loyal companions (Ketsu).
  3. A detective is assigned to a seemingly ordinary theft case (Ki), but as he investigates, he uncovers a complex web of corruption and betrayal (Shō). The detective’s own partner turns out to be the mastermind behind it all (Ten), leading to a thrilling confrontation and the restoration of justice (Ketsu).
  4. A chef opens a small restaurant, serving simple yet delicious meals (Ki). As word spreads, the restaurant gains popularity (Shō). However, an influential food critic publishes a scathing review (Ten). The chef decides to stay true to their passion and continues to create exceptional dishes, eventually winning over the critic and regaining their reputation (Ketsu).
  5. Two childhood friends drift apart as they grow older (Ki). Years later, they unexpectedly cross paths (Shō), leading to the revelation of unresolved feelings and the rekindling of their friendship (Ten). They embark on a new journey together, cherishing their bond (Ketsu).
  6. A student struggles to find their place in a competitive academic environment (Ki). Through hard work and dedication, they slowly improve their grades (Shō). However, during a crucial exam, they suffer from a sudden memory lapse (Ten). Despite this setback, they focus on their overall growth and find success through their unique talents and creativity (Ketsu).
  7. A shy artist showcases their work in a local gallery (Ki). People appreciate the artwork, and it gains attention from art enthusiasts (Shō). Unexpectedly, a renowned art critic questions the artist’s authenticity (Ten). The artist ignores the criticism and continues to create, finding fulfillment in their passion and leaving a lasting impact on the art world (Ketsu).
  8. A family embarks on a long-awaited vacation to a serene island (Ki). They enjoy peaceful days filled with exploration and bonding (Shō). However, a powerful storm unexpectedly hits the island (Ten), leading the family to face their fears and come together to ensure each other’s safety (Ketsu).
  9. A young adventurer sets out on a quest to find a legendary treasure (Ki). Along the way, they encounter various challenges and form alliances with fellow adventurers (Shō). When they finally reach the treasure’s location, they realize it holds no material value but symbolizes personal growth and inner strength (Ten). The adventurer returns home with newfound wisdom and a deeper understanding of themselves (Ketsu).
  10. A group of friends plans a surprise party for their friend’s birthday (Ki). They make meticulous arrangements and keep it a secret (Shō). However, the friend accidentally discovers their plans in advance (Ten), leading to a heartwarming celebration where everyone expresses their genuine love and appreciation (Ketsu).

These examples illustrate the four-part structure of Kishōtenketsu, highlighting the introduction (Ki), development (Shō), twist (Ten), and conclusion (Ketsu) within each narrative.

While Kishōtenketsu is more commonly associated with traditional Asian narratives, its influence can also be observed in contemporary works across different mediums. The subversion of Western storytelling concepts provides a refreshing perspective and allows for unique and thought-provoking narratives that emphasize exploration and contemplation over traditional conflict-driven arcs.

Hero’s Journey

In a Kishōtenketsu reinterpretation of Star Wars: A New Hope, the narrative structure would unfold as follows:

Ki (Introduction): Luke Skywalker, a young farm boy, dreams of adventure and a greater purpose beyond his ordinary life on Tatooine. He longs for something more and yearns to become a skilled pilot like his father.

Shō (Development): Luke comes across a mysterious message hidden within a droid, R2-D2, who holds vital information about Princess Leia and the Rebel Alliance’s fight against the oppressive Galactic Empire. Luke, along with the help of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo, embarks on a journey to deliver the message and aid the rebellion.

Ten (Twist): During their mission to rescue Princess Leia from the clutches of Darth Vader, Luke discovers that Obi-Wan is not only a wise mentor but also a former Jedi Knight. Tragically, Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in a lightsaber duel with Vader, leaving Luke to face the challenges ahead without his guidance.

Ketsu (Conclusion): With newfound determination and the knowledge that he is the son of Anakin Skywalker, Luke embraces his destiny as a Jedi and leads the Rebel Alliance in a daring attack against the Death Star. Through the use of the Force and his piloting skills, Luke successfully destroys the massive weapon and becomes a symbol of hope for the galaxy.

In this Kishōtenketsu interpretation, the story of Star Wars: A New Hope follows the structure of introduction (Luke’s desire for adventure), development (his involvement in the Rebel cause), twist (the revelation of Obi-Wan’s fate), and conclusion (Luke’s triumph and the beginning of his journey as a Jedi).

How does the fellowship of the ring work out through KishōtenketsuChatGPT

In a Kishōtenketsu reinterpretation of The Fellowship of the Ring, the narrative structure would unfold as follows:

Ki (Introduction): The story begins with the introduction of the hobbit Frodo Baggins, who inherits the One Ring from his uncle, Bilbo. The audience is introduced to the peaceful and idyllic world of the Shire, where Frodo resides. Gandalf, the wise wizard, becomes aware of the immense power and danger of the Ring, setting the stage for Frodo’s journey.

Shō (Development): Frodo, along with his loyal friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin, embarks on a quest to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. They encounter various challenges and adversaries along the way, including the treacherous Black Riders and the daunting Mines of Moria. The fellowship is formed, uniting members from different races and backgrounds in their shared mission.

Ten (Twist): During their journey, the fellowship faces a great betrayal when Boromir succumbs to the corrupting influence of the Ring and tries to take it from Frodo. This pivotal moment puts Frodo and the Ring in immediate danger, forcing Frodo to make a difficult decision to continue the quest on his own to protect his friends and fulfill the mission.

Ketsu (Conclusion): Frodo, accompanied by his faithful companion Sam, reaches the treacherous land of Mordor. They face numerous obstacles and perils, including encounters with Gollum, who desires the Ring for himself. In a climactic moment, Frodo resists the temptation of the Ring and finally reaches the fiery depths of Mount Doom. With Gollum’s intervention, the Ring is destroyed, saving Middle-earth from the clutches of evil.

In this Kishōtenketsu interpretation, The Fellowship of the Ring follows the structure of introduction (Frodo’s possession of the Ring), development (the formation of the fellowship and their journey), twist (Boromir’s betrayal and Frodo’s decision), and conclusion (Frodo’s ultimate triumph and the destruction of the Ring).