KISHOUTENKETSU [The following was written in May 2023 as an introduction to the generative kishoutenketsu workshop, where participants were encouraged to write their own take on this storytelling structure.]

Kishoutenketsu is an East Asian poem and story structure made up of four parts/acts:
  1. Introduction (ki): an introduction to the characters, era, and other information required to understand the plot.
  2. Development (shō): follows leads towards the twist in the story. More details, broader context about the information set-up in ki. The important thing to remember about this stage is that it is about expansion, but not change. No major changes occur during this development stage. 
  3. Twist (ten): the story turns toward an unexpected development. This is the crux of the story, the yama (ヤマ) or climax. If the narrative takes several turns, this is the biggest one. It will often recontextualize the previous events of the story. 
  4. Conclusion (ketsu), also called ochi (落ち) or ending, wraps up the story. It’s important to note that in a Kishōtenketsu your characters don’t have to show growth, and sometimes barely any action has happened. Just show us the aftermath of the twist. 

Example in a Japanese poem by Rai San'yō:

Daughters of Itoya, in the Honmachi of Osaka.
The elder daughter is sixteen and the younger one is fourteen.
Throughout history, daimyō killed the enemy with bows and arrows.
The daughters of Itoya kill with their eyes.

Example in a Chinese poem by Wang Wei:

After a farewell in the mountain,
Dusk falls, and I shut my firewood-made gate.
When the spring grass is green next year,
I wonder if my friend will return.

Example in a Korean poem by Jeong Ji Sang:

Multicolored green grass on the banks of a long river.
He's singing a sad song in Nampo.
When is the water of Daedong dry?
Every year, farewell tears add to the blue waves.

Some other unconventional examples of kishoutenketsu structure are Super Mario level designs and a popular style of comic in Japan called 4-koma, which are 4-paneled comics that follow this structure. 

You’ll see a lot of Western explainers say that this structure often has “no conflict,” but I personally (jonah) find that description a bit reductive. I guess I would generally agree, if only because the accepted Western concept of “conflict” feels very narrow to me; I’d argue that a character’s internal conflict about someone or something is by definition a story conflict — for example, a character who feels out of place in society is, while not in direct conflict with a specific person, at conflict with the world around them, and it’s this conflict that drives them through a narrative. Anyway, enough of my soapbox.

Your mission should you choose to accept it: Write something in the kishoutenketsu structure! This can be a short story, an essay, a CNF piece, a poem (and don’t feel like you need to stick to the 4-line structure either), or anything else. A recipe, even. After we have two (?) weeks to contemplate and cook up our creations, we’ll return to share them during one of our Saturday sessions. There is no “correct” way to do this, so don’t worry about whether you’re doing it wrong or if your piece fits the bill. I’m mostly interested in how everyone approaches this prompt in their own individual way, so follow your heart on this one! 

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