I first heard the term Kishōtenketsu in an interview that poet/writer Ocean Vong did with City Arts & Lectures, where Vong said:
I knew I wasn’t interested in plot. I was inspired by Miyazaki’s films, and particularly a Japanese form of narratology called kishōtenketsu, where plot is forgone and conflict is forgone for proximity.
Later, I looked up the word kishōtenketsu and found this on Wikipedia:
Kishōtenketsu (起承転結) describes the structure and development of classic Chinese, Korean and Japanese narratives. […] Kishōtenketsu is sometimes described as a narrative structure devoid of conflict, particularly in opposition to Western narrative styles
It was interesting to learn that there was a name for a type of narrative that I had been enjoying since I first heard the DNA remix of Suzanne Vega’s song Tom’s Dinner and watched the Richard Linklater film Before Sunrise.
The thing I like about the Kishōtenketsu structure of storytelling is that it seems to be more true to my lived experience, indeed, more so than the three-act structure that makes up the vast majority of films and novels I watch/read, where conflict is introduced, built up at a predictable pace till it crescendos, and then resolved within the confines of the story.
In my life, things happen, and then I deal with them to the best of my ability(limited) ability. Then I get on with all the other stuff that needs doing.
This article explains the difference nicely:
In our familiar Western structures, writers are expected to wrap everything up at the end, to leave no questions unanswered (unless they’re setting up a sequel, in which the expectation is still that cliffhanger questions must eventually be answered). But of Kishōtenketsu, [author] Kim Yoon Mi says, “the conclusion isn’t always a resolute solution to everything….It’s more like a wrap up for that particular issue, while indicating the story still goes on beyond that…often with notes about the occasional backslide.”
More on this later, I think.