Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Conflict as the Fulcrum of Western Fiction

The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? […]
For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in,” so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.
Kishōtenketsu contains four acts: introduction, development, twist and reconciliation.
Here's a short comic showing the four acts of Kishōtenketsu:
And here's a similar story told with a Western, conflict-centered plot and resolution:
In the Kishōtenketsu comic, that third panel replaces the conflict in panel two of the Western comic. The third panel seems random, but we know it must have something to do with the story. We keep reading to discover how panel three is related to panel one. There's no conflict, but there's still interest, mystery, and resolution.

Excerpt from Still Eating Oranges via the New Shelton Wet/Dry

1 comment:

  1. This is reminds me of the most awful course I took in college. It was called "The Short Story" and for some reason was taught by a Professor who taught exclusively screenplay/film classes. He took his film-writing/analyzing curriculum and used that for the Short Story class.

    He assigned us a text book on analyzing screenplays that often cited The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. After we read a 3 page story, we would fill out work sheets that identified crazy stuff like: "The Hero," "The Villain," "The Introduction of Conflict," "The Descent into Darkness," and "The Unwavering Lesson."

    I handed in a paper once that said The Hero was Raymond Carver and The Villain was a cup of coffee. And I was "right."