Plot without conflict

edited January 2013 in The Toolbox
The linked essay talks about the idea of plot without conflict.  Rather than the traditional western 3-act structure, in which a conflict is introduced, developed, then resolved, it describes an eastern plot structure called kishōtenketsu, which relies on exposition and contrast instead of conflict.

I find this interesting because I've been reading a novel that frustrates me with (what I've been muttering about as) a lack of plot (and characterization).  There are things happening, but they don't appear to be going anywhere... just a journey without much of a motive or goal.  It doesn't change the fact that I'm simply not into the book, but this essay makes me wonder if I might be wrong about its lack of "plot".


  • Interesting.
    I agree that a character-driven story can be very effective.
    It just needs time to grow on the reader.  In North America that time is often pretty short, hence why the three-act structure works so well.  But there is something to be said about serendipity and just the experience of being alive and interacting with people.
  • Were you the one that posted this on Facebook the other day (or maybe it was someone on Twitter...)? I thought this was really interesting. Being that it's such a new concept (to me, and perhaps a lot of the "west") I was wondering how this would work in the long run... Like you're kind of saying with the book you're reading. Seems to me, maybe filmmakers who create "multi-story" movies - like Crash or anything by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) are sort of made in this form. Where there's these sort of unrelated, mundane plots (with their own forms of conflict - unavoidable, I think) which then wind up intersecting and creating a (sometimes) satisfying whole. 

    I think it's definitely something to look at when you're creating a story that doesn't necessarily fall into the classic "3-act structure". Or, to use as a defense when people tell you your stories are slow and have no conflict. :) 
  • edited January 2013
    I saw it when Carla Speed McNeil posted a link to it on FB.
  • "Things happening" is one of my favorite types of stories, John From Cincinnati being one of them, in my opinion; I feel like Jarmusch flicks are the same way, though a plot eventually reveals itself.
  • edited January 2013
    Isn't contrast just a form of conflict? Structurally speaking? Just asking because when I see people debate conflict, they often do that from an unnecessarily narrow view of what conflict is, or can be.

    As for the four-act structure, I've seen that in old comic strips - a situation is introduced, then confirmed in the second panel, conflict arises in the third and so on. But in the second act of a longer story, I simply wouldn't know what to do with the characters that I haven't already done. It kind of contradicts my sense of progression.

    Unless I'm getting it wrong. Which I probably do, not being able to picture this in a story right now.
  • Isn't contrast just a form of conflict? Structurally speaking?
    That was my first reaction, too. I think I'd have to see more examples of what the article was talking about to really wrap my head around it.
  • My main comic started out that way. It's not a story structure that many people are used to and therefore, a harder sell to the audience. But that's when you rely on interesting characters and scenes to pull your readers in.
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