16.52: Structure is a Promise

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela RiveraSandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd

The structure you’re using for your story isn’t just helping you organize your plotting. It’s telling the audience what’s going to happen. Story structures make promises to audiences, and these audience expectations are, in large measure, outside of our control.

In this episode we talk about the expectations set by various story structures, and how we can make sure we use our structures to satisfy our audiences.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: We’ve done episodes on the M.I.C.E. Quotient, Seven Point Story Structure, The Hollywood Formula, and many, many more of the structures mentioned in this episode. We haven’t done any on Kishōtenketsu, but we probably should!


Look up these structures. Now, pick a favorite thing, sit down with it, and map it onto which structures it fits. BONUS points! Do this again with your least favorite thing.

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini

6 thoughts on “16.52: Structure is a Promise”

  1. I updated the URL to reflect the correct episode number. Yes, this will probably make something of a mess at first, but eventually the RSS feeds should straighten themselves out. Sorry!


  2. This week, the quartet of Howard, Kaela, Sandra, and Megan turned things around, to talk about how the structures we pick make promises. The mentor character dying. Kishotenketsu! Dropping clues in mysteries, and fresh beans versus canned beans. Beware the color-by-numbers grid! A younger audience may need to be taught the structure, too. Read all about it in the transcript, available now in the archives.

  3. Is it just me, or does Kishotenketsu seem very similar to three act structure? I only briefly just read up on the subject, and I’m sure there are tons of real significant differences. But I was surprised to find that it is in its basic form a beginning, middle (hardship/process), twist, and resolution. When you chart it out, it looks just like the rising action graph we learned in school, no?

    Thanks for another great podcast!

    1. It’s similar at the highest level, sure, but when you dig down a bit, Three-Act Structure “congeals” into the “Save the Cat” form, while Kishōtenketsu… doesn’t.

      It’s often described as “no-conflict” storytelling, but that depends on how you define “conflict.”

      Ki and Shō set the scene, and add detail. Ten flips everything, and does so in ways that Western audiences often find confusing (“you can’t fire a gun if we didn’t see it on the wall in the first act!”). Ketsu is our resolution, in which the audience is shown how to reconcile the first two parts with the twist.

      NOTE: I’m not the expert here, but I’ve been studying Kishōtenketsu a bit in order to figure out the ways in which it’s different from the other forms.

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