Can You Tell A Story Without Conflict?

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Conflict: a story needs one. It’s advice you hear in every creative-writing class, and a technique you see in every book, movie, and TV show. But what if a plot can move forward and keep the reader’s interest without inter-character discord?

Art collective Still Eating Oranges has a great essay up about kishōtenketsu, a traditional Chinese/Japanese narrative structure that doesn’t require conflict:

The third act is the core of the plot, and it may be thought of as a kind of structural non sequitur. The fourth act draws a conclusion from the contrast between the first two “straight” acts and the disconnected third, thereby reconciling them into a coherent whole.

For even more information about kishōtenketsu, check out this explanation, which includes comparisons to other common narrative arcs and an example of Western fiction you may not have realized was formally unusual.


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →