The art of Kishōtenketsu
Kishōtenketsu is a very East Asian way of telling a story in four parts.
This technique was originally used in Chinese four-line poems.
But today kishōtenketsu is used a lot in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese poems, jokes, movies, manga comic strips... and even video games.
Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki used this storytelling technique in famous movies like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke.
Also, Nintendo game designer Koichi Hayashida has been using the kishōtenketsu technique in Super Mario video games over the last decade.
Bong Joon-Ho’s movie Parasite is another terrific example of a kishōtenketsu narrative in action.
Spoiler alert: If you haven't watched Parasite yet stop reading this right now and go watch it first (Hint: It's an absolute masterpiece).
Now take a good look at Parasite’s kishōtenketsu structure:
Act One (Ki) — Poor South Korean family struggles to eke out a living.
Act Two (Shō) — Poor South Korean family infiltrates the lives of a super rich family to try to make money off them.
Act Three (Ten) — Poor South Korean family discovers that there's a family secretly living in the basement of the super rich family. And they're even poorer.
Act Four (Ketsu) — 3 families (Super rich, poor and the super poor) wreak revenge on the folks they blame for destroying their life.
Now try applying the Kishōtenketsu structure to all forms of copywriting — website copywriting, promotional emails, print ads, TV ads, flyers or direct mail.
It’ll make your copy more fun. Or informative. Or so interesting that the reader simply can’t ignore reading it.
Takeaways for your business:
1. Kishōtenketsu is a 4-act narrative structure that gives you a fresh new perspective and a style to play with when you have to write copy.
2. Time and attention are scarce resources. And always remember that the reader donates his time and attention to read your stuff. That’s why you (the writer) must always give the reader something worthy of their time and attention. Something so good, so weird, so crazy, so fun…the reader can’t ignore reading.
Because as ad legend David Ogilvy once said, “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
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