Elements of a Story

Elements of a Story

Every story you have ever read had a couple of basic elements and each (longer) story you write should have the same elements to keep the story running and allow the action to develop in a way your reader can follow.

The five basic elements:

  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Conflict
  • Theme

Characters

The characters are the people the story is about, and they should be introduced in such a way that the reader can form an image of each person. By giving an detailed description of a character’s physical attributes and personality traits, the reader can visualize the person. However, make sure you show the reader these attributes/traits and not tell the reader what they are.

The two main characters are the protagonist (the main character or “hero”) and the antagonist (character in conflict with the protagonist). The protagonist is the one who determines the development of the plot and solves the ‘problem’ in the story. The antagonist can be more than one person, but in your story you can also have ‘supporting’ characters. If a character doesn’t contribute to the story in any way, it is better not to put them in the story. Make sure all characters stay true to the initial ‘description’ the author gave of them.

Characters don’t necessarily have to be people, but can also be animals or an inanimate object.

Setting

The setting is exactly that: the time and place where the action happens. The task of the author is to describe the place and surroundings in such a way, that the readers feels as if they are right there. Even if it’s a fantasy setting, try to use surroundings that feel real to the reader. When your story has a historical setting, make sure your facts are correct!

Plot

A plot is a series of events and character actions that relate to the central conflict. It’s the ‘what happens and why’ of the story. The plot should have a clear beginning, middle and end, and includes descriptions and suspense for the reader to follow along with the invents. Simply said, in a plot you find an introduction, the rising action, a climax, the falling action, and a resolution. The plot is often represented as an arc.

Elements of the plot are:

  • Introduction/Exposition: This is the place where the basic characters and setting are revealed. Here you can also hint at the conflict that is to follow, but the one thing that is really important about the introduction is that this is where you catch your reader’s attention.
  • Rising action: Here the problem or conflict that’s central to the plot is introduced. The main characters have been introduced and things around them begin to get complicated. The rising action happens in the first third of your story.
  • Climax: Every story must have a conflict, as this is the ‘problem’ on which the story is based. Without conflict your story will have no purpose. The climax is when the action becomes most exciting, and when it seems that the main character might even fail at resolving the conflict.
  • Falling action: This includes events that will help to fully resolve the conflict. Results of actions and decisions taken and made by the main character are presented, whether it’s good or bad for the character.
  • Resolution: In the resolution all loose ends are tied up, conflicts are concluded, outcomes are revealed and an ending – happy or sad – takes place. The final actions have already happened in the falling action, so in the resolution it’s enough to ‘summarize’ where the character will end up in future.

Conflict

The conflict is a struggle between two people or things in a story. The main character is usually on one side of the central conflict. On the other side, the main character may struggle against another important character, against the forces of nature, against society, or even against something inside himself or herself (feelings, emotions, illness).

There are different kinds of conflict:

  • Internal: person vs self
  • External: person vs nature, person vs person or person vs society

Theme

The theme in a story is its underlying message, or ‘big idea, the author is trying to convey to their readers. It’s the central idea of the story. Short stories mostly have one theme, where in a novel, multiple themes can be addressed. The theme of the story is through the story, and the actions of the characters, their interactions, and motivations all reflect the story’s theme.

The theme of the story is not the same as the plot or the moral. Plot has been discussed above, and the moral is the lesson you want the main character (and the reader) to learn from the story. The plot and the moral serves the overall theme of the story.

Information sources:
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