Are you writing a book? You’ll need characters, setting, theme, point of view, and conflict. Collectively known as the basic elements of a story, each one is crucial to the overall narrative.
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at how these elements work individually for a more cohesive and engaging story.
Any work of fiction will have characters. Depending on the story’s theme (which we will discuss later), the characters can be humans, animals, dwarfs, mages, robots, and even aliens.
Regardless of what kind of character you’ll have, two characters usually dominate the plot – the antagonist and the protagonist.
The antagonist is the villain, typically a direct contrast to the protagonist. On the other hand, the protagonist is the story’s central character.
In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, you’ll notice that the protagonist or main character Katniss Everdeen is compassionate, while the antagonist, President Coriolanus Snow, is ruthless.
During the character development phase of your book, you have the option to make either the protagonist or the antagonist a static character or a dynamic character. So, what’s the difference?
In essence, a static character doesn’t change, while a dynamic character, as the word “dynamic” suggests, changes in the story. An internal or external conflict can influence these changes.
Expert Tip: To learn more about the difference between these two types of characters, read our static characters vs. dynamic characters guide.
Many first-time authors typically put the book’s setting as a low priority. However, like other elements of a story, the setting can influence the narrative.
A book setting is the where and the when of a story.
For instance, in the romantic novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the story takes place in the 19th century (the when) and England (the where).
The setting is more than just picking out a location and period. You should also set the mood by using environmental elements. One way to do this is to use weather conditions. Does the story take place in the middle of summer? Winter? Spring? Then, select word choices to depict that imagery.
Expert Tip: Some authors use foreshadowing in the setting. This literary device allows you to put significant hints or clues in the story.
As mentioned earlier, the story’s theme is also a key element. And it is more abstract or complex compared to other elements, party because it is the “why” and “what” of the story.
Some of the most popular themes that you’ll find in literature are:
- Good vs. Evil: One example is Harry Potter versus Lord Voldemort in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
- Love: Julia Quinn’s romantic book series turned into a hit Netflix show (Bridgerton) that revolves around love.
- Redemption: Atonement by Ian McEwan perfectly encapsulates a redemption theme.
- Courage and perseverance: You can find a central theme of courage and perseverance in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
- Coming of age: J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, one of the best books of all time, follows 16-year-old Holden Caulfield as he comes to terms with growing up.
- Revenge: Gillian Fynn’s Gone Girl is a perfect example of a book with a revenge theme.
Expert Tip: You can use characters, settings, or a combination of other key elements of a story to construct the theme.
Point of View
Point of view or POV, in short, is simply the view in which the story is told. It can be your book’s protagonist telling the story as she sees and experiences it, or you can be the narrator, separate from the story and like a fly on the wall.
POV in literature has four types:
- First-person point of view: With this type of point of view, you will use pronouns such as I, me, my, we, us, our, myself, and ourselves. The narrator in first-person point of view is typically the protagonist, but you can also assign the narrator role to other characters in your book.
- Second-person of view: In a 2nd POV, you will use “you.” It is a bit tricky to stay consistent using this type of POV.
- Third-person point of view: J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 3rd-person POV, wherein you are in charge of the storytelling aspect.
- Fourth-person point of view: 4th-person POV storytelling uses “we.”
Deciding the POV of your book is crucial because of several reasons:
- It shows the intricate details of your book.
- Readers can quickly identify and set the characters apart.
- It helps readers understand the thought process of the characters and the plot
- Provide key details of your story as you intend it to be.
Expert Tip: If you want to fully grasp what point of view is and how to find out which type is perfect to use in your story can be found here, we have a POV storytelling guide that you should read.
A well-structured plot is also one of the most crucial elements of a story. As a matter of fact, you can’t write a fiction novel without it. So, what is a plot?
This element tells the reader what is happening in the story, as well as crucial details describing the main character’s problems and how he/she attempts to resolve them. Basically, it consists of events that push the narrative forward.
What Are the Elements of Plot?
Unlike other elements of a story, a plot has its own elements. These are the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Here is an explanation of the elements:
If you’ve read the first chapters of a book, you’ll notice that the author introduces you to the characters or sets the stage for the story. This is what we call “exposition.”
You are exposing the readers to relevant background information.
Many books start their exposition with character dialogue, but others use flashbacks (more on this later!). You can also find novels using letters from the past, describing the setting, and character descriptions. Some even start with the main character’s perspective or point of view.
For instance, in The Hunger Games, which was written using first person point of view, opens with Katniss describing her home and District 12.
Expert Tip: Many fiction novels slowly expose the reader to crucial details as the story unfolds. It’s an excellent pacing strategy since your readers can genuinely digest and understand the details you share and avoid information overload.
In the rising action, you build momentum in the story, wherein the protagonist and other characters experience different events. These events, often internal or external conflicts, should create the perfect recipe for characters to decide in the climax.
With all the events happening in the rising action, it will eventually reach a boiling point or, in literature, what we call a climax.
The climax is a heightened tension as a result of the problems in the rising action stage. At this point, the readers are at the edge of their seats because they are unaware of what the protagonist will do next.
Expert Tip: Many stories have several climaxes. Authors often do this for character development and arc.
After the climax is the falling action, and as this plot’s element name suggests, it is where everything calms down. Typically, authors use the falling action to wrap everything up, including giving the characters the chance to deal with the aftermath.
Some stories use falling action to introduce another conflict and build a second climax.
Resolution or denouement is what happens next to your characters. Do they get a happy ending? Or do they continue living the same lives? The decision is up to you. Remember that not every resolution or conclusion warrants a happy ending! You can also make the resolution a cliffhanger or open-ended, especially when you intend to have a sequel or make a book series.
The structure of a book’s plot can vary and will be highly dependent on how you want to present the elements of the plot. For instance, in a linear plot, the elements (exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action) are presented in chronological order.
On the other hand, a parallel plot comes with multiple characters, each with their own storylines, but will eventually merge in the story.
Here is a closer look at each one.
As mentioned earlier, a linear plot will present the elements of a plot in chronological order. It starts with the exposition, goes through the rising action, then the climax, and eventually the resolution.
These elements are divided into three acts – beginning, middle, and end.
Act one or the beginning is the exposition and the rising action, where you, again, present readers with critical information about the story. On the other hand, act two is the middle or the climax and, as mentioned earlier, is the heightened stage of the story, which is an accumulation of the events that took place in act one.
Lastly, the third act is the story’s resolution or ending.
An episodic plot is more complex than a linear plot.
In an episodic plot, you are showing different episodes of loosely-related incidents.
Most television shows use an episodic plot structure. For instance, one episode tackles one conflict, and then the next week, your favorite characters face a new dilemma. Each story is contained and can be standalone but is part of a larger story.
That is why you can still catch up on your favorite show even when you missed an episode!
One example of a novel with an episodic plot is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
Expert Tip: Authors typically use an episodic plot to showcase the perspective of different characters.
Take the linear plot, multiply it by two or three, and you’ll get a parallel plot. In this structure, you can have two to three plots simultaneously. Each plot, however, will not reach the breaking point separately. Instead, they will merge in the climax of your story.
Using a parallel plot can be beneficial if you have multiple protagonists. Not only does it helps with character development, but you are also conveying to readers that these characters are essential in the story.
A flashback plot is another popular structure in literature, and you’ve most probably read a book or two using such format. If you haven’t yet, a flashback plot transports your reader to the protagonist’s past, helping them understand the character’s thought process and decision-making in the present. This plot structure can also build up suspense in the story.
The last element of a story you should know is conflict. It is basically what your protagonist is trying to overcome.
There are different types of conflict you can use in your story. One way is to put your lead character in battle with himself, literally or figuratively. You can also pit two characters against each other (hero versus villain). Or, you can have a lead character fight an oppressive society or a natural force.
Regardless of your type of conflict, remember that conflict is the fuel of a story!
Expert insight: If you are confused between conflict and plot, the latter is the what in the story. On the other hand, conflict is why the protagonist is having difficulty reaching his goals.
Basic Story Elements Matter
Whether you are crafting a short story or a book novel, nailing down the essential elements of a story is crucial. Not only does it give your story a direction and structure, but it can also help readers fully grasp the narrative.
Keep in mind that word choices, setting the tone, mood, and rhythm can also significantly impact the story and its elements.