Elements of a Story

There are three elements of a fiction story: plot, character, and setting.

  1. Plot strives for a general theme of the overall story. The plot is composed of the exposition and introduction which then will leap into the rising action and leads to the climax. Then there is a resolution of some sort with the falling action and finally leaves the reader to the end or denouement.
  2. Character is the basis on which the story revolves. Without a character, there is no one for the reader to relate to, admire, or despise. There would be no story without a character. The most common characters in any story include the protagonist, antagonist (villain), hero or anti-hero. There are two types of characters that E.M. Forester defined: round or flat. Each character that is introduced into a story can either be complicated or uncomplicated. Usually a main character is rounded in that they are complex by nature and surprise the reader as the plot continues. Flat characters don’t change through the course of the story, or they don’t change enough to make an impact on the reader.
  3. Setting should be introduced in the exposition of the story. It includes the time, location, and mood of world in which the story takes place. Remember that worlds cannot cross: Han Solo can never enter Frodo’s world, but it would be an interesting story to read. Setting is the key to deciding whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, drama, action, or adventure. The setting could set-up the story to include all those genre elements too.

Once the story is created, it can be broken down further into scenes. Usually there are three scenes within a story: opening, key, and closing.

  1. The opening scene introduces the story to its readers. It contains the introductory paragraphs along with the setting and character introductions. It also involves revealing the plot to the readers.
  2. The key scene happens when the reader understands what is at stake for the main character. It usually involves literary tension and can ultimately be the climax to the story.
  3. The closing scene occurs next in order. It is usually composed of the falling action and denouement and it can summarize earlier facts in the story. Usually it is a resolution and maybe includes a monologue from the main character about how they feel at this point in the story. This shows the reader that the main character has changed, or hasn’t, from the beginning of the story.

Each scene has three elements: concrete sensory details, action, and dialogue.

  1. Concrete sensory details are in-depth descriptions of the setting, characters, or plot. These descriptions should give the reader the feeling like they are actually in the pants of the main character. The readers want to feel, smell, taste, see, and touch everything that the main character does. Concrete details also include status details. Status details refer to the social status of the characters. Sometimes these differentiate in as little as deciphering whether the main character wears a fur coat or a pea coat; Calvin Klein or Christian Dior; Coach purse or Prada purse; shops at Target or Bergdorf Goodman. Status details are subtle hints at the status of a character without the author directly pointing out that they are rich, moderate, or poor.
  2. Action can mean many things in a story, but it is fundamentally what makes the story move forward. Usually action is the dialogue in which the story develops, but action is most commonly referred to as intense and exciting movement on-screen, such as martial arts movies.
  3. Dialogue is easy: if a character in the story talks and it is punctuated with quotations, it is dialogue. Dialogue is part of the action because most dialogue reveals more that what can be given in exposition. Dialogue is a way to reveal a slow release of information to the reader—which helps in the element of surprise.

The introduction paragraph needs to be strong and engaging for the reader. The setting should be included in a present timeline scene. This first paragraph should also introduce the story’s conflict, character interaction, and/or tension. Character interaction is one of the most important factors of any story. There aren’t a lot of readers who come across novels about one person for the entire book. Remember: People become people through other people.

Once writer’s block sets in, a writer should rewrite what they have. Some suggestions to clear away the block is to change the narrator of the story. Switching around from first, second, and third person gives the writer a whole new look on the entire story. It allows them to diminish the tunnel vision that occurs from one point of view. A writer can also change the tense around. It is usually easier to write an entire story in past tense, but if a writer stumbles and falters, rewrite a section in the present or future tense and see what new ideas will form.

And if a writer can write past the opening scene maybe the story isn’t worth writing or maybe the story doesn’t have any stakes. Outline the entire story in one sentence per scene and expand from there. All stories should include stakes or there wouldn’t be any tension. If there’s no tension…there’s no story, and nothing worth a reader’s time to read.

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