The same elements of literature exist across every genre of writing. Literary elements are what make a story something that is cohesive, makes sense, and attracts an audience. Each literary element can be discussed and dissected by the reader if the story is well written, and when one of the literary elements is missing, the reader picks up on it immediately. This article will go into detail about the elements of literature, giving explanations of why they are crucial to the success of literature and examples of each.
Elements of literature:
Point of View
Whether you write your story in third person point of view, first-person point of view, second person, or from the eyes of the main character in first-person point of view, having a narrator to tell your story is paramount to not only its success but to the reader’s ability to understand the plot and connect with the characters and story.
The third-person point of view is the most popularly used point of view in literary fiction. This is when the reader is told the story by a narrator who is outside of the story. The narrator is not a character but rather a witness to it. They are recounting the story to the reader as they saw it, often without regard to or knowledge of the characters’ feelings, opinions, or thoughts.
When a third-person narrative story does know the characters’ thoughts, opinions, and feelings, it is called a third-person omniscient point of view. This is used in the literary world fairly often and can help the reader connect to the characters and plot.
When the narrator doesn’t know the thoughts of the characters or only knows generalities or thoughts of a single or select few characters, this is called third-person limited. Further, when the narrator tells you nothing at all but the story’s dialogue, actions, and plot, it is referred to as the objective point of view. This happens most often in the third POV but can occur in the first person or any POV.
There is also a limited omniscient point of view, in which the narrator closely follows a character for an entire chapter or section but is not directly involved in the story and can switch from one character to another. An omniscient narrator can bring perspective from many different characters to life but can also make the story more confusing if not done so in an organized and orderly fashion.
First-person perspective occurs when someone, usually the main character, is narrating. This method helps establish a connection between the reader and the character much faster than that of the third person. Still, it can also limit the connection between the reader and other characters. First-person narrative can also introduce the concept of a fallible or unreliable narrator.
The second-person is the least used perspective of this literary element. This is when the narrator is speaking directly to the reader, breaking the fourth wall. Think Deadpool, for example. It isn’t often that you find this technique used, and when it does occur, it often switches to a different voice when the plot begins to build.
For example, in Black House, by Peter Straub and Stephen King, there is an entire section in which you are flying throughout the setting with the author, observing as the story is laid out. The characters are not aware of your presence, but the author speaks directly to you and inserts you into the story. Later, as the story builds up steam, the voice changes to third person. Second-person, POV can also take on an omniscient point of view since the author who created the story speaks directly to the audience.
What is the Story’s Theme?
The theme is one of the critical elements that the reader is not explicitly told but must figure out by reading the story. This is one of the elements of literature that readers, instructors, and book clubs love to debate because not only is the theme not stated directly for the reader, but there can be more than one theme. It is the central idea behind the story, or in other words, the message or lesson the author intended the reader to learn through the storytelling. Every literary work has a theme, including short stories.
To decipher the theme or deeper meaning or message of a short story or novel, you have to be able to analyze the story and often decide for yourself. For example, the theme of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is arguably family, while others might say it is strength, loyalty, or self-sacrifice. The theme is arguable due to the fact that any story can contain multiple themes.
The main characters exist in a time that we are no longer familiar with, and this group of sisters, together with their mother, must fend for themselves while their father is away and learn to not only support each other but discover who each of them are in a time of great turmoil. There is certainly more than one theme at work in this classic novel.
The setting is the geographical location of a short story or novel. It is one of the most important literary elements because knowing where the story takes place can bring understanding and connection to some readers. The setting also includes the time period in which the story takes place.
Rebecca Wells wrote The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and the setting is a large part of the book. In the story, Siddalee Walker, the daughter of Southern parents, makes it big in New York and finds herself in a situation where she must figure out where she comes from and why her mother is the way that she is if she hopes to ever have peace in her life. The Old South is very different from New England, and the setting plays a huge part in the plot and the characters’ growth.
Of all the various elements, the characters are one of the most important. No one wants to read a story full of flat characters, so writers have to be careful to include background, personality, dialogue, and feeling to each character through means of literary devices and viewpoint so that the story’s action and the plot arc, and how it affects the characters, is cared about by the reader.
The person telling the story, or the narrator, is responsible for setting up many different elements for the reader. These different elements include setting, character, rising action, climax, falling action, and more. With the use of literary devices and good dialogue and description, authors create characters that seem realistic and lifelike and allow the reader to see them as beings who deserve to be cared about enough to want to follow their stories.
Every story needs at least a protagonist, main character, antagonist, or bad guy. These two roles are different points on the compass of the story and often represent things such as good vs. evil. Literature helps by making a character a representative or symbol of something bigger and breathing life into it to make the reader care.
Each character, but especially the protagonist, needs to have some background information. Even in nonfiction books, setting up the character background helps ensure that the reader can understand the characters’ motives, personalities, and actions.
For example, suppose a character grew up in an orphanage and felt isolated and unwanted her entire life. In that case, the reader can understand why later in the story, she rejects a love interest, prefers to work alone, or doesn’t worry about putting herself in potential danger. Because the reader was given background information about this character in the literature, they can effectively understand the actions and reactions of the character.
The plot is a part of every literary text and one of the common elements known to both readers and writers. It consists of rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. It’s what happens in the story that keeps the story interesting, and it makes the elements work with each other to construct a story that is worth reading and comprehensible.
Creating the main plot can be a daunting challenge to a new writer, and creating an outline or taking practice tests about the elements of the plot can help you to be a stronger writer.
An excellent example of ways to practice a plot is to create a plot diagram for each story that you read or write so that you can identify the different parts. The plot is one of the literary elements that must be present in fiction. Otherwise, you have no story.
Parts of the Plot
The rising action in a piece sets up the conflict. It’s the buildup for the protagonist, who will have to face some sort of major conflict. The protagonist may be put in situations that cannot be resolved right away, or events occur that are out of their control in their writing. This builds until the climax occurs.
The climax is the high point or epitome of the action. It’s a significant conflict presented to the protagonist. The character must deal with the events of the story and come out the other side in order to have a positive resolution. By this point, the author should have included enough other elements to have established a connection between the reader and the character so that the reader is invested in how the character deals with the events of the climax.
The falling action occurs once the climax has concluded, and it ties up any loose ends that may remain during the previous types of action. On the other hand, keeping some answers or questions, a mystery can give way to subsequent books in which those questions are addressed.
For example, in the Game of Thrones book series by George R. R. Martin, each book ends with the writing not having answered or tied up all of the complications and questions that arose in the novel. The audience simply had to wait for the next book to be published and available to see what happened to their favorite characters, or in some cases, how a conflict was resolved.
Resolution is the end of all the action and conflict. It’s the conclusion. The audience wants to know what happened to the characters after the major issue has been dealt with and has concluded, and this is where resolution can either satisfy or shock an audience.
The book Cujo is a classic and perfect example of an unsatisfying conclusion or resolution. In the novel, the two main characters, a mother and small child, are stuck in a hot car in the summertime for days while a St. Bernard with rabies terrorizes them. The climax comes when the mother risks her life to fight the dog so that she and her son have a shot at getting into a farmhouse that is a distance away and using the phone to call for help. When the mother successfully defeats the animal, the audience most likely feels a sense of relief and tribulation.
The nerve-wracking events and the terror are finally over, and this family can get back to the ways of normal life. Then, just when the audience feels happy at the outcome, the author shocks them by revealing that while the mother was battling the animal, the child died in the car due to complications having to do with the extreme heat.
This is a prime example that writing doesn’t have to include a happy resolution. On the other hand, it is the outcome that most book lovers want. If a writer does this too often, the stories start to lose meaning, and the audience will lose interest.
You can learn a great deal about the plot of a story by its tone. If the tone of a story is sad or depressing, you can expect that the plot is one that is difficult and possibly ends in disaster for the characters. If the tone is happy and carefree, you can most likely expect a story in which good things occur and a lighthearted story is conveyed.
The tone is conveyed in many different ways. For example, poetry makes use of sound effect, symbolism, imagery, and other devices to convey tone. Setting can also convey tone to the reader. For example, “the muddy, gray, rainy streets of back alley London” sets a much more somber tone than “the bright and sun-warmed cobblestone streets of London.”
A reader can almost immediately assume that the first description of the English city will result in a dark story or sad story. In contrast, the second description of the city may take a dark turn at some point, but at least starts out optimistic, happy, and hopeful. The tone of a literary piece can serve many purposes.
Elements, Structure, and Stories
Your potential audience isn’t thinking about the structure of your book or counting the elements that you include in your writing. They aren’t reading the latest articles about what makes a book worth reading. They are, however, looking for stories that they can identify with, connect with, and get something deeper or at least entertaining from.
This means that even though your audience isn’t looking at the technical parts of writing, you still have to as the author so that you can give them the experience they want and deserve. If any of the elements of literature are missing from your book, you stand to lose your audience.
Structure Literary Definition
Structure in literature refers to how the plot events are organized to flow coherently and cohesively. It molds the plot into an order which makes sense when threaded together. Authors capitalize on its use to make compelling characterization, plot development, and a thematic message. A structure may also have repetitions for emphasis. There can be implied patterns that the reader may trace upon scrutiny. Aside from these patterns, significant changes in characters are introduced through effective structuring. Below are the structural devices:
- Story arc: The story has a beginning, a middle point, and an ending.
- Flashback: The plot starts from a particular point in time and then traces past events to justify the current moment.
- Circular narrative: The story’s last line leads you back from where it started.
- Dual narrative: This narrative provides the audience with two sides of a story, coming from different viewpoints of two characters.