We don’t often think of parts of a story when we read. We aren’t consciously looking for story elements in our favorite novels. We don’t usually look for stories that are in third-person point of view over those that are in first-person. What we care about when we read is that the main character is well written and developed enough for us to become emotionally involved with how the story’s plot will affect him or her.
However, the writers of our favorite stories are very aware of the parts of a story that need to be included in their work for us to want to read their books. Story elements are in the back of their minds as they outline their stories and begin their writing process. This article will discuss the parts of a story that are necessary to make it a success.
Different Parts of a Story and Main Story Elements
1. Point of View
Point of view tells us who the narrator is and how much information that narrator has. The author must choose the right point of view for the story, as some are better told in a specific POV than others. There are three main types of point of view: First-person POV, second-person, and third-person POV.
Some readers tend to avoid first-person narrator because it typically means that although the reader can’t be sure what happens to all the other characters in the novel or short story. They can be sure that the main character and narrator make it and get through the conflict within the story.
First Person Point of View
This point of view is from the main character’s perspective. The reader gets to read the internal monologue, thoughts, opinions, and motives behind the main character’s actions. The pronouns “I”, “me”, and “mine” are the pronouns used in this method of narration.
An example of this narrative style is Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. This story has no chapter breaks, paragraph breaks, and rambles on for over 300 pages. It tells the story of a woman who has been arrested for the murder of her elderly employer and the murder of her husband.
While she is guilty of killing her husband, but not her boss, the story is told from her viewpoint as she sits in an interrogation room with a largely incompetent and judgmental small-town police department. For the entirety of the book, we hear only the thoughts and opinions of Dolores herself, as she chooses to tell the police about what took place that resulted in the deaths of her boss and her husband.
Second Person Point of View
This point of view is the rarest and occurs when the narrator speaks directly to the reader. The narrator can be a story character but doesn’t have to be. This is sometimes referred to as breaking the fourth wall. The narrator knows that he is telling a story to you and speaks to you from the pages of the book.
To find an example of this narrative, you have to look no further than most advertisements and motivational speeches. Speaking directly to an unknown audience creates a closeness and inclusive feeling for people that appeal to the consumer in general. Think of the television ads you’ve seen where the spokesperson for a product or the announcer for the commercial speaks directly to you, as though the commercial were made entirely with you in mind.
“This Bud’s for you,” says a beer company. “You can save fifteen percent or more on car insurance,” boasts a gecko trying to sell you car insurance. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” said John F. Kennedy, addressing the nation and making patriots of Americans all over the country. Breaking that fourth wall creates a bond between reader and writer, viewer and speaker.
Third Person Point of View
In third-person narratives, we learn what happens to the main character from someone outside of the situation. Sometimes they know the thoughts and feelings of certain characters, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, they are just a casual observer, now tasked with retelling the story to the audience. The third-person point of view is the most common choice among fiction writers.
Most books are written in this style of narrative. One example is Lord of the Rings, which tells the epic story of a hobbit tasked with traveling further than any hobbit has traveled before, on a mission, essentially, to save the world. His friends and companions, recruits of his mentor, are dedicated to helping him and being a part of this all-important mission. Harry Potter is also told in this POV throughout the entire series.
Third Person Limited
In limited third-person POV, the narrator knows either one character’s thoughts and feelings, or even a few characters’ thoughts and feelings, but not everyone’s. In this POV, the narrator has a limited scope of the information he or she has.
Third Person Omniscient
This style of narration gives us an all-knowing narrator. The narrator knows every character’s inner thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and motivations in the story. The story tells us the reasons for each major character’s actions, and there is nothing that the narrator isn’t aware of.
2. The Story’s Plot
The plot is considered one of the most essential elements of fiction writing. Other story elements can get away with mistakes or weaknesses, but if you don’t have a good plot, you don’t have a good story.
There are five key elements to plot in story writing. They are: exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. We will now discuss each of them briefly.
Exposition in story writing is the beginning of the story or the setup. The setting is introduced, and the main character and different characters who may or may not be essential to the plot. We get to know the protagonist in this part of the story, and the author starts to nurture the connection he or she is trying to build between the protagonist and the audience.
The writer lays the groundwork for what the story will become through exposition. We learn where the story takes place, what the protagonist looks like, what their personal and professional situation is, what sort of life they lead, what their personality is like, and who they are closest to. We are also sometimes given information about the antagonist at this point, or at least hints about what the conflict might entail.
If the author can make the reader care about the protagonist before conflict occurs, the author can be pretty confident that the audience will be hooked and will continue to read.
Conflict is the part of story writing where we start to throw things at the protagonist. It’s one of the essential elements of a story that decides for the reader whether or not they want to cheer on the protagonist. How the protagonist handles the first conflict often gives the reader all the information they need as to whether or not they feel compelled to support him or her and whether or not they have enough interest in finishing the book or short story.
The rising action is the part of the story that builds up after the conflict is introduced. The bit of tension and reaction from the protagonist leads us to the turning point of the story: the climax. Without this build-up of tension that the rising action provides between the conflict and the climax, the story writing will be clunky and won’t flow well.
Climax: The Turning Point
This is the major conflict, the height of the action, the point where there is no going back for the protagonist or antagonist. While the previous elements of the plot are important, the climax needs to be exciting and compelling, or the reader will find it all mundane and put the book down. Everything in the story so far has led up to this major battle, and the audience is going to want it to be worth their time.
In a short story especially, the climax needs to be easily identifiable as the most exciting part of the storyline. A short story doesn’t have as much space to draw out the plot, so each of the essential elements of the plot needs to be easily identifiable by the audience.
The falling action occurs after the climax has been reached. It is the beginning stage of resolution. The loose ends start getting tied up, any smaller conflicts or subplots can be addressed, and the story begins to wind down.
A Satisfying Resolution
Nothing is worse than a sub-par resolution. An audience feels cheated when they invest time and sometimes money if they purchased a novel or story if the story doesn’t have a satisfying resolution. The loose ends need to be tied neatly together, the ending needs to make sense, and although most people want a happy ending, you aren’t obligated to provide one. Either way, you end it, though; it needs to satisfy the reader.
Arguably, the most important parts of a story are the characters. Characters are what make the audience care about the plot. If you don’t develop characters that react well to conflict or are static, there is no point for an audience to continue on with the story. The use of character, character development, and connection established between the audience and the characters are essential to the overall success of the story.
There are many types of characters in a novel. Even short stories need to have, at the very least, a protagonist and antagonist. Each character type needs to have certain character traits to be believable to the story.
Protagonist and Antagonist
The protagonist is your main character or hero. This is the character that your story needs to follow and dwell on. Everything from a physical description, habits, background, relationships, and personality need to be described clearly in your work. Strengths and weaknesses need to be present. No one wants to read about a perfect protagonist. Readers also need to know what motivates the protagonist.
For example, in Suzanne Collin’s bestselling novel The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is the protagonist. We are given a very clear picture of who she is, what she looks like, and what she stands for, and we find it very easy to root for her almost immediately.
The antagonist is the bad guy or villain in your story. It is the character that the protagonist conflicts with. The same information needs to be provided by the author about this character as the protagonist. While you can have a purely evil antagonist, it’s ill-advised. A well-rounded bad guy with depth and a redeeming quality or two often makes for a better story.
All the Other Characters
Secondary and tertiary characters are essential to the story you create as well. These characters interact with the protagonist and/or antagonist, add to the plot, and make the story more realistic. While they don’t demand as much description and don’t affect the plot as much as the two main characters, they are still an essential piece of the story.
This is one of the elements in a story that many authors may not realize is important until they start writing and see how much the setting plays into the plot. The setting is the physical location of the story. Put simply; it is where the story takes place.
Depending upon the terrain and the landscape, the setting can play heavily into the plot. For example, in Harry Potter, the setting of Hogwarts enables the students to engage in a magical world without the fear of being discovered by normal people who don’t know such things exist.
The element of being discovered by normal people, called Muggles in the book series, isn’t a factor due to the setting. This is just one example of how elements work together to create a story.
The story’s theme is the big idea behind or the message behind the story. Through the use of character, setting, conflict, and other elements, an author creates events and a story that pushes a theme for the reader to decipher about life.
For example, in The Lord of the Flies, the author works to build tension between the characters, uses setting to make the characters desperate and miserable, and creates events that are truly bleak and dark to push the theme of survival and basic primal human instinct.
The elements all come together to drive the theme towards the reader in the hopes that the reader will pick up on and identify the theme that the writer is trying to convey to the audience. It is usually heavily implied but very rarely plainly stated. There can also be more than one theme present in any one short story or novel. They almost have to do with some complex part of life or morality.
The tone of the story is the mood. Everything from the characters, themes, setting, conflicts (internal and external), perspective, narrative, and resolution set the tone for a story. For example, Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice in Wonderland uses the whimsical nature of certain characters, as well as the carefree and curious nature of Alice herself, to submerge the reader into the middle of a lighthearted story about discovery, curiosity, and whimsy.
Far from the safety and comfort of her house, she finds herself in the middle of unfamiliar territory, and Carroll was able to create a tone of lighthearted wonder through the perspective of a child.