Story elements are learned by middle school students at a basic level using a story map. These are graphic organizers that teach students essential elements of a story so that they can engage in interactive reading and recognize a story element when they see one in text. These lesson plans help to prepare students for research papers, essays, and literature analysis in the future.
All stories, from the simplest fairy tales to short stories, to epic classic novels, must contain essential elements to be understood by readers. It’s easy as a reader not to think about all of the story elements that need to be used in story writing for us to enjoy the story, but imagine if one of the essential parts of a story were missing. We would most likely notice it and think that the story we were reading was terrible.
Imagine a story that never told us the setting. Imagine getting to the ending of the story and never being introduced to a single character. Imagine reading about someone’s very mundane day without any conflict. What would be the point in reading any of those stories?
Story elements are missing, and even though we don’t usually think about essential elements when we read, we definitely notice them when they are missing.
What are Story Elements?
Story elements are simply the important parts of a story. They are the components that all fit together, using all the tools a writer has at his or her disposal to tell the story.
Storytelling only works when all of the elements needed are present. As readers, we want to be entertained by a fiction story. We don’t want to read a grocery list or instructive manual.
This article will explain story elements and provide examples of some of them. This can be used as a quick guide for writers, teachers, students, and readers in general.
Story elements, otherwise known as narrative elements, include character, setting, point of view, plot, theme, conflict, style, and symbolism. They are described below in detail so that you can implement them in your own writing:
Characters in a tale or story are essential so that we can become invested in the story. A character doesn’t have to be human to qualify as a character. For example, in the classic fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, the characters are animals that have human-like character traits. They can speak, each character’s perspective is different, and the different characters clash a bit to create conflict. These two characters are both main characters.
A story character who is the main character is usually the focal point of the story. All of the events center around the main character. The character traits of this main character are usually distinct and are very obvious, sometimes even over the top.
We have to dwell on these character traits more than the supporting characters because the writer wants us to care more about and invest more in the main character.
A character can make or break a story, and making sure to describe characters correctly and adequately can be what draws readers in, and the lack thereof can be what pushes readers away. Character is an incredibly important story element.
Another of the essential elements is the setting. The setting is the physical location where the short story, novel, or book takes place.
The setting is important because where the story takes place can influence the characters, plot, and the perspective of both the readers and the characters of the story.
For example, if your setting takes place in a national park, then you can focus on the character’s desire to explore nature or their reluctance to be in nature. The scene’s location can shape the plot and make the audience more interested in reading the story. Setting can be used to play off of the characters, plot, and conflict of a story.
Some authors center most of their writing around a specific setting. Stephen King makes the setting of most of his novels Maine, where there are dense forests, large lakes, coastline, and a few large cities. Because Maine is where the writer is from, he understands the character traits and the general perspective of the people from that area, so he writes his characters to fit this setting.
Proud Yankees that keep to themselves and don’t ask for help from others. They don’t accept outsiders, and they have little to no use for “out of towners.” This sets up the perfect setting for the sort of horror stories that King writes. He torments his characters with monsters, murderers, and strange supernatural occurrences.
Due to the fact that the people of New England are the type that tend to keep to themselves and King can identify with them, he can create issues and a protagonist that never asks for help and tries to deal with the conflict of the story alone.
John Grisham is an example of a writer who doesn’t rely on a regional setting, but a professional setting to set a scene. Along with being a writer, Grisham is also an attorney and politician, and he feels quite at home in a courtroom.
Most of his books take place in courtrooms, police stations, and jails. These are settings that feel comfortable for the author, and due to that fact, the characters and plot are often swayed by the setting in his books.
Because Grisham is so familiar with the typical settings of his books, he can better describe them, which gives the readers a better idea and understanding of his story writing.
You don’t have to have ever stepped inside a courtroom to see the courtroom in your mind when you read Grisham.
Description is very important when establishing a setting if your location for your book is somewhere that doesn’t actually exist. In C.S. Lewis’s series of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we are taken to a magical land where things are much different from what most of us are used to.
Due to this fact, Lewis has to use a lot of description to help us picture the fantasy world he has created with his story writing. Otherwise, we would quickly lose interest in a story that makes very little sense because we can’t understand the unrealistic setting.
Tolkien is another author who uses a fictitious setting in his story writing. Simply telling us that his classic tale The Hobbit takes place in a fantasy world he calls The Shire isn’t enough.
He has to describe not only what a hobbit is, but what The Shire is, right down to the circular doors on their earth homes. Without his use of description, we would have very little help understanding the world he created where the characters interact and live their lives.
Point of View
An important story element is point of view. This describes who is telling the story. It can have a huge impact on the book’s success and the audience’s ability to connect to the story.
Stories written in first-person point of view are told by a person who is speaking directly to you. It’s a storyteller narrative that comes from a character in the story. Because a character tells the story, you, as the reader, have a very narrow window of information regarding other characters’ thoughts, opinions, and motives.
When a story is told in first person, you are getting the narrator’s perspective of it, and that is all. They can really only speak for themselves.
There are pros and cons to this narrative. First-person point narrative pros are that you are able to get the exact thoughts, feelings, motivations, etc., of a story character.
The cons of this type of narrative are that the audience loses some of the possible suspense depending upon the genre. If a character is telling the story, then you can be pretty confident that the character lives through whatever conflict exists.
Many successful books have been written in first-person point of view. The Catcher in the Rye is one example, and The Fault in Our Stars is another.
Second person view is when the author or narrator engages you, the reader, specifically, using words like “you.” This is rarely done in literature, and when it is, it usually occurs when an author will address the audience as himself and then switch back to the third or first person.
Kurt Vonnegut was somewhat known for doing this. He would sometimes start out a book by addressing the audience and setting the scene before switching to third or first person.
Third-person point of view is the most popular narrative for novels. In these books, the narrator is not a character. They exist solely in the role of the narrator. Third-person means that the narrator usually knows the thoughts, feelings, and motives of all of the characters. Third-person means there are no secrets, and as the reader, you are privy to all the information available from all of the characters.
Third Person Limited
Third-person limited narration is told by a narrator, but only from the perspective or viewpoint of one character. It sort of combines first person and third person in a way that gives us a limited amount of information, but the person telling the story is not a character. Therefore we don’t know the fate of the character the narrator is connected to.
A Story’s Plot
Perhaps the most important of story elements is the story’s plot. The plot is the main thing that the book is about. It’s what happens in the story. If the plot is not interesting and engaging, then the reader will quickly lose interest, and the reviews of the written work will not be favorable. No one wants to read a book with a weak plot, plot holes, or bad plot structure.
Plot Vs. Theme
The plot is the series of events that show how the story starts, progresses, and ends. Simply put, it is the entire story that is organized to convey a message. This message is called the theme. The theme is a central concept or issue the story is pursuing.
In addition, the plot tells how the characters face and solve their struggles, whereas the theme is extracted from how these characters act, react, think, and live. The plot is threaded using different scenes, while the theme uses the implied messages of these scenes to show a overarching concern. For instance, the theme of a story may be: Self-love makes people better versions of themselves. If this is the theme, the plot is knitted in such a way that the protagonist starts as someone who is always absorbed in self-pitying, then undergoes a situation or series of challenges, and later realizes what self-love truly is.
Plot Structure is how the story makes it to the point of the plot. It’s the way the story is set up to get you to the climax.
There is more to it than simply telling the reader what happens. A writer can mix up the parts of a story and tell us the end first, and then circle back to the beginning. Or, the author can start in the beginning and tell the story in the order in which it occurred, building the plot towards its conflict and climax.
Story writing and creating a good story, means that structure has to be carefully planned. Timing and flow are essential to writing. Short stories, in particular, need to have a good plot structure and flow. Otherwise, you will either get to the conflict and falling action too soon or too late into the story, and the reader will be unhappy and won’t think it’s a good story.
Readers want things to be put into simple ideas along the lines of; this happened, then this happened, and then this happened. If you write simply and keep the storytelling balanced, your plot structure should flow nicely.
You can backtrack events and start anywhere in the story’s timeline or change the point of view somewhere in your writing to make the stories more compelling or suspenseful, but you must write in a manner that keeps your reader engaged and doesn’t confuse or over-complicate the story.
A huge resource that can be used to create a plot is what is called a story mountain. This is a graphic organizer that is used by students when they are learning to identify the plot, and they first begin writing. Many parts can be included in a story mountain, but the main parts are; rising action, climax, and falling action.
Rising action is the events that lead to the main issue or conflict in a story. For example, in the story of Hansel and Gretel, the rising action includes the two children being left in the woods and leaving a trail of bread crumbs as they navigate the forest. They come to a house made of treats and candy, and they start to pick at and eat the outside of it.
The woman who lives in the house comes outside and presents herself as a kind old lady who wants to feed the hungry and lost children. She dupes the kids into coming into the house, where she proceeds to feed them and then reveals herself to be a witch who intends to eat them.
The climax of the story is where the main conflict occurs and is resolved. In the example used above of Hansel and Gretel, the climax of the story is that the witch captures the children with the intention of cooking and eating them. They trick her, and they turn the tables on the witch and push her into her own oven before escaping.
Falling action is where the story starts to wind down, and the main conflict is now resolved. In the example of Hansel and Gretel, this part of the plot includes the children fleeing the witch’s home and following the trail of bread crumbs they laid down at the beginning of the story to get away from the house. This leads them back to where they started at the forest entrance in an attempt to get back to safety.
Conflict is a crucial element to story writing. It is tied in with the plot, and it is what makes a story interesting. If there is no conflict or problem that needs to be solved in a story, then the story is dull and is nothing more than a description of something that is most likely dull and monotonous.
There are four common types of conflict that are used most frequently in story writing, and students are often tasked with identifying them when studying story elements. The following are the types of conflict, as well as an example of each.
Conflict of self is when a character in the story has an internal issue that they are grappling with. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, there are outside conflicts, but the main source of dilemma is the internal war that Guy Montag has with himself about whether rebelling against his profession and the law is the right decision for him.
Others is a common type of conflict, and it occurs when the main character has conflict with other characters or society as a whole. In The Handmaid’s Tale, we see Offred in conflict with not only her Commander but with the changing society in general.
Conflicts of nature occur when the elements are the main issue in the story. In Melville’s Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is after the great white whale Moby Dick and has to contend with the storms at sea.
Conflicts of the supernatural occur when things that are not of this world present conflict in a story. In Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, a group of elderly men who have formed a club must each contend with a malevolent spirit that is capable of things that are not of the physical world.
Style is another pivotal narrative element as it gives the plot and theme the power to be realistic. It includes the language registers of the characters, the author’s tone, the incitement of the literary mood, narrative flow, and any other language-related or poetic devices. For instance, if you were to include professional characters within your writing, their choice of words should reflect their educated background or credentials.
Symbolisms add mystery while giving hints to what will happen to the characters in the narrative. It is a crucial narrative element as it shows subtle signs or patterns for the audience to figure something out. For example, the appearance of a fragile flower may signify that a death is about to occur in a story. Another example is a character that wears a very old pair of slippers that continually pop open throughout the story, this may imply how the character lives their life in an impoverished state.
Parts of a Story/Elements
When we read, it is crucial that all of the story elements are included. We don’t want to read stories that are missing essential elements or parts of a story. When we write, we need to make sure to include the story elements so that the writing doesn’t fall flat.
All of these small parts work together to give us the stories we know and love. If there weren’t conflict in Moby Dick, the story would just be about a guy who goes fishing. Story elements genuinely do matter.