The Seven Key Elements of Fiction

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1. CHARACTER

There are two meanings for the word character:
1) The person in a work of fiction.
2) The characteristics of a person.

Persons in a work of fiction - Antagonist and Protagonist

o One character is clearly central to a story with all major events having some connection
to this character;

o She/he is the PROTAGONIST.

o The character in opposition to the main character is called the ANTAGONIST.

The Characteristics of a Person
In order for a story to seem real to the reader, its characters must seem real. Characterization
is the information the author gives the reader about the characters themselves. The author may
reveal a character in several ways:
a) his/her physical appearance
b) what he/she says, thinks, feels and dreams
c) what he/she does or does not do
d) what others say about him/her and how others react to him/her

Characters are convincing if they are: consistent, motivated and life-like (resemble real people)

Characters are...
1. Individual - round, many sided and complex personalities.
2. Developing - dynamic, many sided personalities that change (for better or worse) by the end
of the story.
3. Static – Stereotypes; they have one or two characteristics that never change and are often
over-emphasized.

2. THEME

What exactly is this elusive thing called theme?

The theme of a fable is its moral. The theme of a parable is its teaching. The theme of a piece
of fiction is its view about life and how people behave.

In fiction, the theme is not intended to teach or preach. In fact, it is not presented directly at
all. You extract it from the characters, action and setting that make up the story. In other
words, you must figure out the theme yourself.

The writer's task is to communicate on a common ground with the reader. Although the
particulars of your experience may be different from the details of the story, the general

4.underlying truths behind the story may be just the connection that both you and the writer are seeking. PLOT A plot is a causal sequence of events. The plot draws the reader into the characters’ lives and helps the reader understand the choices that the characters make. Complication is the catalyst that begins the major conflict. there is a shifting of time and this is the way we learn what happened and why. POINT OF VIEW Remember. Writers vary structure depending on the needs of the story. . A plot's structure is the way in which the story elements are arranged. It is simply one of the elements that make up the whole. What Goes into a Plot? Narrative tradition calls for developing stories with particular pieces -plot elements . events and details of a story are viewed. For example.in place. Here are some ways to uncover the theme in a story: o Check out the title. be aware that a theme we determine from a story never completely explains the story. good stories always have all the plot elements in them. Sometimes it tells you a lot about the theme. 3. But. the "why" for the things that happen in the story. Exposition is the information needed to understand a story. someone is always between the reader and the action of the story. all helping to inform and reflect back on each other. Sometimes. This angle of vision. is important to consider when reading a story. o What allusions are made throughout the story? o What are the details and particulars in the story? What greater meaning may they have? Remember that theme. the author will withhold plot exposition until later in the story. Also. That someone is telling the story from his or her own point of view. 2. Climax is the turning point in the story that occurs when characters try to resolve the complication. it keeps us interested in the story. It's not always a straight line from the beginning to the end of story. in a mystery. plot and structure are inseparable. o Notice repeating patterns and symbols. 4. Sometimes these lead you to the theme. Resolution is the set of events that bring the story to a close. 3. the point of view from which the people. 1.

What feeling is created at the beginning of the story? Is it bright and cheerful or dark and frightening? 6. Many authors leave a lot of these details up to the reader's imagination. colors and textures are all vividly painted in words as an artist paints images on canvas.Types of Point of View: Objective Point of View With the objective point of view. sunny. We should question the trustworthiness of the accounting. customs. CONFLICT Conflict is the essence of fiction.geographical location. etc? d) social conditions . the writer tells what happens without stating more than can be inferred from the story's action and dialogue. How many or how few details we learn is up to the author. The conflicts we encounter can usually be identified as one of four kinds.What is the daily life of the characters like? Does the story contain local colour (writing that focuses on the speech.When is the story taking place? (historical period. dress. etc. Omniscient and Limited Omniscient Points of View A narrator who knows everything about all the characters is all knowing. Where is the action of the story taking place? b) time . stormy. time of day. A narrator whose knowledge is limited to one character. etc. The narrator never discloses anything about what the characters think or feel. Sights. has a limited omniscient point of view. but lets us know exactly how the characters feel. 5. Setting is created by language.Is it rainy. either major or minor. . remaining a detached observer. or omniscient. When reading stories in the first person.) c) weather conditions . We learn about the characters through this outside voice. year. we need to realize that what the narrator is recounting might not be the objective truth. sounds. Some or all of these aspects of setting should be considered when examining a story: a) place . It creates plot. is the setting. The location of a story's actions. of a particular place)? e) mood or atmosphere . the narrator does participate in the action of the story. Third Person Point of View Here the narrator does not participate in the action of the story as one of the characters. First Person Point of View In the first person point of view. A writer imagines a story to be happening in a place that is rooted in his or her mind. mannerisms. along with the time in which it occurs. SETTING Writers describe the world they know.

etc. the grammatical arrangement of words in a text for effect. imagery. imagery. calm or excited. we cannot really understand a poem unless we have accurately sensed whether the attitude it manifests is playful or solemn. tone can be determined by three points: 1. In this sense. the correct determination of tone in literature is a much more delicate matter. or it may be decided that society was right after all. etc. more than one kind of conflict is taking place at the same time. facts that are included or omitted. mocking or reverent. diction. 3. metre. the tone depends upon the sounds of words. the existence of conflict enhances the reader’s understanding of a character and creates the suspense and interest that make you want to continue reading. their arrangement and their sequence. Not all conflict involves other people. But. 7. it tests the limits of a person’s strength and will to live. it is indicated by the inflection of the speaker's voice. In every case. On the other hand. however. romantic. The emotional meaning of a statement may vary widely according to the tone of voice with which it is uttered. it expresses the insignificance of a single human life in the cosmic scheme of things. theme. on the other hand. In this concern. Does he/she give in to temptation or rise above it? Does he/she demand the most from him/herself or settle for something less? Does he/she even bother to struggle? The internal conflicts of a character and how they are resolved are good clues to the character’s inner strength. Human versus Self Internal conflict. symbolism. despairing. adventurous. or vivid appeals to the senses. irony.Human versus Human Conflict that pits one person against another. or word choice. Human versus Nature This involves a run-in with the forces of nature. Sometimes people are their own worst enemies. The character may. the tone consists of alliteration. assonance. In spoken language. In spoken language. the tone may be ecstatic. The devices used to create the mood and atmosphere of a literary work. An internal conflict is a good test of a character’s values. TONE In literature. The musical quality in language. the speaker's voice can guide us to the tone. incredulous. consonance. syntax. Often. Here. depressing. details. tone is the emotional colouring or the emotional meaning of the work and provides an extremely important contribution to the full meaning. On the one hand. The character may come to an untimely end as a result of his or her own convictions. According to Harry Shaw (Dictionary of Literary Terms). . resigned. 2. An author's attitude or focus point toward his/her subject. somber. etc. the tone can be realistic. Elements of tone include diction. In poetry. bring others around to a sympathetic point of view. Human versus Society The values and customs by which everyone else lives are being challenged.

and the general environment and circumstances that prevail in a narrative. 2) Two types of setting:  Integral Setting: the setting is fully described in both time and place. We expect the protagonists and antagonists to be rounded individuals who express a range of emotion and change throughout the narrative. we only see one side or aspect of them. a helpful policeman. usually found in historical fiction. a strict teacher. 3) The ways characters are revealed:  What the narrator says about the character  What the other characters say about the character  What the character says about himself or herself  What the character actually does Setting 1) The setting refers to the time. interactive book) Characters 1) Types of Characters:  Protagonist (hero): the central figure with whom we usually sympathize or identify  Antagonist (villain): the figure who opposes the protagonist and creates the conflict  Foil Character: the figure whose personality traits are the opposite of the main character’s. timeless tale. and an evil stepmother. Most supporting characters are portrayed in this way. static characters or stereotypes): they have no depth and no change. 2) The ways characters are portrayed:  Flat Characters (stock.  Round Characters (dynamic character): they have more fully developed personalities. This is a supporting character and usually made to shine the protagonist. The Elements of Literature Characters Setting Narrative Point of View Plot Conflict Theme Style Tone *Story Example: Goldilocks and the three bears (video.  Backdrop Setting: the setting is vague and general. which helps to convey a universal. the geographical locations. The setting helps to establish the mood of a story. This type of setting is often found in folktales and . for example. usually toward greater maturity.

suggesting causes. and concludes with a zzdenouement (a wrapping up of loose ends).  An Episodic Plot: This is also a chronological structure. the narrator uses "I" to refer to himself/herself): the narrator is a character in the story. often. usually of chapter length. the 3rd person point of view): the narrator is not a character in the story but looks at things only through the eyes of a single character. simply sets the stage and the mood. The omniscient narrator can show the thoughts and experiences of any character in the story. without being confined by the protagonist’s educational or language restrictions. Episodic plots work best when the writer . This type of narrative permits the narrator to quickly build a close bond between the protagonist and the reader. tied together by a common theme and/or characters. but not necessarily. and showing relationships. the protagonist. It permits the writer the broadest scope. For example. the narrator is "all-knowing"): the narrator is not a character in the story but knows everything about the story.  Limited Narrator (External Subjective Narrator. but it consists of a series of loosely related incidents." Narrative Point of View  Internal Narrator (First-person Narrator. A plot is all about establishing connections. Plot 1) The plot of a story is a series of interconnected events in which every occurrence has a specific purpose. then follows the rising action through to a climax (the peak of the action and turning point). "long ago in a cottage in the deep woods" and "once upon a time there was a great land that had an Emperor. This narrative point of view allows for a very personal touch in the story telling.  Omniscient Narrator (multiple points of view. 2) Four types of plot structure:  A Dramatic or Progressive Plot: This is a chronological structure which first establishes the setting and conflict.

 A Parallel Plot: The writer weaves two or more dramatic plots that are usually linked by a common character and a similar theme. It permits authors to begin the story in the midst of the action but later fill in the background for full understanding of the present events. the nature of their existence. The conflict provides the excitement and makes possible the growth and development of the protagonist’s character.  A Flashback: This structure conveys information about events that occurred earlier. although one often predominates. . and the flavor of an era. Conflict 1) Common types of conflicts:  The Protagonist against Another  The Protagonist against Society  The Protagonist against Nature  The Protagonist against Self 2) A single story may contain more than one type of conflict. Flashbacks can occur more than once and in different parts of a story. wishes to explore the personalities of the characters.

tension. achieving one’s identity. satirical. love and friendship. indifferent. zealous. Theme 1) The theme is the main. The tone can be serious.  Humor is elusive. 2) Humor:  Incongruity is the foundation of humor.  Humor tends to be age specific. 2) Among the frequently found thematic issues in children’s literature are the problems of growing up and maturing.  Prose has rhythm just as poetry does. humorous. passionate. didactic. sentimental. Tone 1) Tone refers to the author’s mood and manner of expression in a work of literature. Its rhythm can be produced by the juxtaposition of sounds. such as adjustment to society. We laugh at the tension resulting from something out of the ordinary. Children especially enjoy dialogue as a realistic and convincing way of defining character. the use of repetition with a slight variation of patterns. poignant.  Longer sentences work best when explanations and descriptions are needed.  Humor can be either sympathetic or negative. and the varied length of sentences. and finding one's place in the world. usually to each other. agitated. sensitive. warm. Style 1) Word Choice 2) Sentence Length and Construction  Short sentences best convey suspense. underlying idea of a piece of literature. 4) Dialogue: the words spoken by the characters. . Children prefer a balance between exposition and dialogue. One prerequisite is that the victim must seem to deserve the fate or the harm must not be critical. and so on. 3) Exposition: the narrator’s passages that provide background information and/or introduce characters to help readers understand the events of a story. not to the reader. and swift action. It is woven subtly into the fabric of the story rather than being lectured or preached by the author. caustic/sarcastic.

a moralizing. sentimental. http://www2. name-calling. jokes and puns. malapropisms (the unintentional misuse of language). usually using exaggeration for comic purpose. placing the adult narrator in a superior position.  A parody implies a degree of sophistication that deconstructs the original story and depicts the characters from a different perspective.nkfust. 4) Condescending tones:  Condescending tones are inappropriate for children's stories. Ten Types of humor most common in children’s books (Kappas. or the misinterpretation of language. 3) Parody:  A parody is a literary imitation of another piece of literature.edu.  Parodies can demonstrate the vitality of literature and can suggest new ways of interpreting old tales. didactic. or cynical tone is not appreciated in children's literature nowadays.htm .  For examples. 1967):  Exaggeration  Incongruity  Surprise  Slapstick  Absurdity  Situational humor  Ridicule/satire  Defiance  Violence  Verbal Humor: word play.tw/~emchen/CLit/study_elements.