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The Seven Key Elements of Fiction



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


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

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

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

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

The Elements of Literature Characters Setting Narrative Point of View Plot Conflict Theme Style Tone *Story Example: Goldilocks and the three bears (video. a strict teacher. usually found in historical fiction. the geographical locations. The setting helps to establish the mood of a story. and an evil stepmother. This type of setting is often found in folktales and . 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. static characters or stereotypes): they have no depth and no change. Most supporting characters are portrayed in this way. usually toward greater maturity.  Backdrop Setting: the setting is vague and general. which helps to convey a universal. for example. We expect the protagonists and antagonists to be rounded individuals who express a range of emotion and change throughout the narrative.  Round Characters (dynamic character): they have more fully developed personalities. 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. a helpful policeman. 2) The ways characters are portrayed:  Flat Characters (stock. 2) Two types of setting:  Integral Setting: the setting is fully described in both time and place. and the general environment and circumstances that prevail in a narrative. we only see one side or aspect of them. timeless tale. This is a supporting character and usually made to shine the protagonist.

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

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. . the nature of their existence. Flashbacks can occur more than once and in different parts of a story. although one often predominates. 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.  A Flashback: This structure conveys information about events that occurred earlier.  A Parallel Plot: The writer weaves two or more dramatic plots that are usually linked by a common character and a similar theme. wishes to explore the personalities of the characters. and the flavor of an era. The conflict provides the excitement and makes possible the growth and development of the protagonist’s character.

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

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