What Are the Main Elements of a Story

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the main elements of a story

Every story needs essential elements to keep it running smoothly and help the action develop logically, making it easy for the reader to follow.

These main elements are the backbone of your story—be it a good novel or short story. As a fiction writer, knowing the main elements of a story is not optional; not only does it make you a better writer, but it helps you analyze stories more effectively.

So, what are these main ingredients that any good story can’t do without? Read on to find out.

What Are Elements Of a Story?

Fundamentally, a story has five basic but important elements (the usual elements a writer is concerned with during the outlining stage), but—in the spirit of thoroughness—we’re going to discuss 8 main components.

These 8 story elements are characters, setting, plot, conflict, resolution, tone, point of view (POV), and writing style.

These story elements (especially the first five) are like the building blocks for your story. But, your story is analogous to a house, and to build a strong house you first need to know your materials, then build the story like a skillful homebuilder.

It’s like you’re building your house—in the literal meaning—brick by brick and these basic story elements are the bricks that your house has to have.

All these essential story elements help you tell your story, insert the purpose of the story, and give the readers your tone (the storyteller’s tone), among other things.

Why Are The Elements of a Story Important?

Why do these 8 matter? Well, a good comprehension of these elements of a story helps both the writer and reader in understanding how a story is structured, giving a deeper enhanced appreciation of the story.

Every story has these elements, so it’s not about whether the story contains these ingredients or not, it’s about the depth created by using them effectively.

Your average readers know the characters and the set of events in your story, but those who understand the 8 main elements of a story can comprehend the story better including all its subtleties and depth.

Going to the building block analogy, your story needs all its building materials to add breadth, depth, and have to embellish the story.

The elements of a story help bring the reader into the story by giving them a feel of the characters’ experiences and emotions, making them understand the reasoning behind the characters’ choices, thereby pulling them into the story world and putting them in the characters’ shoes.

For learning purposes, knowledge of the main elements is necessary for students to fully comprehend the story. Having a high level of comprehension of how a story is organized also helps learners recall the story during class assignments and exams.

Apart from that, learners who are familiar with the main elements of a story excel in storytelling writing. Usually, these leaders are good at organizing stories and sewing together different parts of their stories with little or no help.

The 8 Basic Story Elements

I decided to go with eight essential story elements and these are those eight key elements of a story:

1. Characters

baby yoda in the woods
Baby Yoda in the woods.

Characterization is of the key elements of a novel or short story. Most often than not, lengthier stories have more characters, meaning that novels usually have more characters compared to short stories.

The story’s characters can be people, animals, or other objects that are featured in a story. A story comprises many different characters and they’re categorized as the protagonist and antagonist (who are usually dynamic characters), as well as static characters.

The protagonist—the principal character in the story—is also called the ‘main character,’ ‘MC’ for short. This is the character that is central to any narrative and the author dedicates a good amount of time developing them since the story is built around them.

If you’re wondering about the length of a short story, it typically focuses on one central character or protagonist since the word count is not large enough to include a lot of characters.

Then, we have the antagonist, the main character’s adversary. This character often causes disruption in the MC’s life and the tension he provides, plus the MC’s efforts in trying to prevent the antagonist from causing havoc helps the story get to climax and—ultimately—resolution.

Authors can play around with the character’s physical appearance, thoughts, feelings, and interaction to create allegories.

The story also includes static (characters who don’t change much throughout a story) and dynamic characters (characters who change as the story progresses, they become more central as the story develops).

2. Setting

Every story happens within a particular environment and timeline, and it is this environment plus the timeline that forms the story’s setting.

Apart from time and place, a story’s setting can also include an alternative reality.

You can have more than one setting and your story can take place in a couple of locations and timelines—it can take place in different parts of the globe or universe and traverse 2 or more generations.

Or, you can just set it to happen in one story setting, which is usually the case with short stories. The story only takes place in the same village, town, city, or building.

So, your story can be set in the past, present, alternate realities, or the future. To make it fun, you can mix the settings just like in The Flash comic books published by DC Comics.

3. Plot

The plotline is the next essential story element on this list. The plot—also called the ‘narrative structure’—is the main sequence of events that tell the story.

Most often, a story’s plot follows a familiar structure, and in basic stories plots have a ‘Beginning,’ ‘Middle,’ and ‘End.’

That is exactly how most short stories go. The ‘Beginning,’ ‘Middle,’ and ‘End’ of the plot usually revolves around one significant event or moment.

The ‘Beginning’ introduces the characters and sets up the scene, the ‘Middle’ Ushers in a conflict or impediment for the MC and narrates how the hero comes through, and the ‘Ending’ brings the story’s resolution.

Those 3 are the basic pillars of a plot, but for experienced writers, the plot goes deeper than those elements.

As students get older, we go into a bit more depth and use more formal terms:

A plot is made of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

elements of a plot

The exposition starts the story and furnishes the reader with the required background bits (it might be things about the setting, characters, et cetera). Not only do writers use this part to drop some early exciting hints, but they also give it their all to grab the readers’ attention.

Then we have the rising action, which is where the plot really thickens. This is where complications, tension, challenges, or conflicts are introduced into the story. Since there’s a lot of stuff going on during this segment, it can be the longest part of the story.

After rising action comes the climax, which is the point of greatest tension or the turning point in the story. Writers incorporate a twist or a big reveal in the Climax to make it exciting. Falling Action, the part where the tension begins to fade away, follows afterward.

Lastly, we have the resolution (also called the denouement), which is the part that brings the story’s settlement.

4. Theme

The next story element on the list is the theme. The theme, the central argument or main topic of the story, is often the author’s allegorical message or a fundamental truth about human nature.

A story’s key theme can be an idea, belief, moral, lesson, or insight that the writer is trying to communicate to their reader.

The most popular themes include: true love, good vs. evil, political corruption, espionage and state politics, and search for freedom or redemption.

In allegories, the theme—which can also be referred to as the ‘moral of the story’—is hidden under the surface story.

5. Conflict

A fictional story without conflict is tasteless! No one wants that type of story. Readers are looking for a story that has some sort of conflict.

It is the conflict and the MC’s attempts to quell it that makes the story worth reading. Without conflict, the plot barely moves forward and how in the world can it reach its climax without conflict or tension?

The most predominant types of conflicts include:

types of conflicts
  • Protagonist vs. Antagonist
  • Protagonist vs. Self
  • Protagonist vs. Society
  • Protagonist vs. Nature

For example, in the protagonist vs. antagonist conflict, the protagonist tries to stop the antagonist from doing something destructive. In the protagonist vs. self-conflict, the protagonist struggles to overcome problems within him, to better himself.

6. Point Of View

The point of view of a story is a vital element that influences how the story is told. The point of view used also has an impact on your readers’ response to the story.

A story can be told using three points of view: first person, second person, and third person.

In first-person, the story is told by the protagonist. The pronouns used to tell a first-person story are ‘I’ and ‘We.’ One advantage of the first-person point of view is that it helps the reader understand the reason/motive behind the protagonist’s action since they know what is going on inside the head of the protagonist.

In a second-person point of view, the story is told by a person not necessarily in the story.  The narrator talks directly to the reader as if they were in a conversation.

Then we have the third person, where stories are narrated by someone who also isn’t in the story but is omniscient. The narrator knows everything, and gets into characters’ heads, knows their thoughts, and reasons for their actions. This POV used pronouns like ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘they.’

7. Style

This is a personal element and writing style and usually has an impact on the story’s tone.

Style refers to how things are said. The writer’s word choices, type of sentence structure, use of dialogue, use metaphor or simile, and hyperboles all affect their writing style.

Style is the individual author’s unique voice and if a reader likes this voice, they’ll continue to read their works.

Various factors that contribute to an author’s distinct writing style.

8. Tone

The tone is the story’s overall emotional quality or meaning. It can be hopeful, uplifting, happy, funny, intellectual, ominous, sad, depressed, et cetera.

Tone can be presented through word and grammar choices, theme, imagery, symbolism, and rhymes. It often is harmonious with the protagonist’s mood or the state of affairs.

The author’s writing style impacts the tone, and the author usually uses elements like weather conditions, time of day, and a soliloquy.

For example, setting the story in a night scene suggests an ominous or eerie tone. On the other hand, a morning setting might indicate starting afresh and getting ready to take the day head-on.

The author can also use weather conditions to convey the story’s tone, using an impending long winter to signify imminent trouble or sunshine to indicate a happy theme.

How to Help Students Identify Story Elements

Most adults know how to identify elements of a story, but for kids and new English learners—especially for students in lower levels—learning to identify basic elements in stories can increase their confidence and help them analyze more complex stories.

Not only does it help them understand the stories better, but they also acquire advanced critical thinking skills. 

There are activities to help students in identifying story elements. The best way of going about this is starting with the basic stuff before moving on to more focused reading activities. Here are some of them:

Here are a few simple activities to help her identify the story elements in some of her favorite books.

  1. Use Graphic organizers: With graphic organizers—i.e., maps—you can help students identify and isolate elements of a story and organize them. Since it’s done visually, there’s improved comprehension of the story and the students are better at recalling, retelling, and summarizing—the story.
  2. Build a story framework: use analogies and other forms of analogy to explain to the students the functions of and relationships between the elements. For example, make them build something and provide an analogy between the building blocks and the story elements.
  3. Teach the 5 W’s: the five W’s—who, what, where, when, and why—help the students understand who did something? What did they do? Where did the story take place? When did the story happen? And why did it happen?     

By answering these questions, the students uncover the main elements of a story.

There are many other activities you can do to help your students identify the main elements of a story.

how to help students identify story elements

Final Words on the Main Elements of a Story

The elements of a story are often referred to as “the elements of fiction,” and elements of a story are fractions that comprise the fractions of a whole.

The elements of a story can also simply be seen as ingredients that mix to create something new; if we take away one or more elements from our work we may end up with a story that lacks more than that element, a story missing the glue that held it together.

Without elements like plot, setting, and character, there is no story at all—at all!

The elements of fiction can be combined to create different types of stories; while some elements remain constant throughout many stories, such as conflict or character motivation, other elements may appear in only one type of story.

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.