Several elements which inherently exist in any story must be combined to make an engaging and entertaining piece of work for a reader. These elements include setting, character, plot development and symbolism. Each of these elements will be examined in more detail below. Setting Setting in a story most simply refers to its time and place. Overall setting includes the time period and perhaps the geographical location of a story. Within this broad setting often exists different places such as a house or building and within these a room.
Other times, an author may choose to be purposely vague about setting, allowing the reader to form his own opinion of what the place might look like or envision a totally fictional place in a different space or time, such as in science fiction stories where the action takes place on some far-off planet. The setting is often used to establish the mood of a story – a setting in a foggy graveyard in the midst of London, for example, might evoke frightening thoughts based on the location alone.
Character Characters are those who are portrayed in a story and are very important elements. These can consist of people, animals or other creatures. Usually there is a protagonist (the “good guy”) and an antagonist (the “bad guy”) although there can be more than one of each. Secondary characters are those which the story does not revolve around but, rather, they contribute to the plot or the characterization of the protagonist or antagonist in various ways.
Characters may be portrayed in first person (seen directly from his point of view, using “I” and “we”) or third person (either one or more characters narrating the story). Third person point of view can be either omniscient, limited or sympathetic. Second person point of view is very rarely used. Characterization, on the other hand, is not the definition of a character but rather the development of a character shown through things he says, feels, does, reacts or how other people react to him. In other words, a character is portrayed through his actions, dialogue and/or thoughts.
Plot Development The plot refers to everything that happens in a story – it has a beginning and an end and action in between the two which furthers the telling of the story. Many devices are used for plot development such as climax, complication, conflict, conclusion and resolution. The exposition or “back story” gives information about what has shaped a character such as where he came from and the history and personal elements of his life. Plotting is the strategy used by the author to drop clues along the way that relate to the ending of the story.
Sometimes this is done via foreshadowing, or giving out a hint of what is to come later in the story. The plot can also be told via a series of “flashbacks” in which the character thinks back to a previous time and/or place. Symbolism Symbols in a story are those things which represent something else, such as an emotion or event. Thus, an apple in a story referencing Adam and Eve might symbolize greed; since most people know this story, the apple as greed is considered a universal symbol.
When the image of the apple is related continually throughout the story, it has a strong impact through recurrence. Related to symbolism, an allegory uses events, characters and symbols to portray a situation that is metaphysical, political, or social. Imagery is also used to describe things in a story whether it be a scene, a setting or a character through the use of one or more of the five senses. A good use of imagery incorporates sight, smell, taste, touch and sound in order to give the reader an exquisitely well-rounded description.
All Elements Together When put together, all of these elements – setting, characters, plot development, symbolism – make up the substance of a story. If any one of these items is missing, the story is incomplete and more than likely very difficult to read. Setting can make the difference between a story line that makes sense and one that does not; for instance if an author wished to write a story chronicling the advent of the personal computer it would make no sense to set it in the time period of the Dark Ages.
The impact of the ending to the story is greater when characters are richly detailed and the reader has a bit of their background, is made to care about them and what happens to them as well as witnessing them face a conflict and how that conflict is resolved. Without a plot, a story would be quite disinteresting to read; in fact it would read more like a dissertation or scholarly journal article which simply relates information.
Symbolism, imagery and allegory are used in a story to make a connection, give the reader something deeper to think about and to signal how a particular emotion or theme relates to the other story elements as well as the world itself. Writing a story is a finely-honed craft. The best authors are those who know how to use and manipulate these basic elements of fiction.
Baker, Sheridan (1980). The Complete Stylist and Handbook. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers. Conrey, Sean M. (2006). “Literary Terms”. The Owl at Purdue. Retrieved November 29, 2007 https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/575/01/