A story is more than just a series of events. There are eight essential elements that make up a story that every writer needs to know. In this article, we will discuss what these eight story elements are and how they are important to constructive a narrative.
The plot is the foundation of the story and is an essential story element. It is made up of the story's events, which are arranged in a pattern or sequence. The story's events must be causally related, meaning that one event must lead to another event. Without a plot, a story would simply be a series of unrelated events.
There are many different methods to structure a plot. Below are just a few examples:
Three Act Structure
The three act structure is a popular plot structure that is often used in movies and television. It is made up of the following parts:
- Act One: The Setup
- Act Two: The Confrontation
- Act Three: The Resolution
While many stories do not strictly adhere to this structure, it can be a useful tool for writers to keep in mind when plotting their story.
One of the most popular methods is the Hero's Journey, which was first outlined by Joseph Campbell. Christopher Vogler's version of the Hero's Journey consists of twelve parts:
1. The Ordinary World
2. The Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting the Mentor
5. Crossing the Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
8. The Ordeal
9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)
10. The Road Back
12. Return with the Elixir
Another popular method is Freytag's Pyramid, which was created by German writer Gustav Freytag. It consists of five parts:
- Exposition – introduces the characters, setting, and conflict.
- Rising Action – the conflict begins to build.
- Climax – the story's turning point.
- Falling Action – the conflict begins to resolve.
- Resolution – the story's conflict is resolved.
One of the most important aspects of a story is how a character changes in a character arc. Characters can undergo positive arcs, negative arcs, or flat arcs.
- Positive Character Arc – The main character starts out as being flawed or unsympathetic but undergoes a change throughout the story and becomes a better person.
- Negative Character Arc – The main character starts out as being good or sympathetic but becomes worse throughout the story.
- Flat Character Arc – The main character does not undergo any significant change throughout the story. They instead affect change within the supporting characters.
Scenes are individual moments that make up a plot. Below are a list of plot points and scenes that are found in many narratives:
- Hook – The hook is the first scene in a story and is what grabs the reader's attention. It sets up the story's conflict and introduces the story's main characters.
- Prologue – A prologue is a scene that takes place before the story's main events. It can be used to provide a backstory or establish the story's setting.
- Inciting Incident – The inciting incident is the event that sets the story's conflict in motion.
- Midpoint – The midpoint is a turning point in the story where the main character starts to take action to resolve the story's conflict.
- Climax – The climax is the story's most suspenseful moment where the main character's efforts to resolve the story's conflict come to a head.
- Resolution – The resolution is the story's conclusion where the story's conflict is resolved.
- Epilogue – An epilogue is a scene that takes place after the story's resolution. It can be used to provide closure or set up the story for a sequel.
Characters are the story's protagonists and antagonists. They are the people or beings who drive the story forward. There are several aspects to crafting characters for a story:
Characterization is the process of creating a character. To build a character with depth, they need to have the following:
- Personality – A personality is a set of characteristics that makes up a character's identity.
- Appearance – A character's appearance can affect how they are perceived by other characters and the story's audience. This can be conveyed through character descriptions and mannerisms.
- Backstory – A character's backstory is their history. It can provide context for their actions and motivation.
- Motivation – A motivation is what drives a character to take action towards a goal.
- Goals – Every character should have a goal, or something they are striving to achieve. A character's goal drives their story forward.
- Flaws – Characters should also have flaws. This makes them relatable and human. It also creates conflict within the story.
- Voice – A character's voice is how they speak and think. It should be unique to them and remain consistent throughout the story.
The many different character types found in stories have specific roles and attributes that provide depth to the story. Each character in a story can have one or more of the roles below:
- Protagonist – The protagonist is the story's main character. They are the one who drives the story forward and whose goal the story is centered around.
- Antagonist – The antagonist is the story's main opponent. They are the one who is standing in the way of the protagonist's goal.
- Secondary Characters – Secondary characters are the story's supporting cast. They help further the story's plot and provide assistance to the story's main characters.
- Anti-Hero – An anti-hero is a type of protagonist who lacks traditional heroic qualities. They are often conflicted and have flaws that make them relatable.
- Archetypes – Archetypes are characters that have reoccurred in stories throughout history. They are often used as a shorthand to communicate a character's personality and role within the story.
- Static and Dynamic Characters – Static characters are those who do not change throughout the story. Dynamic characters are those who undergo some sort of change or growth.
The story's setting is the time and place where the story takes place. The story setting can have a significant impact on the story itself. It can affect the story's mood, tone, and atmosphere. It can also provide context for the story's events.
The three aspects to consider in a setting are:
- Physical Location – Is your story set in a small town? A big city? In the country? On a planet far, far away?
- Time – Will your story take place in the present day? The past? The future? A specific year? A specific season?
- Environment – Is it set in an office building? A school? A forest? Underwater?
The story's genre is the category it fits into. There are many different genres of stories, each with their own set of conventions. Identifying the story's genre can help to determine what elements are necessary for the story and what elements your audience expects.
Dialogue is the conversation between the story's characters. It can be used to further the story's plot, develop the story's characters, and create tension.
A story's theme is the underlying message or moral of the story. It is what the story is trying to say about a particular subject.
The story's tone is the overall feeling or mood of the story. It can be used to create a specific atmosphere within the story.
8. Point of View
The story's point of view is the perspective from which the story is being told. Below are different perspectives a story can be told through:
First-Person Point of View
In first-person point of view, the story is told by a character who is directly involved in the story's events.
Second-Person Point of View
In second-person point of view, he story is told through a character's perspective who is not directly involved in the story's events.
Third-Person Point of View
In third-person point of view, the story is also told from an omniscient perspective, meaning that the storyteller knows everything about all of the story's characters. There are two types of the third-person perspective:
- Third-person Omniscient – the narrator has total access to all characters' thoughts and emotions.
- Third-person Limited Omniscient – only gives insight into a single character's mind.
Bonus: Narrative Techniques
These techniques are not essential story elements, but they are helpful in making your story richer and more compelling.
Plot devices are devices that are used to add intrigue to a story's plot. Here are a few examples:
- Flashbacks – a scene that takes place in the past. It is often used to provide context for the story's present events.
- Macguffins – an object that is central to the story's plot and the character's goal to obtain.
- Chekov's Gun – an object that is introduced early on in the story and plays a significant role later on.
- Cliffhanger – an ending that leaves the reader wanting more.
- Foreshadowing – the use of hints or clues to suggest what is to come later in the story.
- Exposition – a technique used to provide information about the story's world, characters, and events.
- Red Herring – a false clue that is used to mislead the reader.
Literary devices are devices that are used to add depth and richness to a story. Here are a few examples:
- Personification – attributing human characteristics to inanimate objects.
- Metaphor – a comparison between two dissimilar things.
- Simile – a comparison between two similar things.
- Symbolism – the use of symbols to represent ideas or concepts.
- Allegory – a story in which the characters and events represent abstract ideas.
- Irony – the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning.
A designing principle is a creative writing technique used to dictate the internal logic of how a story is told. The designing principle is the foundation for aspects of your story like the tone, plot structure, theme line, storyworld, and character arcs.
Every story needs these eight key elements to be complete. These basic story elements are essential in order to make a good story interesting, relatable, and engaging. Keep these elements in mind when you sit down to write your next story. And happy writing!