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Elements of Fiction

Elements of Fiction

Fiction is a prose genre. It is made up of narratives whose details are the creation of the author. Just as artists have the tools of color and shape to communicate ideas, so do writers have literary tools:

  • point of view
  • plot
  • setting
  • character
  • tone
  • figurative language

Each of these elements of fiction contributes to the overall idea that is developed in the text. These elements can provide valuable insight into the theme of the work.

Point of view (POV) is the perspective from which the action in a story is told. By carefully selecting a particular point of view, writers control what their readers know. Most literature is written in either first-person or third-person point of view.

Plot structure is the way the author arranges the events of a narrative. In a conventional plot line, the story is structured around a central conflict, a struggle between two opposing forces. Conflicts in literature can be categorized in general terms as either internal or external, though most stories have a combination of both. Internal conflicts take place inside the main character’s mind; the character might be making a difficult decision, struggling with change, or sorting out priorities. External conflicts, on the other hand, occur when a character is in conflict with something or someone in the external world—the elements of nature, another character, supernatural forces, destiny, or society.

In a traditional plot structure, the author begins with exposition: important background information about the setting, the characters, and the current state of the world. Following the exposition, an inciting incident introduces the antagonist and establishes the conflict. As the story progresses, the conflict becomes more complicated and tension increases, moving the story toward a climax or turning point, in which the conflict reaches a crisis point. Finally, there is a resolution to the conflict, followed by falling actions, events that move the characters away from the conflict and into a new life.

Plot Diagram

Setting is the geographical and chronological location of events in a story. When considering setting, readers should examine how characters interact with their sur­roundings, how they are influenced by the societal expectations of that time and place, and how the location and time period impact the development of the story.

Often, setting can seem inseparable from plot. A helpful question for beginning the discussion of setting is, How would this story change if it were set in a different time or place?

Character development is the process an author uses to create characters that are complex and, to some degree, believable. One way authors develop their characters is directly: they tell the reader explicitly what the character is like by describing traits and assigning values. Sometimes, authors might include the thoughts and feelings of the characters themselves, offering readers even more insight. Authors can also develop their characters indirectly by revealing their actions and interactions with others, sometimes including what one character says or thinks about another and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Most authors use a combination of direct and indirect characterization; this ensures that readers know what they need to know while also providing opportunities for reflection and interpretation.

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