As a reader, you more than likely don’t think about the elements of fiction. You simply pick up the book and begin to read. If the writer has done a good job, all you notice is the story itself.
What grabs you as a reader and draws you into the book? Any number of things can hold your interest, it’s true. But the main pull is simply this: the author knows how to write a good story.
There are certain elements that every story requires to make it interesting and give it flow. So, the question begs to be asked of you as a writer, do you write to be read or are you just writing?
The Elements of Fiction
There are more ways than one to approach our topic. Much can be said about plot, character creation, theme, setting, conflict, and more. Those are all necessary parts of writing good fiction. These are for another time.
In this post I want to talk about the most basic elements of fiction–the ones that uphold all of those other parts. The analogy of a train comes to mind. The plot, characters, theme, setting, conflict, etc., are the train. The elements of fiction I’m sharing here are the track.
What does a train track do? It holds the train in a controlled place and supplies the routing to move it and its passengers from one point to another, arriving at a final destination. These elements of fiction provide the same assistance to your story. Knowing how to write a good story is very much dependent on a working knowledge of these train tracks!
The Elements of Fiction: What Exactly Are They?
That’s a great question; I’m glad you asked! This is really not so very difficult when you break it down into small enough pieces. You probably know the answer to the question, how do you eat an elephant?, which is one bite at a time! It is quite true.
Let’s break down these elements of fiction into two lists. The first list is quite simply this:
- Beginning of story
- Middle of story
- End of story
Okay, yes, that is quite a simplification, to say the least! But stay with me; the list is accurate. Let’s call this a list of stages within your story. Certain things take place within each of these three stages. Those are the elements we are discussing today.
The five elements that work within that simple list are these:
- Rising action
- Falling action
There, now you have a list that is a bit more sophisticated and detailed. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these and see what we have.
The Elements of Fiction: The Beginning
There are two specific elements that make up the beginning of your story. Don’t think of the beginning as merely the introduction, although it does include that. The beginning starts from the very first words and leads the reader on until it finally leads up to the peak of the story.
Although exposition is a technical term, it has a simple definition. Dictionary.com says it well:
Exposition is part of the beginning. This element deals with setting the stage for your story. It provides introduction of theme, setting, and characters. Here you reveal the main conflict or problem encountered by your main character and others. It is what makes the reader feel like part of the story.
You’ve no doubt read a book, and when you were finished, you felt like you had been in a real place among real people. The whole story seemed so real. The exposition of that book was carried out well enough to draw you into the story. It is part of creating that absorption of your reader into your fictional tale.
The second element of fiction that is part of the beginning of your story is the rising action. Simply put, this refers to all the events, great and small, that take place as a result of the main conflict.
In a typical plot from most any Western, for example, the school marm is kidnapped by the bad guys and tied to the ever-present railroad track. The hero has but a short period of time to rescue her before the train runs over her and she is no more.
Our story then proceeds to take the reader through all the mishaps the hero encounters in his breathless effort to reach her in time. They turn out his best horse so he has to find another one. There was trouble getting the ransom money. The bad guys cover their tracks to throw him off the trail.
The whole time you’re reading of these problems the hero is having, the story shifts you back to scenes of the heroine, helpless in the hands of her nasty ruthless captors. And the clock ticks relentlessly on toward high noon when that train is due.
Get the picture? The rising action is all of those elements the story reveals that lead up to the final point of resolution–either the hero will overcome the bad guys and rescue her in time or….
The Elements of Fiction: The Middle
The middle of your story only contains one element, the climax. This is the highest point of interest and suspense. It brings all the rising action to a final high point.
In our story example, the climax might be when the hero arrives to save the day. He starts untying the school marm’s ropes as a train whistle blows. The tracks vibrate with the near approach of the train. The front of the locomotive looms larger and larger in the background.
Before he can finish freeing her from the tracks, gun shots crack and bullets hit the dirt next to him. In a flash, he makes a hero’s somersault over her, and comes up with guns blazing. With the train still steaming full-on toward them, you see the bad guys fall from their hiding places up in the rocks.
The hero holsters his still-hot pistol, takes out his knife and cuts the last of the rope, and gathers up the heroine to barely snatch her to safety as the train speeds on by.
The middle of your story, that climactic high point, is where the main conflict is resolved. If you learn how to write a good story, your reader is very much caught up in it. It is suspenseful, exciting, intriguing, sometimes ingenious, always gratifying.
Television writers use this element many times at the end of a season. They leave the story right there in the middle of that high point, just before the resolution comes. It’s called a cliff-hanger! And it’s quite effective!
The Elements of Fiction: The Ending
By the time this element comes into play, the big crisis is over. Now the tensions are eased. The danger is past, the need is met. Whatever was going on is now resolved.
In this element, events now turn to reveal all that results from the outcome of that climactic peak. It is here that you see how the action moves forward from that point. In our Western example, we might see that the train moves on down the track and the two of them are safe.
There might be some additional action such as a rain storm kicking up or another of the bad guys trying to pull a fast one. Whatever the additional events, they serve to bring the story to its ultimate conclusion.
This is our final element of fiction. This element serves to tie up all the loose ends that might still be hanging there in the story. It reveals the final ending and outcome from the solving of the main conflict.
In our Western story, we might see that the bad guys are dead or arrested. The ransom money is returned to the bank; the hero’s favorite horse is found alive and well.
Maybe the town’s people come out and have a celebration because the school marm is safe. Then the two of them fall in love and marry. He becomes the sheriff and the rough-and-tumble town comes into peaceful times.
The Elements of Fiction: Laying Track for Your Story Train
As you can see, these elements serve to carry your story forward. They bring structure and order in many ways. When you know how to write a good story, these elements become an integral part of holding your reader’s interest. Why? Because they hold all the many aspects of your story together in unity.
These elements hold your plot in place. They make your setting and theme seem real. Your characters come to life. In short, these elements help carry the flow of ideas to your reader in an orderly way. The reader doesn’t have to try to figure out what’s going on, but is led effortlessly through all the scenes of your story.
I trust this information is valuable to you, especially to those of you who are new to story writing. There is much more to be added to this, but I think this is a great place to start as you are putting together the ideas for your story.
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