Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Are Story Elements?

Every story has structure and this structure contains story elements. Writing a story is like putting a puzzle together. When you are finished, you have a unified whole. At least, we hope so.

Story must have CONFLICT or it's not really a story. It's a nice description or a vignette or a character sketch. This conflict is contained in a format called PLOT.

All the introductory stuff where characters are presented and time and place is established and other information is called EXPOSITION. Be careful about dumping too much of this into the story. Get to action. You want to "show" not "tell" and exposition is the telling part of story that is actually a bit boring.

It's fun to use FORESHADOWING in story. This is where you give hints or insert clues about something that happens later on in the story. You have to be clever about this, not too obvious and not too subtle either.

A story should start with an INCITING INCIDENT. This is the event that triggers the conflict and conflict is the heart and soul of fiction. You should have conflict in every scene and on every page. Without conflict, there is no plot. Conflict might be 1) person versus person or 2) person versus nature or 3) person versus self or 4) person versus society.

A series of events follow this conflict and this is the RISING ACTION. It begins with the inciting force and builds until the CLIMAX. The conflict arrives at turning point where opposing forces meet and the conflict is really intense. Now we are at the CRiSIS point. The climax is the result of this crisis. This is the highest, most exciting point of the story. This is when your reader can't put the story down.

After this point things calm down and this is the FALLING ACTION. We are now in the closing of the story and know the outcome. And then we're at what's called the RESOLUTION or DENOUEMENT where the action comes to an end.

All stories have characters and, hopefully, they are three dimensional characters with strengths and weaknesses. The main characters have goals and ambitions and their values change. A round character changes as a result of what happens to him or her. A character who changes inside as a result of what happens to him is a DYNAMIC character.

The main character in The story is the PROTAGONIST. The ANTAGONIST is the character or force that opposes the protagonist. Stories have MAJOR characters who are well rounded three-dimensional and MINOR characters who are two-dimensional and flat and lack depth. Flat characters are STATIC characters because they do not change in the course of the story.

A story has a POINT OF VIEW. There is the FIRST PERSON POV where the narrator is a character in the story who can only reveal personal thoughts and feelings about what she observes or by what other characters tell her. In the first person POV, the narrator can't describe thoughts of other characters in the story.

There is also the THIRD PERSON OBJECTIVE POV. Here the narrator of the story is an outsider who can report only what he or she sees and hears. This narrator can tell us what is happening, but he can’t tell us the thoughts of the characters. In THIRD PERSON LIMITED POV, however, the narrator is an outsider who sees into the mind of one of the characters.

Finally, there is the OMNISCIENT POV where the narrator is an all-knowing outsider who can enter the minds of more than one of the characters.

IRONY is the contrast between what is expected or what appears to be and what actually is. There is VERBAL IRONY - the contrast between what is said and what is actually meant. There is SITUATIONAL IRONY where what
is happening is the opposite of what is expected or intended. And there is DRAMATIC IRONY when the reader knows more than the characters.

TONE/MOOD is the author’s attitude, stated or implied, toward a subject. An author might be pessimistic or optimistic, earnest, serious, bitter, funny. This attitude is revealed through the author's VOICE, choice of words, and story details. Mood is established through sensory detail, setting, and images. The tone refers more to story voice; mood is connected with the overall story climate.

A story can have SYMBOLISM, a person, place or object which has a meaning in itself but suggests other meanings as well.

Good stories have an overall THEME which is the main idea or underlying meaning. A theme may be stated or implied, but is a statement about a topic. While the subject of a story might be war, the theme might be that war is wasteful and cruel. Themes can be presented in thoughts and conversations of story characters. The main character usually illustrates the most important theme of the story. The actions or events in the story suggest theme.

IMAGERY can be accomplished by using sensory details. FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE is used in story through SIMILE and METAPHOR. Whenever you describe something by comparing it with something else, you are using figurative language. A simile is a direct comparison between two unlike things, usually with the words like or as. (Her eyes were as bright as stars.) A metaphor is an implied comparison between two relatively unlike things using a form of be. The comparison is not announced by like or as. (The river was a ribbon of moonlight.)

ALLITERATION is when we repeat consonant sounds at the beginning of words or within words. Alliteration is used in both poetry and fiction to create melody and rhythm. Many children's picture books use alliteration. These stories use ONOMATOPOEIA, too, where words resemble sounds (Snap! Crackle! Pop!)

PERSONIFICATION gives human qualities to inanimate or nonhuman things. If the moon smiles down on you, we are personifying the moon because the moon really can't smile.

By understanding the elements used in story, you can improve your writing. It can be fun to experiment with figurative language and it's worthwhile to develop your story characters so that they are three-dimensional.

Stop by again soon and we'll talk more about writing.

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