Elements of fiction

Elements of fictionI was reading Modern Short Stories Two, edited by Jim Hunter and came across this view on the five main elements of fiction: plot, character, setting, style and theme. My immediate thought was I liked the first three of these, but wasn’t so sure about the last two. I decided to do some wider research.

Elements of fiction – five, or more?

First a quick survey, then I’ll go into what some of these concepts mean (or at least a consensus view thereof) and then add some thoughts of my own. First up, a table:

Jim Hunter Katie Kazoo ELLSA Dr Robert Sweetland Wikipedia
Plot Character Character Character Character
Character Setting Setting Plot Plot
Setting Plot Plot Setting Setting
Style Conflict Conflict Theme Theme
Viewpoint Resolution Theme Point of View Style

So, some similarities but (ignoring ordering and naming) some notable differences. If you click no further, do look at Dr Robert Sweetland’s piece – it’s very thorough and distinguishes well between the seven elements. For me, I like the Wikipedia approach as it covers the bases Kipling would recognise with his Honest Men:

  1. Who is Character
  2. What is Plot
  3. Where is part of Setting
  4. When is part of Setting
  5. Why is Theme
  6. How is Style.

As an aside I also think conflict / resolution are very much inside the arc of the story and set with plot (in the mode of the Hero’s Journey).

So there are two levels of play: the pieces inside the story, and the writer and what is the story for (meta levels if you will). If I’d been asked for my elements, then I (hopefully) would have tried to follow the 5Ws and 1H, but would have kept all the concepts internal to the story. Having read this I wonder if the same dimensions apply both internally to the story and on a meta level:

Internal Meta
Who Character: who is in the story Viewpoint: who is the notional point of view/ narrator
What Plot: what happens
Where Setting: where does the story take place
When Setting: when does the story take place
Why Motivation: why are the characters doing what they do in the plot Theme: why did the story get written
How Plot: how does the plot unfold, what are the transitions from A->B Style /Tone: how does the writer use language to connect to the reader

Thoughts welcome!


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