I 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|
|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:
- Who is Character
- What is Plot
- Where is part of Setting
- When is part of Setting
- Why is Theme
- 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:
|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|