Basic Elements of Fiction #amwriting

There are three basic elements of fiction: Plot, Characterization, and Dialog.

Elements of Fiction

PLOT — what happens and why. E. M. Forster says, “‘The king died and then the queen died'” is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot.'”

Theme — The central idea behind what happens; the message or moral. If you have one of these, never state it outright.

Setting — Where and when the story takes place. Like every other element of Fiction, the setting should be part of the whole. CASABLANCA isn’t set in French Morocco during World War II just to be colorful. The setting is part of the plot.

Conflict — The material from which the plot is constructed. The central struggle. The opposition of persons or forces. Allen Marple says: “Conflict is the basis of all fiction — physical, moral, or emotional conflict; outside the main character or inside him — and without it we have nothing. If the boy says, “I love you,” and the girl says, “I love you too,” it’s all over. But if her answer is, “I love you, but — ” then we’re cooking.”

Change/Growth — Something should be different at the end –the main character, or the situation, or the reader’s perception of the characters or situation.

CHARACTERIZATION — Making the people in your stories seem real. Rounded characters are revealed by: (1) their actions, (2) their speech, (3) their thoughts, (4) their physical appearance, and (5) what other characters say and think about them. “Flat” characters are only revealed by one or two of these methods. The more important a character is, the more completely he or she needs to be rounded; the less important, the less rounded. Don’t even name the small fry.

Point of view — who tells the story; what “voice” — first person, third person; what attitude the teller has toward what is being told; is the narrator the main character or the main character’s sidekick; is the narrator involved in what’s going on, or on the outside looking in? Is the narrator reliable: Are they aware of everything the reader understands or does the reader see what’s happening more clearly than the narrator; are they telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

DIALOG — The two purposes of dialog are to reveal character and advance action. Whatever other use you may make of dialog (such as: feeding the reader information about the plot or providing local color), that dialog must also either reveal character or advance the action, or both. How people talk depends on who they are and what they’re doing. It should sound natural, but should be more clear than most real conversation, unless being muddly is part of a character. Listen to people talk. Listen to dialog on TV and in movies. Read your dialog out loud.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Take a chapter of a popular book and/or a book you love and see how these three elements are used.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Basic Elements of Fiction #amwriting

  1. Holly Jahangiri

    October 27, 2014 at 9:19am

    You make plot sound so … simple.

    Maybe I’m not as bad at it as I thought I was. Maybe, instead of saying, “I’m bad at plotting a novel,” I should say, “I can’t juggle complex, intersecting, mysterious plots.”

    Or maybe I have just been trying to make it harder than it is?

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      October 27, 2014 at 10:19am

      lol! You’re never happy unless what you’re doing is harder than it is. ~grin~ Plot is hard for me. Plot is very very hard. I have to make diagrams and timelines and circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one is…. No, wait, that’s the evidence in Alice’s Restaurant. Well, you get the idea. Plot = hard.

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