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Elements of a Story

A short story is a fictional account of a series of events. All short stories include the five major elements shown below, and looking for these elements when reading a short story can help to increase your understanding of the story.

Elements of a Story


5 Elements of a Story

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Let’s discuss each element of story in detail.

1. Setting:
  • Setting is the time (when) and location (where) the story takes place. 
  • The term setting is also used to refer to the social milieu in which the events of a story occur.
  • Setting of a story can be understood better by looking at the following factors:
  1. Time: When is the story taking place? (Present ,Past, Future, Year, date etc)
  2. Place: Where is the story taking place? ( palace, village, city, urban, rural, suburban)
  3. Culture- What are the social characteristics of the characters? (speech, dress, mannerisms, customs )
  4. Mood/Atmosphere- What feeling is created at the beginning of the story?(tragic, comic, thrilling etc)
In the story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, the setting is
  • Place - urban setting-an apartment in a city
  • Time - Present
  • Culture – Characters from a middle class background struggling for money.
  • Mood - The characters at the beginning of the story are unhappy, and at the end of the story are happy to know that they love each other.
Setting can be of various forms:

⇒ Utopia: Utopian setting in a story is the creation of an ideal world. 
   Example: Plato’s REPUBLIC

⇒ Dystopia: Dystopian fiction is the opposite of Utopia, creation of a nightmare world. 

      Example: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

⇒ Mythical: A traditional sacred story, typically revolving around the activities of gods and heroes, which purport to explain a natural phenomenon or cultural practice.

   Example: Greek Mythological stories

⇒ Fictional: Fiction is any form of narrative which deals, in part or in whole, with events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary and invented by its author(s).

    Example: Alice in Wonderland

⇒ Historical: Historical Setting often portrays fictional accounts or dramatization of historical figures or events. It attempts to capture the spirit, mannerisms, and social conditions of the people and time present in the story, with due attention paid to period detail.

Example: The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas

2. Plot:

  • The plot is how the author arranges events to develop his basic idea. It is a planned, logical series of events having a beginning, middle, and end.
  • It is sometimes referred to the way a story is written.
There are five essential parts of plot: 

Five Essential Parts of Plot

  • Exposition/Introduction - Exposition is the beginning of the plot concerned with introducing the setting of a story.
  • Rising Action - Rising Action is where the events in the story become complicated and the conflicts/problems in the story are revealed.
  • Climax - Climax is the highest point of interest and the turning point of the story. It is a moment of great intensity, generally bringing events to a head and leading to the conclusion.
  • Falling Action - The falling action occurs after the climax and is where all the loose ends of the story are tied up. Here you will see change in the characters affected by solving of the main conflict. 
  • Denouement - Denouement is where conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of  catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader and thus serves as the conclusion of the story.

Example: The plot of “The Gift of Magi” is

Exposition - It is Christmas and Della and James want to buy gifts for each other from their little savings.

Rising Action - Times are tough as James’s salary has been cut and Della barely has enough money to buy a gift for James. She comes with the idea of making money to buy a gift for her husband.

Climax - She sells her hair and buys a platinum fob chain for James’ gold pocket watch.

Falling action - Back home she prays that her husband should like her new look and her present for him. James is bewildered when he finds out that she has sold her hair to buy him a present.

Denouement - Jack has sold his gold watch to buy tortoise-shell combs she had long eyed in a shop window. Della and James have sacrificed for each other, the greatest treasures they had.

3. Character:

The characters in a story are the people who experience the events of the plot. Every story you read will have characters. 
Characters can be examined and studied using the three A's criteria: Appearance, Actions, and Attitude.

Types of Characters:

Protagonist - The protagonist is the main character in a story around whom the action centers, the character that the reader or audience empathizes with.  

 Example: Hamlet (Hamlet)

Antagonist - The antagonist is the character, force, or collection of forces that stands directly opposed to the protagonist and gives rise to the conflict of the story.

Example: Claudius (Hamlet)

Round character - A round character is a major character who encounters conflict and is changed by it. They are fully developed and described than other characters.

Example: Macbeth (Macbeth)

Static characters/Flat Characters - Also referred to as "two-dimensional characters" or "flat characters," they play a supporting role to the main character and lack a complex and realistic personality.
Example: Gonzalo (Tempest)

Confidante - The confidante is a minor or secondary character in a story in whom the protagonist confides, revealing his or her state of mind in dialogue rather than in soliloquies. 

Example: Horatio (Hamlet)

Foil - A character in a work whose behavior and values contrast with those of another character in order to highlight the distinctive temperament of that character (usually the protagonist).

Example: Laertes acts as a foil to Hamlet

Stock Character - Some flat characters are recognized as stock characters; they embody stereotypes such as the "dumb blonde" or the "mean stepfather." They become types rather than individuals. 

Example: Shylock , money lender (Merchant of Venice)

4. Conflict:

  • It is the opposition of forces which ties one incident to another and makes the plot move. 
  • It adds excitement and suspense to a story. The conflict usually becomes clear to the beginning of the story. As the plot unfolds, the reader starts to wonder what will happen next and how the characters will handle the situation.
There are two main types of conflict.

  • External: A struggle with a force outside one's self.
  • Internal: A struggle within one's self; a person must make some decision, overcome pain,   quiet their temper, resist an urge, etc. 
There are four kinds of conflict:

Character vs. character (physical): The leading character struggles with his physical strength against other men, forces of nature, or animals. It is external. 

Example: Hamlet vs. Claudius (Hamlet)

Man vs. Destiny/Fate (classical): The leading character struggles against fate, or the circumstances of life facing him/her. 

Example: Heathcliff vs. Destiny (Wuthering Heights)

Man vs. Society (social): The leading character struggles against social traditions, ideas, practices, or customs of other people.
Example: Oliver Twist vs. Society (Oliver Twist)

Man vs. Himself/Herself (psychological): The leading character struggles with himself/herself; with his/her own soul, ideas of right or wrong, physical. 

Example: Hamlet vs. Procrastination

5. Theme:
  • The central message or the main idea in a literary work. 
  • A theme provides a unifying point around which the plot, characters, setting, point of view, symbols, and other elements of a work are organized. 
  • Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and may be implied rather than stated explicitly.
Example: The theme of the story “The Gift of Magi” is love and sacrifice.

These key elements help to hold the story together and enable the author to develop the action in a logical way to hold the reader’s interest.
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