Have you ever wondered what are the important elements of a story?
If you are a new writer, you likely have an idea for a story, but you may not yet know precisely how to get that idea in your head down on paper.
When I first came up with the idea for my screenplay, Bare Knuckle Days, I had to figure out the key elements – from the theme to the main characters to the setting to the central conflicts – before writing a single word. And, most important, was how to go from an idea to a fully fleshed-out plot!
Let’s start by answering the question, what is a story?
Simply put, a story is a series of events recounted by one person to another.
It is a narrative, usually fictional, used to entertain, instruct, or both. The main story elements typically include a beginning, middle, and end, as well as a protagonist and an antagonist. They may also include subplots and supporting characters. Some stories are based on historical events, while others are entirely fictional.
In addition to entertainment, stories can also be used to teach moral lessons or instill values in their viewers or readers. The best stories are those that can do both!
Whether they make us laugh or cry, the best stories stay with us long after we have finished reading or watching them.
A good story is a series of events recounted by one person to another that also has meaning to those people.
This meaning can change from person to person, from group to group, and even among entire societies.
What has meaning to one group might have little or no meaning to another.
This reinforces the idea that you MUST know your audience as a writer and storyteller.
To create a great story that conveys meaning to your audience, you need to know the most important story elements.
Let’s look at the seven essential story elements you need to know to create your own great story!
To create a great story, you must learn the basic elements of a successful narrative.
These are the basic building blocks of any great story – Setting, Conflict, Character, Dialogue, Theme, Plot, and Climax.
Good novels and films have well-defined story elements in each of these areas. All seven are necessary to create a successful and memorable story.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
The setting refers to the time period and physical location of the events in the novel, short story, or screenplay.
It can be imaginary or based on real life, but it must be vividly described so that the reader can picture it in their minds.
- When the story takes place
- Where the story takes place
Is it 1930’s New York? Present-day Paris? Or long ago in a galaxy far, far, away?
Typically, the genre of your story is dictated by the setting and must be established before anything else.
SETTING DICTATES THE GENRE OF YOUR STORY!
Conflict refers to the tension, fight, or struggle between two or more characters or between characters and internal or external forces.
This is one of the basic story elements in story writing, as it fuels the narrative and influences its flow or plot. Much of the conflict in your story will likely take place during the rising action section of the story. The resolution of this conflict may be part of the climax of your story or during the falling action section.
There can be external conflicts, such as between a character and an outside force (movie examples: San Andreas, Towering Inferno) or between two or more characters (Batman vs. Joker, Luke vs. Darth Vader).
You can also write about internal conflicts, such as the main character fighting for some inner change (movie examples: Leaving Las Vegas, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).
THERE IS NO STORY WITHOUT CONFLICT!
Characters are the people in a story. The plot unfolds through their eyes.
The characters can be human, animal, alien, or anything you can imagine!
Just remember, the different characters in your story should have human characteristics and character traits (even if they are non-human) because your audience must relate to them in some way.
Each story character may be fictional or based on a real person, but they must be well-developed to engage readers. In most cases, you’ll want to provide some background information on your main character and possibly some supporting characters as well. Remember, every story is different, so you’ll want to decide on what are the most important elements that you’d like to include!
Typically, there are two types of main characters – protagonists and antagonists.
The protagonist is the main character (usually the hero) and is in direct conflict with the antagonist (usually the villain). Think about the point of view of each of these people and each character’s perspective when telling the story.
As noted in this article, try not to create a “perfect” hero – let your protagonist in every story have some flaws, as this will make them more realistic and relatable! Remember, your readers or viewers will see the world through one character’s perspective at a time, so you want that character to be as relatable as possible!
WE SEE THE STORY THROUGH THE CHARACTER’S EYES!
Not all stories have dialogue, but most do.
The story element of dialogue refers to the words spoken between characters (and words left unspoken).
In general, it is conversations between characters or even a solitary character speaking to him or herself (think Tom Hanks in Castaway).
When writing, remember that all dialogue should move the story’s plot forward in some way!
Also, no matter how many characters you have in your creative writing project, make sure to give each character a distinct voice! The worst thing you can do is to make everyone sound the same.
GIVE EACH CHARACTER A DISTINCT VOICE!
The theme is the big idea in terms of the main subject or topic being described in the story.
These are the key elements of the central idea and message of the narrative and the WHY behind the story.
It permeates the whole story and recurs throughout the narrative.
The central theme may be something as simple as “love conquers all” or as complicated as “the only way to truly understand someone is to walk a mile in their shoes.”
“Redemption” might be a theme for Iron Man, while “revenge” would be a theme for Death Wish.
Make sure you keep a consistent theme throughout your story. It will put your audience off if, halfway through your film, it goes from being about love to being about revenge.
Switching up genres is okay, but don’t switch up themes.
Switching up genres is okay, but don’t switch up themes.
KEEP A CONSISTENT THEME!
The plot is the sequence of events in the story. The plot structure should have a clear beginning, middle, and end and be intriguing enough to keep readers turning the pages. Many great stories use the classic three-act plot structure! You can also think about the plot of a story in terms of story beats.
In other words, for a successful story, there must be some change (the journey from point A to point B). The story’s major events will help to drive the change in the characters as the story progresses.
The change could include a physical event, a decision, a change in a relationship or a person, or even a change in the viewer’s understanding of a situation. It is often manifested as a conflict of some kind.
In many stories, it could even be the realization that nothing will ever change!
A GREAT STORY MUST HAVE CHANGE!
The climax is when the main conflict of a story is about to be resolved.
It’s the final or toughest fight the protagonist must face so that the story can end (in the resolution of the narrative)
It could be the Avengers fighting Thanos for the fate of the universe or Tom Cruise demanding the truth from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.
Whatever the case, the climax should be the most exciting part of your story.
MAKE THE CLIMAX EXCITING!
Example of the Elements of a Story
Let’s take a look at the main elements of the Harry Potter series of books.
Setting – The physical location of the series is quite specific – it takes place in the wizarding world, which is hidden from the Muggle world. The story begins at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is located in Scotland. From there, the setting expands to include locations such as Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and Azkaban. The story also includes visits to the magical forest and the infamous Forbidden Forest.
Conflict – The conflict is two-fold: the conflict between good and evil and the conflict within Harry himself. On one side is Lord Voldemort, the epitome of evil, and on the other is Harry, the Boy Who Lived. This conflict is the central conflict of the entire series, and it plays out on several levels.
There is a physical conflict between Voldemort and Harry as they face off in a series of duels. There is also psychological conflict, as Voldemort tries to break Harry down mentally and emotionally. Finally, there is a moral conflict as both sides wrestle with the implications of their actions. In the end, this conflict drives the story forward and keeps readers engaged.
Character – The series is full of unforgettable characters. Of course, Harry is the young wizard who must defeat Lord Voldemort. Then there are his close friends, Ron and Hermione, who provide support and friendship throughout his journey. Other characters include Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, and Hagrid, the gamekeeper who introduces Harry to the magical world.
Of course, no list of characters would be complete without mentioning Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord who seeks to destroy Harry. There are, of course, many other characters within the series of books, but these are a few of the main ones.
Dialogue – J.K. Rowling has a gift for creating memorable characters with their own unique voices, and the dialogue in the Harry Potter series of books brings them to life in a way that few other authors can match. J.K. Rowling uses dialogue to further the story and reveal information about the characters. For example, in the first book, Harry and Ron meet Draco Malfoy, who immediately starts bragging about his wealthy family. This dialogue provides information about Malfoy’s character and sets up future conflicts between him and Harry.
Similarly, when Ron and Hermione have their first quarrel in book five, their dialogue reveals a lot about their relationship and helps to further the plot. In short, J.K. Rowling’s use of dialogue is masterful, helping to propel the story forward while also giving readers a deeper understanding of the characters.
Theme – The theme of Harry Potter is that good ultimately triumphs over evil. This theme is evident throughout the entire series, as Harry and his friends face many challenges the evil Lord Voldemort poses. While Voldemort is powerful and ruthless, Harry and his friends can overcome him time and time again. This reassuring theme reminds readers that even in the darkest times, there is always hope for a better tomorrow.
Plot – The plot is simple yet compelling. It follows the story of young wizard Harry Potter, who attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, makes close friends and powerful enemies, and battles the evil Lord Voldemort. Along the way, Harry must overcome challenges and solve mysteries while trying to stay alive. The plot is full of twists and turns, keeps readers guessing what will happen next, and ultimately leads to a satisfying conclusion.
Climax – The climax of the book series comes at the end of the seventh and final book when Harry faces off against Voldemort in a spectacular wizard battle. While the climax is largely the culmination of the series-long struggle between good and evil, it also represents Harry’s coming of age as he finally accepts his role as the “Chosen One.” In the end, Harry triumphs over Voldemort, but not without cost, as he loses several close friends in the process. The climax is action-packed and emotionally fraught, making it a highly satisfying conclusion to the series.
Every emerging writer dreams of telling a great story.
To do so, you must connect with your audience and tell a meaningful story.
But more than that, the narrative should contain the seven essential elements of a story – Setting, Conflict, Character, Dialogue, Theme, Plot, and Climax – to elevate it beyond the ordinary and into the extraordinary! Try it out for yourself in your own story, and let me know how it goes!