By Mike Klaassen
Are there five, six, seven, eight, nine, or ten elements of fiction? I recently googled “how many elements of fiction” and was surprised to find lists ranging from five to ten topics. This is an example of the conflicting information published about fiction and the craft of writing it.
Let’s review these lists and develop one that is both inclusive (includes everything that belongs on the list) and exclusive (excludes anything that doesn’t belong on it). Hopefully, this will be a list with which we can organize our knowledge for the benefit of writers, teachers, and students of the craft of writing fiction.
To start this process, I combined all the lists, eliminated the duplicate elements, and alphabetized the remaining candidates, as follows: antagonist, character, chronology, climax, conflict, mood, narrator, plot, point of view, protagonist, purpose, resolution, setting, style, tension, theme, and tone. That’s seventeen items! Let’s see if we can winnow this list to a more manageable size.
The first two topics are antagonist and character, but clearly antagonists are a subset of a category that includes all characters, so let’s eliminate antagonist from our list. Likewise, we can delete protagonist.
Next is chronology, a sequence of events in the order in which they occur, which corresponds to “what happens in a story,” i.e., its plot. Our list also includes climax and resolution, which are parts of a plot, while conflict may lead to tension in a plot. Let’s lump all four of these terms under the category of plot and eliminate them from our list.
Purpose could be synonymous with a character’s objective, or it could represent the broader purpose of a story, or its theme; either way, we can eliminate it. Setting and theme stand on their own as elements of fiction, so let’s leave them on the list.
The remaining words on our list are mood, narrator, point of view, style, and tone. I define style as the “how” of written fiction, the sum of the myriad of choices a writer makes in the process of creating a story. These choices include decisions about mood, narrator, point of view, and tone, so we may eliminate these from the list.
Our list now includes five elements: plot, character, setting, theme, and style. Is this list inclusive? I believe many aspects of fiction may be easily categorized as a subset of either plot, character, setting, or theme, and the remaining “other stuff” of fiction may be included under the element of style. Is this list exclusive? If many aspects of fiction fit under the plot, character, setting, and theme elements and everything else fits under style, the list must be exclusive. Until someone comes up with a better idea, let’s recognize five fundament elements which comprise all written fiction: plot, character, setting, theme, and style.
Mike Klaassen is the author of Fiction-Writing Modes: Eleven Essential Tools for Bringing Your Story to Life, which is available for order at traditional and online bookstores. You may “Look Inside” the book at Amazon.com.
This article was inspired by “The Major Elements of Fiction” published by Helium.com on August 23, 2007. Copyright 2007 and 2022 Michael John Klaassen. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this article with others.