What I’ve Been Wrestling With:
The Five Elements of Fiction.
For fiction writers (and most non-fiction writers), having a grasp on the five elements of fiction is a fundamental part of understanding how to tell your story effectively. Often as writers, we think of writing and storytelling as a wholly creative and inventive process. I can relate to this perspective and held it early into my writing career. It is natural when approaching anything creative to imagine there are no boundaries or rules, no laws or constraints. Some professionals may still hold this to be true, and there are many examples that would reinforce this. But I would argue that those professionals and in those examples, the five elements of fiction are deeply understood and are internally being subverted, or at least manipulated intentionally.
A quote I’ve seen, attributed to the Dalai Lama, can directly relate to this line of thinking, in relation to writing and storytelling –
“Learn the rules so you can break them.”
So, this being primarily a post introducing the five elements of fiction, some of you might be asking (or vigorously typing into google) what are the five elements of fiction?, and why have I been wrestling with this now?
The five elements of fiction are as follows:
- Plot: The sequence of continuing events making up an overall narrative. The “what” of your story.
- Setting: The atmosphere, backdrop, location, and time of a story or scene. The “where and when” of your story
- Character: The person(s) or being(s) in a narrative. The “who(s)” of your story.
- Point of View (or POV): The narrator of the story, relative to their position. The “who’s perspective” of your story.
- Theme: The central idea(s) explored in a story. The “what” of your story, but (more specifically) “what is the point/about”.
As I edit my own work and continue to work with my clients on their manuscripts, the main thing(s) I focus on (and look for) is how these five elements of fiction can be improved. Every story is unique, but the farther I go in my editing and writing career the more important I find each of these being. This will be discussed further, but the pattern and structure of stories are very recognizable to viewers/readers. Certain genres carry certain expectations, and to unknowingly dismiss or omit these expectations can often hurt your story (unless the subversion is intentionally done, and that intentionality is observable).
It is important to understand what makes a story successful. Most of us see an original idea or concept, but, to use another famous quote attributed to Picasso:
“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
We need to remember that there is no such thing as an original idea or unique concept. Instead, study those who you wish to see yourself be and understand the elements that make great works great. Then steal it. Combine it with something else. Add your prose or spin. And use it to tell your story.
The same sentiment has been expressed by my fellow colleagues and mentors, as well as other industry professionals.
Starting off April (and spring), I want to dig into each of these individually and explore the process and exercises to have a strong plot, immersive settings, compelling characters, effective POVs, and an authentic literary theme. College courses can be done on each of these elements, so my hope is to explain how I approach each individually and holistically, and act as a gateway to further exploration.
So, try wrestling with this.
Have you heard of these five elements of fiction? What do you do best at? Where do you think you need to improve? My next post will be covering everything plot-related. Let me know what you think makes a compelling plot.