Elements of Fiction

Elements of Fiction

The Art and Craft of Storytelling


Story is a universal form of communication with a prescribed structure and necessary elements.  Yet, no two stories are exactly alike because of the way in which they are told.   By analyzing an collection of stories that demonstrate masterful use of literary elements and devices, readers can appreciate the craft of storytelling from a writer’s perspective so that they can read fiction more critically, comprehend a writer’s purpose more clearly, and tell their own stories like the pros.  

Enduring Understandings 

  • The meaning of a story can be discerned only by noting how the story is told. 
  • Reading through a writer’s perspective improves comprehension and enjoyment. 
  • Knowledge of story structure is key to telling a good story. 

Essential Questions 

  • What are the qualities of plot or character driven stories? 
  • In what ways does the setting influence plot and theme? 
  • Why is the point of view of a story important? 
  • What is the difference between tone and mood?
  • How do readers identify the theme of a work of literature?
  • How do writers use literary elements such as irony or symbolism to enhance theme? 
  • How can readers apply knowledge of conventions and style to their own storytelling? 

Point of View

Point of View defines the perspective of the narrator telling the story. Selecting the narrative point of view is often a critical element for the story’s effectiveness, and readers need to be aware of the range of a character’s reliability and perception before interpreting the characters’ actions.

There are two main viewpoints that an author could establish:

first person– a character in the story tells the story

third person– the narrator is outside the story.

In a third person narration, the author can provide a different amount of scope to the narrator.

  • omniscient – the narrator can see into every character’s thoughts and feelings.
  • limited omniscient– the narrator can see through only one character’s view
  • objective– the narrator observes from a distance and can see in no one’s thoughts and feelings.

Determining the reliability of the narrator is an essential component in understanding the story. Readers must consider characterization techniques and their own life experiences, values, and background knowledge in order to qualify how trustworthy the narrator is.


Objective:  Identify elements of plot in Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game to explain why the story is suspenseful and why the setting is crucial to the plausibility of the plot.  

Plainly put, the plot of a story is the events that happen, but if an author writes, “The king died and then the queen died,” there is no plot for a story. But by writing, “The king died and then the queen died of grief,” the writer has provided a plot line for a story.

A plot is a causal sequence of events, the “why” for the things that happen in the story. The plot draws the reader into the character’s lives and helps the reader understand the choices that the characters make.

A plot’s structure is the way in which the story elements are arranged. Writers vary structure depending on the needs of the story. For example, in a mystery, the author will withhold plot exposition until later in the story. In William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” it is only at the end of the story that we learn what Miss Emily has been up to all those years while locked away in her Southern mansion.

The plot of a story can be graphically represented by a Freytag Pyramid.  This video lesson demonstrates how a Freytag Pyramid is used to diagram a story’s plot.  

Lesson on Plot.   

Narrative tradition calls for developing stories with particular pieces–plot elements–in place.

  1. Exposition is the information needed to understand a story.
  2. Complication is the catalyst that begins the major conflict.
  3. Climax is the turning point in the story that occurs when characters try to resolve the complication.
  4. Resolution is the set of events that bring the story to a close.

All plots are driven by conflict, and there are several types of conflict to consider.  

  • Man vs Man 
  • Man vs Himself 
  • Man vs Nature
  • Man vs Society
  • Man vs Fate/Supernatural 
  • Man vs Machine

A good plot needs to be suspenseful, plausible, and unified.  Suspense can be created by flashback or foreshadowing. Never underestimate the power of the ending.  A story can end with a definitive ending (happy or not, it is what it is), indeterminate (the cliffhanger), or a surprise (the best kind!)

8A Graphic Organizer on Conflict in MDG ____

8B Graphic Organizer on Conflict in MDG

Open Response prompt on setting in “The Most Dangerous Game”  



Objective:  Explain how the setting, the time and place of the story, of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” enhances the theme.  

All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury takes place on Venus.  Why would this story have been less successful if it were set on Earth?


Tone is the attitude that the author takes towards his subject as evidenced by word choice and literary techniques. It is not much different than the tone of voice when speaking.  You know that sometimes it is not what you say, but how you say it.  It is the same with writing. Word choice, syntax, imagery, and the use of literary devices can all convey a certain attitude towards the subject.  The tone can change very quickly, or may remain the same throughout the story. 

Identify the tone in these two passages and explain how you know.   

from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

from The School by Donald Barthelme. 

And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don’t know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn’t the best. We complained about it. So we’ve got thirty kids there, each kid had his or her own little tree to plant and we’ve got these thirty dead trees. All these kids looking at these little brown sticks, it was depressing.


Protagonist and Antagonist 

Objective:  Identify whether Vera, the main character in “The Open Window” by Saki, is a protagonist or antagonist and explain how the tone of the story informs your decision.  

The protagonist is the main character in a story, novel, drama, or other literary work, the character that the reader or audience empathizes with. The antagonist opposes the protagonist. In the most archetypical narratives, this boils down to bad guy vs. good guy: Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vadar in the first Star Wars movie, for instance. But this is not always the case. In more complex literature, the protagonist is a complex character that displays some flaw. This flaw helps the reader relate to the humanity of the protagonist.  

Direct and Indirect Characterization

Objective-  Determine whether Scho, the main character in Richard Wilbur’s “A Game of Catch” is a winner or loser and explain how the story’s point of view influences a reader’s interpretation.  

Direct characterization is when the author describes a character’s personality and tells the reader what to think about the character. Indirect characterization is when the reader infers character traits by observing what they say and do, and how other characters respond.
Static and Dynamic Characters 

Objective:  After reading “All the Years of Her Life” by Morley Callahan, identify the dynamic character in the story and explain what is learned.

Essentially, a static character is largely the same person at the end of the story as he was in the beginning. Any character in a compelling story experiences some life changes and variation in his environment, but what distinguishes a static character is usually his existing persona, confidence and appeal to readers. More compelling, heroic and charismatic characters often work better as static characters than ones who must undergo change to appeal to the audience and to significantly affect a story.  Sherlock Holmes or Tom Sawyer would be examples of static characters. 

A dynamic character is often easier to build a compelling story around. Dynamic character might go through a major life transition, have a coming-of-age experience, pull through trials and tribulations, mature, have a change of heart or develop more likeable qualities — or take a turn for the worse. A common misconception is that a dynamic character has an electric, charismatic personality. In fact, the term “dynamic” doesn’t define the character’s qualities, but rather refers to how those qualities change over time.  A changing character is important to the theme as the character’s learning is often what the reader takes away also. 

Putting It All Together 


Objective:  Students will evaluate structure and style in Shirley Jackson’s“Charles”, and explain why Laurie behaves the way he does at school.  

  • Discuss the point of view of the story and explain why this is an important characterization device by identifying the dynamic character in the story and explaining what this character learns.
  • In order for a surprise ending to be effective, there has to be some hint in the story to the actual outcome. Identify the clues that Shirley Jackson plants that foreshadow the ending.

Listen to the Audio Version of the story.


Objective:  Identify the theme of “The Phoenix” and explain how the story communicates this central message about life or human nature.  

Theme is the unifying idea or central message about life or human nature.  Theme is often, but not always, alluded to in the title.  By analogy, theme can be determined by the following formula:

Theme = (conflict + resolution) (character’s responses) (readers’s response)

If the reader’s response is part of the equation and individual reader’s could have different responses, it stands to reason that there can be more than one correct interpretation of the theme of a story. Any theme can be valid if it can be consistently supported. In order to identify the theme, the reader should consider the following:

  1. Does a character change in some significant way? If so, what the character learns is the insight about life or human nature that the reader learns. Dynamic characterization is a clue to theme.
  2. Is there a direct statement about the theme in the story? “All the Years of Her Life” presents one when the author tells the reader that Alfred Higgins realizes his youth is over because his actions are causing his mother stress.
  3. How does the title figure in to the story? If the title is mentioned in the story, this is a clue to the theme.
  4. Consider the conflict carefully. If it is a man vs. nature or man vs. society conflict, then what is the author saying about the relationship between these domains?

Still confused?  Try watching this informational video on how to identify theme in literature.  

Writing a theme statement is a skill onto itself.  The following guidelines should help readers crystalize the perfect analysis of the central idea of a story into something that resembles a pithy tweet.  

  1. Always write a theme statement in a complete sentence.  A theme of “All the Years of Her Life” would not be motherhood.  That is an idea.  A theme could be, “Sometimes motherhood presents more challenges than rewards.”  
  2. Be sure that the theme statement accounts for all parts of the story.  If any part does not fit, revise your theme statement.  
  3. Steer clear of absolutes like “never” or “will” and use more ambiguous terms like “sometimes” or “may”.  Writers are only observing human nature which is not absolute. 
  4. Avoid cliches like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  Make an original statement about life or human nature.  

The Phoenix is a magnificence bird and its tragic demise in this story takes thousands of people with it. Clearly, the fate of this mythological figure is not what this story is about.

Read “The Phoenix” and prepare a response to the following prompt: What does this story state about life or human nature that is an important message for contemporary audiences.


Literary Devices

Objective:  Students will apply their knowledge of literary devices such as irony and tone to identify the meaning and purpose of a story.  

Irony: When the opposite of what is expected occurs.

    • Verbal Irony– saying the opposite of what you mean.
    • Situational Irony– circumstances or events occur that are the opposite of what is expected.
    • Dramatic Irony– when the audience knows something that the characters do not.


Verbal Irony

Situational Irony

Dramatic Irony

Read “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O’Henry or listen to the Audio version.             

Explain how the author uses situational irony for comic effect.

Read “The Necklace” by Guy de Maussapaunt or listen to the Audio version of the story.

Explain how the author uses situational irony for dramatic effect. 


Objective:  Students will identify the theme of  James Hurst’s “The Scarlet Ibis” by identifying the constructed symbol used by the author and explaining how this symbol enhances the theme.  

scarlet ibis

A symbol is The use of a concrete object to represent an abstract idea. Authors use symbols to enhance a reader’s interpretation of the theme.

There are two types of symbols:

      • Universal symbols have common meanings, are frequently used, and cross cultural boundaries (colors and seasons are good examples of universal symbols.
      • Constructed symbols are objects in which the meaning is represented through the context of the story in which it is used.

To identify a symbol, readers should look for the following clues that an object is an important symbol:

      1. title of the story
      2. author provides vivid description of the object or directly suggests its symbolic meaning
      3. object appears several times throughout the story
      4. object will be mentioned in key scenes.

Practice:  Watch this humorous video, “The Right Way to Tie Your Shoe” and explain what concept tying a shoe may represent. This video can help explain how to identify a theme in literature.


Objective:  Students will identify the mood in either “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs, or “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe (text, pp 38-49) and explain how this mood enhances the plot of the story.  

 The mood of a story is the feeling that the reader gets usually established through the

      1. careful word choice
      2.  visual imagery
      3. figurative language

Fundamentally, mood differs from tone by perspective  Tone, remember, is the author’s attitude towards his subject. Mood is the impression that the reader gets.   The distinction is subtle because both are created using the same devices, but tone is generally outside the story whereas mood is inside the story.  If it’s confusing, fear not.  No one in life, I promise, will ever grill you on this.  If you can talk about either, it’s all good.  

Audio Recording of “The Monkey’s Paw”.  

Writing assignment on “The Tell Tale Heart” 

Media Analysis This story has often been performed on stage and several film versions of the story exist as well. Watch Film Adaptation of “The Monkey’s Paw” and explain how the director establishes mood in film.  

Watch the Film Adaptation of “The Tell Tale Heart” and explain how the director establishes mood in the film. 

Multi Media Presentation:  Do a dramatic reading of the story.  Try to articulate the right tone in the narrator’s voice.  

EXTRA CREDIT OPTION: Compare the theme of this story with the theme of “The Phoenix”

Putting it All Together 

Objective:  Identify the theme of “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield and explain how she uses literary elements and devices to develop that central message.  Do the same for “Raymond’s Run,”  and then compare the use of one common literary technique in its development of the theme in both stories.  

A foil character is a characterization technique in which one character is portrayed as opposite of another character in a particular way.  The difference serves to highlight that particular characteristic, which would make it important to the meaning of the story.  In the story, “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield, the Boss and Woodifield are foil characters.  Why is this significant?


Unit Test Review 

Elements of Fiction Jeopardy

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