Elements of Fiction
“The subject of discourse; the underlying action or movement; or the general topic, of which the particular story is an illustration.” Shipley
“When literary critics use this term, they generally mean the idea or point of the work. Though many writers like to think of themselves primarily as storytellers, yarn spinners, and fabulists, themes and ideas are inevitable. Every work raises questions, examines possibilities, and imagines the consequences of actions. You can’t avoid meaning even if you want to.” Stern
“The central idea of a story or novel, a concept that is represented through the plot and interaction among the characters. Theme is related to the idea that even though fiction is not a reflection of literal reality, it still may communicate a kind of truth about the way human beings act, think or feel in a way that the word-for-word truth cannot.” Henry
Barnet, 1376: what the work is about; an underlying idea of a work; a conception of human experience suggested by the concrete details. Thus the theme of Macbeth is often said to be that “vaulting ambition o’erleaps itself.”
Barnet, 367: a piece’s moral attitudes, view of life, its wisdom. Ex: Julius Caesar theme may be the fall of power or the vulnerability of idealism. The underlying message. The message that brings you closer to the “center” of the piece.
“Plot means the story line. When people talk about plotting, they usually mean how to set up the situation, where to put the turning points, and what the characters will be doing in the end. In brief, they are talking about what happens. Plotting concerns how to move characters in and out of your story. Plotting means what you do to keep the action going.” Stern
“Plot is that framework of incidents, however simple or complex, upon which the narrative or drama is constructed; the events of the depicted struggle, as organized into an artistic unit.” Shipley
“A term first used by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. to describe the arrangement of a story’s events, including the actions of the protagonist and how those actions affect other characters.” Henry
“The time—both the approximate year and the hour of the day—and location during which the story takes place. Some writers also consider the psychological state of mind of the protagonist part of the setting.” Henry
“Part of the atmosphere of a scene or story is its setting, including the locale, period, weather, and time of day. Part of the atmosphere is its tone, an attitude taken by the narrative voice that can be described in terms of quality—sinister, facetious, formal, solemn, wry. The two facets of atmosphere, setting and tone, are often inextricably mixed in the ultimate effect: A sinister atmosphere might be achieved partly by syntax, rhythm, and word choice; partly by darkness, dampness, and a desolated landscape….” Burroway
“A work’s dominant mood, especially in regard to how it is established through its physical setting or landscape. Atmosphere is more than setting, also encompassing the emotional feeling the reader derives from the work.” Henry
“Atmosphere isn’t just weather. It is setting—stuffed furniture, dark carpets, and thick velvet throws can suggest claustrophobia, just as Formica and aluminum can give a sense of sterility.” Stern
“Symbol: An object in fiction that represents something else, either because it genuinely resembles the other thing, or because it brings about an association in the reader’s mind.” Henry
“Symbolism: It’s the word made flesh. It’s the idea made visible.” Stern
“A symbol is an object or event that represents something beyond itself. Sometimes an object is invested arbitrarily with such meaning, as a flag represents a nation and patriotism. Sometimes a single event stands for a whole complex of events, as the crucifixion of Christ stands as well for resurrection and redemption. Such events and attendant qualities in turn may become invested in an object like the cross.” Burroway
“The way the author expresses herself: the words she uses (whether abstract or concrete, imagistic or straightforward, simple or ornate, friendly or cold, vivid or bland, excited or blasé). Style cannot be divorced from the subject of a story; the words a writer chooses are inextricably connected with what she has to say.” Henry
“When we talk about writing style, we generally mean decisions about brush strokes rather than subject matter and structure. Style in this sense has more to do with individual words, sentences, and paragraphs than with entire chapters and books.” Stern
“The technique of giving the reader a subtle hint of some important event that will occur later in the story—especially a surprising or shocking event.” Henry
“Characterization: the technique a writer uses to portray the people who perform the actions in a story. Many contemporary writers consider characterization the most important element of fiction, in part because it is often how the events that take place in a story affect the characters—how they think and feel about those events—that really matters, rather than simply the fact that the events have occurred. Techniques that help the writer characterize characters include description, both physical and of the characters’ actions; dialogue; and interior monologue.” Henry
“Your fiction can only be as successful as the characters who move it and move within in.” Burroway
Point of View
“The vantage point from which a story is presented. The choice of point of view is one of the most important a writer makes over the course of a work, and each point of view presents advantages and pitfalls.” Henry
“Point of view is the most complex element of fiction. Although it may be labeled and analyzed, it is finally a question of relationship among writer, characters, and reader.” Burroway
“…the central consciousness that narrates the tale.” Stern
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.
Henry, Laurie. The Fiction Dictionary. Cincinnati: Story Press, 1995. Print.
Shipley, Joseph T. Dictionary of World Literary Terms. Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1979. Print.
Stern, Jerome. Making Shapely Fiction. New York: Norton, 1991. Print.