Every story requires six essential elements in order to be considered complete. In this article, we’ll talk about what these elements are, what they mean and how each play an important role in creating a compelling storyline.
What are the 6 Essential Elements of a Story?
The elements of a story are the building blocks that make up your fictional world. Each element needs to be planned in the correct sequence to make sure your book is well structured, cohesive and engaging for your readers.
These elements are the most important aspects that you need to consider when developing your plot. Without any one of them, you’d be missing a critical puzzle piece supporting what needs to happen for your novel to work.
The following six elements will allow you to create an engaging storyline with well-developed characters and interesting plot twists:
Element 1. Setting
The setting of your story is the time and location where your novel takes place.
It provides the backdrop for the action. This can be a realistic setting or a fictional universe, but either way, you need to have a clear understanding of the world you want your readers to inhabit as they read your novel.
For example, if you’re writing historical fiction, the setting needs to include elements like geography, period culture/society, language, fashion, etc.
The setting of your story will help immerse your readers into the events as they unfold.
Element 2. Characters
Your characters are what drive your storyline forward. You’ll obviously need to delineate who your main characters are but you may also want to develop secondary ones, especially if they can play an important role in advancing your plot.
Characters interact with each other to create conflict, which often leads to a buildup of action as you advance your story towards the climax of your book.
It also helps if their actions evoke some sort of emotion (positive or negative) as this makes them more compelling for your readers.
Element 3. Conflict
The conflict in your story is the most important element of your writing as it is what will make your novel an interesting read. Without it, you’re just writing a descriptive account of people or places without any sense of urgency, which is quite unappealing for fiction readers.
Imagine if someone made a movie similar to James Cameron’s Titanic, but instead about another luxury cruise trip embarking on an uneventful journey across the ocean, arriving in New York City with no conflict or drama of any kind.
Even if a studio spared no expense to perfectly recreate the detail of the period, it would have a very difficult time finding an audience — in other words, no conflict, no appeal.
Element 4. Rising Action
In order to arrive at the climax of your story, you must first build up to it slowly. This rising action is what makes your conflict come to life — your goal here is to build up the tension between your characters to keep your readers glued to the page.
Elements that influence the rising action in your story are mystery, anticipation, suspense, foreshadowing and so on, as you leave a trail of crumbs throughout your book with hints about what may happen later on in the story.
Depending on the genre, you could even use this buildup to take your readers down an unexpected path so that they are blown away when the climax of the story turns out to be the opposite of whey thought would happen (remember The Sixth Sense?)
If done correctly, you’ll be able to keep readers hooked on your every word for hours on end. They won’t even realize when one chapter ends and another begins!
Element 5. Climax
The climax of your story is the time when everything comes to a head. It’s the moment everyone’s been waiting for, where your protagonist overcomes their key obstacle and ultimately becomes a better person because of it.
The climax in your story needs to leave your readers feeling fulfilled. So always make sure your climax makes sense to them — your readers are expecting this to be the case and you don’t want to leave them confused.
For example, even though The Sixth Sense had a completely unexpected and shocking climax, it made perfect sense in the context of the story (in hindsight, of course.)
Also, make sure your climax achieves the level of intensity you’ve been building up to throughout your book — this is another area where you don’t want to disappoint your readers. If you’ve been building anticipation for a blast, don’t climax with a whimper.
Always give your readers what they want — if not more — in terms of energy and sparks flying, and try to surprise them with an outcome they’re not expecting. Consider that when your story reaches its climax, your readers’ emotional investment will climax too!
Element 6. Resolution
Now, it’s time to decompress, to provide an outlet to release the pent up energy that peaked during your story’s climax and bring your narrative to a close.
Your resolution is the element of your story when loose ends are tied and all conflicts resolved, but it’s also an opportunity for you to reinforce elements of theme and character development that have been threaded throughout your novel.
In a way, you’re not only wrapping things up for your characters, but also for your readers.
If elements such as theme, plot lines, characters or events were left hanging without resolution they would leave your readers without a sense of closure, leading to a lack of satisfaction and fulfillment.
Finally, your resolution can not just be used to bring your story to a close, but also as a springboard to a juicy sequel!
Wrapping Things Up
Fiction stories follow a clear formula that requires elements of setting, characters, conflict, rising action, climax and resolution in order to be complete.
You can’t have a story that’s missing any of these elements without creating gaping holes in your narrative that would utterly frustrate your readers. Your job is to create a story that will keep them interested and engaged page after page, from cover to cover.
Having said that, this is much easier said than done. Not only do these elements need to be present, but they have to be threaded in a well thought-out, clever and engaging way that creates a compelling reading experience.
The goal of good fiction is not just to tell a story, but to tell it in a way that entertains and captivates your audience, makes them root for your protagonist, and allows them to willingly suspend their disbelief as they immerse themselves in the world of fiction you’ve created.
Master these six elements and how they relate to one another and you’ll be laying a solid foundation for a good story.
But don’t rush this process, take your time and think every element through until your novel begins to unfold naturally into a great piece of fiction.
If you are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.