Elements of Fiction

Story Structure

Dramatic structure:

  1. Exposition: presentation of the situation
  2. inciting incident leads to increasing tension or rising action
  3. climax
  4. falling action
  5. denouement or resolution

Conflict: the problem for the protagonist which must be resolved; usually revealed in the exposition; drives the narrative forward.

Distinction between external (out in the world) and internal (in a character’s mind) action

Traditional (full resolution) or modern (partially resolved or unresolved) resolution

Narrative structure:

  • order of telling of events
    • chronological order: follows normal progress of time; linear
    • flashbacks: going back in time to an earlier event
    • foreshadowing: hinting at something that may happen in the future
  • common narrative patterns: quest, tragedy, comedy, etc.


  • narrator: the person or voice telling the story
  • point of view: perspective from which the story is told
  • first person: “I” directly involved in story
  • third person: observer, not involved; use of “he, she, they”
  • omniscient: all-seeing, all-knowing; godlike
    • objective: reports facts only; unbiased
    • intrusive: offers judgments; biased
  • limited: provides incomplete information
  • multiple: story told from different points of view
  • reliable: narrator’s version of events can be trusted
  • unreliable: narrator’s version of events is not fully trustworthy
  • distance: sense of closeness of reader to narrator


  • time and place
  • broad or general historical and geographical setting
  • specific setting
  • external (actual physical setting) and internal (imagined or remembered)
  • creates mood and atmosphere
  • symbolic value


  • protagonist: main character
  • antagonist: character (or other force) who is the source of conflict
  • round or complex / flat or simplistic (stereotypes / caricatures)
  • dynamic (changes, develops through the story) / static (stays the same)
  • revealed through description, dialogue, action


  • underlying message or meaning; often a value statement or moral
  • (not the same as the subject, which is the general topic)
  • must be expressed in a full sentence
  • must be true of the entire story
  • usually expresses a universal truth


  • diction (word choice and use)
  • figurative devices
    • simile
    • metaphor
    • symbolism
    • personification
  • denotation: literal meaning
  • connotation: suggested meaning
  • concrete: perceptible by the senses
  • abstract: in thought only
  • imagery
  • irony: opposite of what is intended, expected, or expressed
  • formal/informal/slang
  • syntax (word order)

Dialogue, action, description, exposition