Fiction Writing 101: The Elements of Stories

By Idrees Patel

Source: Writers Treasure

Which is one of the most popular forms of creative writing?

You guessed it: fiction writing. Novels are written every month and every year. The vast majority don’t see the light of day (a fancy expression meaning getting published). Some do. Some become bestsellers. Some don’t even sell a few copies.


What makes the difference between writing a really good story that people read with pleasure and a boring one that makes readers throw it across the room?

Mastering the art of writing great fiction is called fiction writing.

Just in case you missed the earlier instalments of this series, here they are for you. Enjoy:

1. An Introduction to Creative Writing
2. How to Get Started in Creative Writing in Just Three Steps
3. Creative Writing vs. Technical Writing

Now, there are a few fiction writing elements which you should know. This isn’t one of those “which you can’t live without” lists. You can live without this one. But you wouldn’t want to. Once you know all the elements, you only have to perfect them and there you have it, a masterpiece in your hands…

Only there’s nothing “only” about perfecting elements. But that’s another post. Below are the fiction writing elements found in all the novels, novelettes, novellas and short stories:

1. Character

Every story has a main character. If you don’t have any characters, you don’t have any story. You might have the most exciting plot in the history of the universe, but if you don’t have characters that make the reader care about them, you might just as well throw out your story.

There is a whole art to character writing. Sure, you can slap up a name on a caricature, give it a few clichés (qualities so well known that there’s nothing caring about them) and call it a character. But that doesn’t make it a believable and real character… and I’m not talking just about cardboard cut-outs here. Unbelievable characters are… well there’s no strong enough word in English to describe them. Don’t waste your ink making them up.

2. Plot

Every story has a main character. But does every story have a plot? The answer is not every story… but all the good ones have them. If a story does not have a plot, you can conclude it’s a bad story, not publishable at all, because there’s nothing happening within it.

Yes, the question you can ask to yourself if you want to know whether your story has a plot or not (what a mouthful) is: what happens in it?

Action is not plot. Plot is something different. Whether you want to write a detailed plot outline or just start your story, you must take care of plot. Without characters there is no story even if you have plot, and vice versa. Without plot there is no story even if you have the best characters in the world. Both are necessary. Omission of any one can seriously hinder your story.

Your plot can be anything in the world. It can be happy, it can be sad, it can be serious, it can be funny, it can be realistic and it can be fantastical. Its only function is to draw the reader in.

If you write a plot that makes your readers bored, then you can conclude that it was a failure. Many plots are failures. Far more are failures than successes. It can be bitter to realize that your plot is not holding the reader’s attention, but it happens to all of us and it is the way of the world.

a. Subplots

If you include subplots in your story, you can increase interest in your novel. But that’s only if you carry it off well. What are subplots? From Wikipedia:

A subplot is a secondary plot strand that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. Subplots may connect to main plots, in either time and place or in thematic significance. Subplots often involve supporting characters, those besides the protagonist or antagonist.

That defines it succinctly.

b. Conflict

In your plot, you must introduce conflict between the main character and his surroundings. Conflict is necessary to make your novel spicy. Conflict between the protagonist (hero) and antagonist (villain), conflict between the protagonist and the side characters and so on. Without conflict there is no excitement in a story. People hate to see everyone agreeing with each other. Introduce some conflict.

3. Setting

Where is your novel set? It might be set in modern age India, it might be set in ancient Europe, it might be set in a fantasy world such as Middle Earth. Wherever, it doesn’t matter. But it must be believable.

4. Theme

What is your novel about? Is it about crime, about politics, about realism or about fantasy? What is the theme of the story? How will readers feel after reading it? If you answer these questions, you have a theme.

5. Style and Grammar

Writing voice, point of view, style and grammar matter. If you break the rules, sometimes it’s for the better. But it’s always better to know them before breaking them. If you make a spelling mistake, be sure to correct it with proof-reading. Nothing gives away the amateurishness of a writer more than a spelling mistake.

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