Writing fiction is all about creating a narrative. In this genre, a writer is responsible for developing most of the basic elements comprising the overall story. Understanding these common fiction components will help you get your ideas out of your head and onto the page.   

Here are seven elements all fiction books have in common:

  1. Theme
  2. Setting
  3. Characters
  4. Point of View 
  5. Plot
  6. Conflict
  7. Style

Still, it isn’t enough simply to include all of these elements in your stories. They must be well-executed and enjoyable to read if you want to earn and keep readers. Keep reading to learn more, as we’ll identify and define these seven common elements of fiction.

1. Theme

The theme is the overall idea or concept concerning a story that goes beyond the surface of what’s written on the page and into the symbolic level of the narrative. Authors can explore and emphasize different themes to make pointed statements about society and communicate meaningful messages to readers. 

Some of the most common themes in all literature include:

  • Love
  • Good and evil
  • War and peace
  • Judgment
  • Heroism
  • Survival
  • Coming of age
  • Suffering
  • Deception 
  • Circle of life

2. Setting

The setting is where and when a story takes place. 

Fictional settings can be real-world sites or a universe created by the writer in the past, present, or future. The location and time period sets the tone and overall feel of your story and significantly impact the characters and plot, so it’s helpful to conceptualize the setting before you begin writing.

3. Characters

Characters are the driving force of all literature. They’re who the readers follow and watch grow throughout the story. It’s important to create captivating, memorable characters with whom your readers can connect to keep them interested in your story.  

All stories need at least one character, be it a person, an animal, or a singing tree. However, fictional tales tend to have the two fundamental and most important character types:

  • The protagonist: This is the main character at the center of the story’s plot. The protagonist is usually responsible for resolving the primary conflict and is often made to overcome a series of challenges along the way.
  • The antagonist: This is the main opposition of the protagonist. The antagonist is usually the cause of the primary conflict, or is the primary conflict, interfering with the main character’s progress.

Some characters in your story will be major players that are more rounded, while others will be minor, flat characters. Regardless, all should be developed enough to feel like a “real” person with established wants and needs. They should have a purpose and bring meaning to your story. 

4. Point of View 

You can’t have a narrative without a narrator. Whether that be you, or one or more of your characters, the narrator’s point of view ultimately is how you convey information, describe events, and generally carry the audience through the story. The point of view you decide to offer the readers will significantly impact how your story is interpreted.

The three main narration vantage points in fiction writing are:

  • First-person point of view: First-person uses the pronoun “I.” This is the most intimate point of view, placing the reader inside the narrator’s mind. It’s excellent for heavily character-driven fiction and is commonly used to make stories feel more subjective and personal.  
  • Second-person point of view: Second-person uses the pronoun “you.” This point of view directly addresses the reader, making them a character in the story. It’s less commonly used, especially in longer pieces of fiction, since it isn’t easy to do well. 
  • Third-person point of view: Third-person uses the pronouns “he,” “she,” and “they.” This is just as intimate as a first-person point of view yet helps to create a more objective or indifferent narrator. Third-person can be either a limited perspective following a single narrating character or an omniscient perspective that gets inside the minds of several characters. 

5. Plot

The plot is an order of events comprising a narrative action, meaning that it’s the actual story part of your story. 

The plot in fiction typically follows a structure known as a plot arc. Generally, it starts with an exposition to establish the setting and introduce the main characters. The major conflict is usually presented at this time, too.

The plot arc continues with rising action, detailing all the events leading up to the climax, which is the point where the main characters finally confront and resolve the major conflict. After the resulting success or failure, the falling action in the plot works to tie up loose ends and update the reader on any unresolved matters before concluding with the resolution or denouement.

Notably, many fiction writers choose to outline their stories from beginning to end before writing. While not a requirement, staying on course is easier when you know your destination.

6. Conflict

As discussed above, conflict is part of a story’s plot. It gives a story purpose by creating tension and keeps the reader interested and engaged in the story. 

In fiction, characters face two types of conflict:

  • Major conflict: This is the main obstacle of the story that the characters eventually confront in the climax.
  • Minor conflict: These are the lesser challenges the characters must conquer before taking on the major conflict.

Conflict typically occurs between the protagonist and antagonist characters, but it can exist anywhere in any form. Most importantly, conflict is what motivates characters into action.

7. Style

Style is created through a writer’s use of language, including diction and syntax. Word choice is an impactful element for all writing and genres, yet when it comes to fiction, the way a writer structures words is also significant. 

Perhaps the most subjective of everything on this list, style is something that takes time for most writers to develop. 

Writing fiction is a great way for writers to experiment with style, as the genre isn’t bound to proper rules or guidelines in this regard. All that matters is creating something appropriate for your narrative and enjoyable to the readers.

Categories: Fiction

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.