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Description of the Features in a Narrative


Narrative features are often referred to as narrative elements. While these terms sometimes include techniques like foreshadowing, personification, hyperbole, simile and metaphor, certain foundational features exist in nearly all narratives: characters, conflict and climax, theme, setting, plot and dialogue, and perspective. Medium and imagery are two additional important features.

Characters
Characters drive the narrative forward.

The characters of a story are the individuals involved, and can be people, animals, inanimate objects or even invented beings. Regardless of the type of character, all characters want something that drives them to make decisions, which in turn drive the story forward and dictate the nature of many other narrative elements, such as plot, conflict and theme.

Conflict and Climax
Conflict frequently exists between characters.

At least one conflict drives the dramatic tension of any story until it climaxes and is ultimately resolved. A conflict often arises when one character's desires prevent another character from fulfilling his desires, such as when a husband wants to go on vacation to Hawaii, but his wife refuses because she is afraid of volcanoes. The climax is the big event that takes place when one character's desires finally triumph or the characters reach a compromise. The resolution is the outcome: The couple either goes or doesn't go to Hawaii.

Theme
Themes often address moral or ethical issues.

A theme in a narrative is a moral, lesson or message that the author tries to convey. Usually a theme is made clear at the end of the story, when one or more characters has a realization. For example, a person who spent years traveling because she refused to settle down might learn that she was really looking for a place to call home all along.

Setting
A story set in the city will be different than if it were set in the country.

The setting is the context of the story -- the place and time during which a narrative occurs. Most stories have multiple settings, and the setting of any scene can influence the story. For example, if a story is set in the desert, the characters might be overheated and dehydrated, willing to make rash decisions to secure water.

Plot and Dialogue
Dialogue reveals character and moves the plot forward.

The plot is the series of events that are shown to the audience. And because characters make the decisions that propel the story forward, plot depends on character development. Dialogue is verbatim conversation between characters, and it's one of the main ways to move a plot forward, especially in film and theater. Physical action and internal decision-making are other mechanisms for advancing the plot.

Perspective
The perspective can be thought of as the lens through which the story is told.

Perspective is often referred to as point of view, and it depends on who is telling the story. The speaker can be one or more characters in a story, an omniscient voice, or the author. For theater and film, aside from the occasional moments of narration, the performance itself is the storyteller, and the perspective is called the dramatic point of view.

Medium and Imagery
Imagery in literature occurs in reader's imagination.

While not often included in lists of narrative elements, the medium through which a story is told is a significant contributor to the experience, especially in terms of visual experience. Works of literature, because of the active process of reading, move slower but deliver a rich and lasting experience. Mediums such as film and theater deliver an immediate and powerful stimulation of the senses.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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