People tell stories all the time, and many do it successfully without much thought or preparation. Stories become complicated when they are tagged as narratives and broken down into their basic elements. The components of a narrative are tools that help writers develop stories for books, songs, films and other types of expression. Most people instinctively know the basic elements of a narrative from telling their own stories, they just may might not realize how each part works when they sit down to write one.
All narratives need narrators or people to tell the story. Writers can create narrators who use a first-person voice to explain their role or participation in the events of a story, or to recount their direct observations.The first-person point-of-view generates a sense of immediacy, but first-person narrators can only guess at other characters' thoughts or motives, or explain them in retrospect. A third-person narrator steps back and tells the story from an omniscient vantage point. Third-person narrators are observers who know all the details and can reveal events in a story them in a way that creates a heightened sense of conflict and drama.
Stories, whether they are products of imagination or accounts of real events, have people or characters that an audience relates to and identifies with. Writers introduce and define characters with descriptive language that tells the audience a character is tall, blue or greedy. Actions or words can also reveal personality. A character who takes off a coat and wraps it around a homeless woman is a person the audience recognizes as generous and compassionate. Reactions of other people in the story also describe a character. If a group suddenly becomes quiet and withdrawn when a new character enters the scene, the audience understands that character is an outsider who poses a threat.
The location or setting of a narrative functions in different ways. In a story about an 18th castaway marooned on a tropical island, the setting shapes the action, influences the characters and defines the theme. But a writer with a narrative about a couple in love who hide their relationship because a longstanding feud between their families can set the story in renaissance Italy or a mall in New Jersey. Writers can use settings to structure a narrative or to create a mood that enhances the actions and conflicts in their story. Settings include a place, time of day, a climate and a connection to a historical era.
Stories have a beginning, middle and end. The movement between those points, or the plot, is the action or progress of the narrative. Plots build, with one action, event or discovery leading to the next. The big moment, the climax, pulls everything together. It is the moment of the story when everything turns and the story's main idea or theme becomes clear. Most narratives wind down after the climax. The narrator resolves smaller, related conflicts and ties up loose ends.
The theme of the narrative is an overarching concept demonstrated by actions, setting and the characters. Most people who are spontaneously recounting a story about a camping trip around the water cooler at work probably don't think about the theme of their narrative. However, the theme of such a story might be man vs. nature or the conflict between civilization and nature. One of the themes at work in a story about a young boy taken in by a gang of pick-pocketing rogues is innocence vs. corruption. Some writers develop a narrative to demonstrate a particular theme. Others let themes emerge naturally from the events and characters described in the story.