Literary Elements of Fiction

A fiction writer uses various elements such as characterization, plot, setting, point of view and style to tell a story. These elements work together to create a comprehensive short story or novel. A writer's skillful use of these elements enhances a reader's enjoyment of the story.


Characterization refers to the use of literary elements to create realistic characters and elicit a particular reaction to them. Characters may be one-dimensional, meaning they are not fully developed and serve only a small purpose in the story. Main characters are normally fully developed and carry the story, often undergoing character development along the way. The main character is called the protagonist, and the character who opposes him is the antagonist.


Plot refers to the series of events and activities and the way they work together within the story. The author often writes in chronological fashion. He may also use techniques such as flashback or "in medias res," which means beginning the story in the middle. Most plots contain a series of conflicts that reach a climax or resolution by the end. Characters often experience growth throughout the book and have learned valuable lessons.


A story's setting refers to the time and place in which events occur. Events may take place in New York, Paris or Maine. They could take place in the current year, in 1950 or even in the future. Both time and place set the story's atmosphere and mood. The writer may establish setting through either narration or dialogue.

Point of View

Point of view refers to the person through whose eyes the reader is viewing the story. The most common points of view are first person and third person. The first-person narrator is a character in the story and speaks using the pronoun "I." The third-person narrator can be omniscient, limited or objective. An omniscient narrator can provide any information about events and characters, including the thoughts, feelings and motives. The limited narrator relates only the thoughts and feelings of the main character or a few select characters. The objective narrator provides only observable details.


Style refers to the language conventions a writer uses to create a particular effect such as dialogue, diction, phrases and sentence structure. An author's style is often referred to as his voice and refers to the kind of person the narrator appears to be. A story's voice may be comical, serious or dramatic. Both style and voice contribute to a story's tone, which refers to the attitude of the story towards its subject.

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