Core Elements of Fiction: GED Test Prep
The kind of literature that students are most familiar with (and therefore most comfortable with) is fiction. This article reviews the eight core elements of fiction, including plot, character, setting, and theme.
The word fiction comes from the Latin word fingere, which means "to make or shape." Works of fiction tell about characters and events created in and shaped by the author's imagination. Fiction includes the genres listed earlier: novels, short stories, poems, and plays. But because poems and plays have their own special characteristics and conventions, they will be covered in separate sections. The focus here is on prose fiction. Prose is writing that is not in poetic form (verse) or dramatic form (stage or screen play).
There are eight important elements of fiction:
- point of view
- language and style
Plot refers to the series of events in a story—the order in which the actions take place. A story's plot always revolves around some kind of conflict. The conflict may be between two characters, between the main character and an idea or force (e.g., nature or racism), or between the character and him- or herself.
Plot is often arranged chronologically (in time order), but authors sometimes vary the order of events to help build suspense and to control how much we know about the characters. For example, an author may use flashbacks to describe events that took place earlier in the timeline of action—events that might help us understand the character and his or her traits or motivations.
Plots usually follow a five-part "pyramid" pattern, though the pyramid should be lopsided, since the climax typically occurs near the end of the story:
- Exposition introduces readers to the people, places, and basic circumstances or situation of the story.
- Complication (sometimes referred to as "rising action") is the series of events that "complicate" the story and build up to the climax.
- Climax is the "highpoint" of the story, the moment of greatest tension (the peak of the pyramid). This is often the turning point of the story, when a character must make a difficult decision or take some kind of action.
- Falling action occurs when the missing pieces of the puzzle are filled in (for example, secrets are revealed, mysteries solved, confessions made). The story "settles down."
- Resolution or denouement is the conclusion of the story in which conflicts are resolved (at least to some degree), questions are answered, and characters are set to move on with a new understanding or under new circumstances.
Characters are the people created by the author to tell the story. They perform the actions, speak the words, and convey the ideas of the story. As readers, we see what the characters think, do, and say, and we try to understand why they think, do, and say these things.
Characters can be round or flat. Round characters are fully developed, complex, three-dimensional creatures. They are dynamic characters who embody contradictions and undergo change or growth of some sort throughout the story. Flat characters, on the other hand, are one-dimensional, undeveloped, and static. They are typically defined by one main characteristic and do not change. They are often stereotypes or symbolic.
Just as every story has a conflict, every story has a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist is the "hero" or main character of the story, the one who faces the conflict and undergoes change. The antagonist is the person, force (such as a disease or natural disaster), or idea (such as prejudice or crippling self-doubt) that works against the protagonist.
In fiction, characters reveal themselves through dialogue and action. In dialogue, characters tell us what they think, feel, and believe. How a character talks can provide information about the character's background (for example, a Southern dialect may mean that a character grew up in the South) and education (for example, a character who speaks with a highly sophisticated vocabulary may have spent several years in an institution of higher learning). Action undertaken by characters moves the story forward while creating dynamic, round characters.
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