Are you ready to learn about everything your next story needs to give readers the experience they crave?
Putting together a brand new story is an exciting time. You have a totally blank slate to create a world from scratch. But what are the essential elements every story needs, no matter the style or genre?
As humans, we’re conditioned to enjoy stories and expect certain things from them. Society has always valued sharing tales to pass down culture and meaning.
So, how can you make sure your next story plays a proper part in our fascinating cultural legacy?
Make sure it has all of these seven essential elements.
1 – Characters
What would a story be without characters?
One of the most special parts of being a book lover is rooting for your favorite hero and wishing nothing but ill on those who oppose them. Surely you want to give your readers the same experience?
When it comes to characters, you can’t afford to ignore:
- Main character. Will your story have a single protagonist, or more? Will they be a classic hero or more of an antihero type? What are the things that motivate and drive them? What is their background? What is standing in the way of them achieving what they want?
- Antagonist. Just as your readers need someone to cheer for, they need someone to dislike. Will it be a classic villainous archetype? A love rival? Or what about someone opposing them despite being on the same side of a struggle, conflict, or cause?
- Supporting characters. When it comes to characters outside of the main protagonist and antagonist, it’s important to strike a balance between keeping things interesting for the reader and making sure everyone in the story serves a purpose. Ideally, supporting characters should have some depth, ,rather than just being shallow stereotypes.
A story without memorable characters is a lot less likely to succeed. Think about the pleasure your most-loved and most-hated characters have given you as a reader. Now, try and give that same enjoyment to whoever reads your story.
2 – Conflict
Although we might all crave a peaceful and straightforward life, it’s the last thing we should want for our stories!
To keep readers interested, your tale needs to have twists, turns, and bumps in the road. Your readers need to be in for a gripping ride.
So what’s the key to making that happen?
Conflict is the spice that keeps your story from being too bland and predictable for whoever happens to read it.
Here are four considerations about conflict to keep in mind when you are planning your story elements:
- Character against character conflict The most obvious type of conflict where two characters clash for whatever reason. This could be a classic hero VS villain scenario or a better-natured conflict, such as two rivals going up against each other in competition.
- Conflict against injustice. Your story could center around a large scale injustice, such as a corrupt society, or a more personal struggle, such as seeking revenge.
Internal conflict. Some of the best stories stem from a character’s internal conflict. Showing a protagonist grappling against two sides of their own nature can be a powerful way to create tension in your story while also offering insight into your protagonist’s nature.
- Conflict for a purpose. This isn’t so much a unique type of conflict, rather a principle to follow. Don’t use conflict as a story element for its own sake. Instead, make sure it advances the story or gives the reader insight they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Without the right use of conflict as a story element, your tale runs the risk of leaving readers bored and disappointed.
3 – Plot
While it’s impossible to have a story without some kind of plot, it’s absolutely possible to ruin your story with the wrong one!
The basic concept of a plot is easy to understand. It’s simply the series of events that occur over the course of your story. Although there are many different types of plot your story can employ, there are commonalities between most plot types.
If you’re an experienced story writer, you probably already have a preference when it comes to plotting or pantsing. In case you’re unaware, these are two ways of plotting a story. Plotting involves methodically planning out how your story will progress, while pantsing involves freestyling and letting your plot evolve on the fly.
You might want to employ a simple three-act structure, or opt for something a little more complicated. No matter which story structure you end up choosing, make sure it’s a good fit for your story and the journey you want your readers to experience.
4 – Point of View
Choosing a point of view is a key element of your story creation process, as your choice directly determines the way a reader will experience your plot and characters.
But what are your options when it comes to point of view? How should you choose between them?
- First person point of view. Uses ‘I’ or ‘we’ to convey your story.
- Second person point of view. Uses ‘you’ to speak to the reader directly.
- Third person point of view. Uses ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’.
With that brief refresher on points of view out the way, let’s take a look at how using each impacts your story and how readers experience it.
A story written in the first person creates a sense of closeness between the story and the person reading it. However, a story in this point of view limits the amount of information the narrator is able to share.
The second person is a rare choice for a full novel. It’s more commonly found in nonfiction, copywriting, and informational content. However, when the second person person perspective is in the right hands, it creates an intense reading experience. Check out the work of Mohsin Hamid for excellent examples.
Stories written in the third person are common as its probably the most widely-adopted point of view and works will with different styles and genres.
When it comes to using the third person point of view, you have two choices.
- Third person limited. Allows information to be shared from the perspective of one character only. What they know, think, and feel is the limit of what the reader can know.
- Third person omniscient. Allows any type of information to be shared with the reader at any time.
The point of view you choose is an important element of your story so choose carefully to make sure your reader has the right experience.
5 – Resolution
If you’ve ever had the experience of reaching the finish of a story or movie and feeling let down by the ending, you know how it can tarnish the whole experience.
So how can you make sure your resolution doesn’t end up being an anticlimax?
Ideally, you want your ending to tie up all the lose threads of your story. If your reader has become emotionally invested in a character or storyline, and the ending doesn’t give them enough attention, be ready for annoyed reviewers. Most important, your resolution should bring your main character arcs to a satisfying finish.
The most important aspect of a good resolution is to leave some kind of emotional impact on your reader. They should feel moved, shocked, or some other strong emotional response. When your story finishes on a powerful emotional note, readers are more likely to leave good reviews, give a word of mouth recommendation, or progress from being a reader to being an outright fan of your work.
6 – Setting
When used well, setting can end up being as powerful of a story element as character or plot. For some memorable examples, look no further than The Overlook Hotel in The Shining or Hogwarts in Harry Potter.
It’s important to avoid the temptation of giving too much description or detail when it comes to story. A little goes a long way. It’s better to plant a hint or subtle seed of the setting in your use of language and then let your reader’s mind’s eye do the rest.
7 – Theme
Your story’s theme relates to its deepest message and meaning.
While a plot covers the events that take place, the theme is more concerned with the message you are trying to get across.
It’s not uncommon for stories to touch on multiple themes, but there is often a core or primary theme running through the heart of the narrative.
So what are some examples of common themes that successful stories contain?
- Forces of light winning against those of darkness
- Love triumphing over hate
- Endurance against tough circumstances
Find an appropriate theme for the story you want to tell, and weave this element in your words subtly as you write.