The Four Main Elements of Fiction
A work of fiction is made up of several individual components which, in combination, give the story its meaning. The relative importance of each element varies tremendously from one work to another, depending on the author's style and purpose.
The plot of a story consists of all the actions that occur in it. These actions result from some type of conflict, generally between man and man, man and nature, man and social or religious conventions, or man and himself. Typically, the conflict is revealed at the exposition, or beginning, of the story and is developed during the complication, which is the longest section. At the climax the conflict reaches its turning point, and its solution becomes clear. In the final part of the story, the resolution, the conflict is settled.
The actions in the story are carried out by people or by creatures endowed with human characteristics. There are generally two types of characters, the protagonist, or central figure, who demonstrates the conflict, and minor characters, who are involved in or comment upon the conflict. The protagonist is a specific individual with a certain physical appearance, speech, tastes, and actions. At the same time he has universal qualities enabling the reader to identify with him as he confronts and resolves his conflict.
Every work of fiction is set in a specific time and place, either real or imaginary. The setting provides a frame to which all the actions must be related. In order for the reader to accept the characters and events portrayed in a story, its author must create his fictional world with consistent and realistic details so that it seems plausible. In novels, such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series, the setting takes on special importance as it becomes a major factor in the hero's conflict.
The plot, characters, and setting of a work of fiction are carefully selected by the author to illustrate a particular idea or point of view. In Huckleberry Finn, for example, Twain describes Huck's and Jim's efforts to escape from a society that restricts them. Their actions illustrate the conflict between an individual's desire for freedom and the restraints imposed on him by society. This conflict is the theme of the book, as distinguished from its plot. A central theme is at the core of every great work of fiction.
Men have created stories since the earliest recorded times. The first storytellers imaginatively recounted the deeds of heroes by combining fact with fancy. Their tales were passed by word of mouth from generation to generation. It is not known when or where men first began to write these stories. But the most compelling, successful and long lasting contained these four main definable elements.