Elements of Fiction

Two of the most common forms of fiction are the short story and the novel. A short story is a condensed narrative usually set in one particular time and place. It focuses on a character, and his or her interests or feelings under a certain situation. The novel is longer due to its complex plot which is presented through multiple chapters. A novel includes a main plot and subplots. A novel also has more characters than a short story. Both forms of fiction have the following elements:


The characters are the people in the story. Characters can often be classified as flat or round. A round character changes over the course of the story. For example, a selfish character might become kind and generous, or a timid character might become brave. A flat character, on the other hand, has the same traits at the end of the story as at the start.

Examples of round characters:

  • Odysseus (Odyssey)
  • Anna (Anna Karenina)
  • Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
  • Jeremy Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Examples of flat character:

  • Tybalt (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Jane (Pride and Prejudice)
  • Emily (A Rose for Emily)
  • Grendel (Beowulf)

The main character in a story is the protagonist. This is the character around whom the plot revolves, and may also be the main point of view character in the story. The antagonist is the character who causes problems or conflict for the protagonist. In some stories this character could be called the villain. Other characters may be supporting characters or minor characters.


This is an element of fiction that tells when and where the events occurred. In some stories, the setting presents “local color” which is indicative of the scenery, language, practices, and beliefs of the people in a certain place. It is a device used to help the readers in creating a mental picture of the setting. Sometimes the setting also affects the behavior of the characters as well as the turn of events.

Examples of fiction set in local color:

  • “The Wedding Dance” by Amador Daguio
  • “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” by Manuel Arguilla


Conflict refers to the problem or complication that the characters must face. It may be a clash between characters in the story, or against other forces. A story without a conflict is nothing, because it is what adds color. Some stories have only one main conflict, while other stories have more and different types of conflict. The two main types of conflict are internal and external conflict. Internal conflict is shown through a character’s inner struggle. He or she may be torn between varying emotions or differing plans of action. The character Gollum from the Lord of the Rings is an example of a character with internal conflict. External conflict can be described as man versus man, man versus nature, man versus society, man versus culture, and man versus supernatural beings.


This refers to the events often in sequence which portray characters facing conflicts. Some plots do not follow the regular structure of a story. Authors may use flashbacks to highlight previous events or foreshadowing to create suspense. Based on Freytag’s pyramid, a good plot must have the following parts:

Freytag's Pyramid


Point of view tells through whose eyes we are seeing the story. It also reveals the attitude of the writer toward the characters. It has the following classifications:

A. First person point of view

The narrator tells the story using the pronoun “I.” He or she may be the protagonist, a witness to the events, or a minor character.


“I could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased to notice me.”

– Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brunte

B. Third Person point of view

The narrator tells the story using the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “they.” It may be a limited third person, where the narrator is not involved in the story or is an outsider. He or she relates the events, but is not one of the characters.


When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him.

“He is just what a young man ought to be,” said she, “sensible, good-humored, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!”

– from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

C. Omniscient point of view

Also referred to as the “know-it-all” narrator; the narrator knows the innermost thoughts and feelings of each character. He or she also explores the mind of every character.


“All the same, he’s a good man, truthful, kind, and remarkable in his sphere,” Anna said to herself, going back to her room, as if defending him before someone who was accusing him and saying that it was impossible to love him. “But why do his ears stick out so oddly? Did he have to have his hair cut?” Exactly at midnight, when Anna was still sitting at her desk finishing a letter to Dolly, she heard the measured steps of slippered feet, and Alexei Alexandrovich, washed and combed, a book under his arm, came up to her. “It’s time, it’s time,” he said with a special smile, and went into the bedroom. “And what right did he have to look at him like that?” thought Anna, recalling how Vronsky and looked at Alexei Alexandrovich.

– Anna Karenina