Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.
A good story has been described as one that doesn’t bore the listener or the reader, and it must have all of the elements necessary to make it engaging. In fact, most storytelling experts agree that there are 7 key elements of a story that must exist in order to keep someone hooked from beginning to end – these include strong characters, an interesting plot, and vivid descriptions of what is going on in the story itself. This article explores each of these elements in detail, giving you practical tips on how to ensure that your stories have them as well.
7 Elements of A Good Story
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
The First Element – Conflict
Every good story has conflict. Without it, there is no plot, no impetus for change, and no drive to complete your story’s objective. What does your character want? And what’s stopping them from getting it? This creates tension in your reader, making them want to know how things turn out. Create a good enough conflict, and readers will willingly suspend their disbelief—they won’t even notice that you haven’t really shown them anything believable.
Not every conflict has to be explosive or life-threatening, but you need it for your story to mean anything. Remember that there are two ways to create conflict: external and internal. External conflict creates an obstacle outside of your character’s control, something which is preventing them from getting what they want. Internal conflict creates obstacles inside your character’s control, keeping them from taking action.
The central conflict of your story will also determine your plot. If you want to write a murder mystery, then someone has to be murdered! If your character wants to get an evil overlord out of office, then they’ll have to do something about it. Not all conflicts are big enough for whole books, though—so how do you take smaller conflicts and turn them into full-length stories? This is where subplots come in.
The Second Element – Rising Action
The rising action is critical to a good story. It’s where things start to get interesting, but not necessarily compelling. Think of rising action as an incline—things are about to get exciting, but they aren’t quite there yet. In most stories with multiple conflicts or objectives, you’ll have one major conflict or objective that serves as the main obstacle your protagonist faces in pursuit of his goal.
The rising action of a story is often very clear, but it’s important to recognize that there are two types of rising action. The first is external rising action, which generally involves building suspense and conflict, setting up obstacles for your protagonist, and making them more challenging as you move through your story. The second type of rising action—internal rising action—is tied to character development and personal stakes. We look at how each of these elements contributes to creating an engaging story below.
The rising action of a story is typically shown through external means—things like actions, dialogue, and plot twists. An example of internal rising action in a story can be found in Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart. Here, we see that internal rising action is driven by psychological elements, including anger and mental instability.
The Third Element – Climax
The climax is how you demonstrate that your character's goal(s) are at stake. It’s also when readers should begin to worry about whether or not your protagonist will achieve his/her goal. The climax is where everything comes together and where readers discover whether or not your character will be successful in achieving his/her goals. Think of it as a light bulb going off over your character’s head, but maybe with just a little more oomph.
The climax of your story can happen in multiple ways. It could be a long, drawn-out scene with lots of action or suspense. Or it could be short and sweet. Your choice of how to resolve your story will depend largely on what kind of character you’ve created and how he would react to whatever conflict you’ve set up in your beginning, middle, and end.
The climax of your story can take place in a variety of locations. It could be outside or it could be inside. It could take place at home or at work, or it could even take place on a bus while your character is commuting to work! Wherever it happens, your story needs to have just enough detail to make readers feel like they’re there with your characters, but not so much that you bore them.
The Fourth Element – Falling Action
The falling action is that period of time between your climax and denouement. It helps to tie together any loose ends, but it’s primarily there to keep readers engaged; if you rush through your falling action, readers might feel unsatisfied or cheated by a too-abrupt ending. There are lots of ways to create conflict during falling action, whether it’s more dialogue between characters or additional obstacles for them to overcome—it doesn’t always have to be physical conflict.
As long as you’re resolving plot points and getting your characters from their climax to their denouement, you should be able to write a satisfying falling action. Here are a few more tips:
Amateur authors often give too much time in their story to falling action, because they think that since there isn’t much physical conflict in falling action, it doesn’t matter how much time they spend on it.
That couldn’t be further from the truth! Your reader wants to get through your entire book, so if you do have a lot of things happening during your falling action—whether that means more dialogue or additional obstacles for your characters—be sure not to lose your readers by wasting too much time with them.
The Fifth Element – Resolution
The resolution of a story is the goal or climax of the story. Simply put, the resolution of a story is the conclusion of events. It is the resolution of the story that makes the story complete. How did the problem get resolved? Who solved the problem? What is the outcome of the story?
If the resolution is not satisfactory, then the story feels incomplete. The ending of a story needs to be satisfying to the reader, otherwise the reader may stop reading. Readers want to read stories that are interesting, and a good story needs to continue for another chapter or pages. The resolution is what continues the story.
The resolution of a story is the character's goal or goal's realization. The resolution is the answer to the problem. The resolution of the story is the character's goal.
The Sixth Element – Theme
A theme is a powerful element of storytelling. It compels readers into wanting to finish a story. A 'theme' of a story is the unifying idea that relates many elements of a story, such as ... character, plot, setting, and theme. The story's theme is not explicitly stated by the characters or the author; rather, the theme is revealed and interpreted through the reader's interaction with the text.
As a writer, it's your job to develop this theme. The theme is the core of your story and the reason why readers engage with it.
The theme is simple, but using it effectively requires attention to the details of each character, plot, setting, and theme.
You don't need to choose a specific theme before you write a story. Instead, let the theme emerge naturally as you tell the story. For example, suppose you're writing a science fiction story set on a space station. You may start out with one idea — a station crewman is infected with an alien virus. But at some point, you realize your main character also has the genetic trait that makes her immune to the virus, and that gives her some moral challenges. Those challenges are the theme of your story.
In fiction, themes can be big (like "the cost of war" or "the conflict between science and religion") or smaller ("the importance of family"). In nonfiction, they can be broader ("the history of music" or "the evolution of the English language") or smaller ("how to make chocolate chip cookies" or "how to read financial statements").
The theme doesn't have to be obvious — you can introduce it subtly, building on it as the story is told. For example, you might gradually reveal why a character's life is so hard. Or you might have a character who fears commitment, and the story will reveal why.
The theme also doesn't have to be dramatic. Sometimes it's the small moments that reveal a character's personality, and those are just as important as the major events.
The Seventh Element – Setting
Setting is an important element in your storytelling, but setting isn't necessarily about location. A setting is whatever you're writing about (or creating), so setting is your story.
If you're writing a novel, setting is the time and place where your story takes place. But if you're creating a movie, setting can be even more specific. For a movie, setting is a particular place, and it's often described using words like "mountains" or "forests" or "towns" — all elements very specific to that place and time.
In general, setting is any element — physical or emotional — that distinguishes one place and time from another. For example, a story set in the present day could be set anywhere, because there's no real distinguishing factor between "the present time" and "any other time."
The time and place of your story play a key role in the emotions of your reader. The setting is also where you can set your readers' expectations for the story to come. If you describe the setting of your novel as "a small town," the reader is pretty certain the "small town" will be full of quirky characters, quirky events and maybe even a quirky romance.
The setting of your novel sets the stage and the tone. The setting in your novel, like the characters, is more or less fixed in the writer's mind. As the writer, you know where your story is taking place. But the reader doesn't.
You also know that your reader is going to expect certain things. Maybe your reader has read a series of novels set in a beach town, and your reader is expecting that this time, the story will be set on the beach.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Muhammad Rafiq