Literary Elements Handout
The following are literary elements and other terms that you will be held accountable for
throughout our short story unit and each novel/play unit we complete this year. Know them
backwards and forwards!!!
1. CHARACTER - This is a person, animal, or an object in fiction or drama. Characters are
described based upon their personalities, actions, appearance, and thoughts. There is a main
character who is the most important character in a story and sets the plot in motion [protagonist],
and there are minor characters who are not as important to the plot as the main character. The
character who blocks the protagonist or (main character) is called the antagonist. Sometimes the
antagonist is a villain who is a person, but an antagonist can also be a force opposing the main
character. Character traits are described in the following terms: Characters that change are
dynamic or round, while characters that do not change are referred to as static or flat.
- Characterization is the means by which writers reveal character. A quality that a character
exhibits is called a character trait. This trait can be indicated by the character's statements,
actions, or thoughts.
For instance, an author may create a fictitious character by simply describing the
Karen was small for her age and inclined to plumpness. Her blue eyes viewed the people and
events around her with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. She was not a woman, but she was
past being a child; too sophisticated for toys, she might still, on impulse, turn a somersault on
the living rug.
An author may also reveal a character through his speech or actions.
"But why can't I go?" Karen wailed. "Everyone else is going. You never let me go anywhere!"
You just don't want me to grow up and have fun!" Karen wheeled around and stormed out of the
house, slamming the door behind her.
An author may give the reactions and opinions of other characters.
"I've known Karen for a long time, ever since first grade. We've been best friends since last year.
I like her because...well, I guess it's because she is always so happy and sure of herself and she's
good at things like baseball, and swimming and painting and stuff." Joanie paused, then added,
"Everybody at school likes her."
An author may show the character's inner thoughts and feelings.
The sunlight trickled between the slates of the bamboo blinds. Karen stretched luxuriously,
pleasantly aware of the tingling sensation in her muscles.
She really ought to get up, she thought. Sally was coming over at eleven. Maybe she should make
some sandwiches so they could eat out in the backyard. Mrs. Henley was taking them to the
beach in the afternoon. She should finish that letter to Peggy...maybe she would tonight...if she
remembered...and if she had time.
2. PLOT - Plot is the series of events that make up the story or drama/play. The parts of plot are:
Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Resolution/Denouement.
- Exposition - The part of a work of fiction where readers learn about the characters
and the conflicts they experience. It is sometimes referred to as the basic situation;
provides needed background information.
- Rising Action -the suspense builds because complications arise that make the conflict
more difficult for the main characters to resolve
- Climax - or the turning point of the action, this is when the reader's interest reaches
its highest point
- Falling Action - This is the part of the plot that occurs after the climax has been
reached and the resolution of the conflict has occurred
- Resolution - Solution to the conflict. This is often called denouement; loose ends are
tied up; end of the story/conflict
3. CONFLICT - is a central problem around which a story revolves. There are 2 types of
conflict that can occur:
(1) Internal conflict occurs within a person or character
(2) External conflict occurs between a person & another person, a machine, nature, or
Conflict is necessary to every story. In short stories, there is usually one major conflict. In longer
stories, there could be several conflicts. Conflict adds excitement and suspense to a story. The
conflict usually becomes clear to the beginning of a story. As the plot unfolds, the reader starts to
wonder what will happen next and how the characters will handle the situation. Many readers
enjoy trying to predict the final outcome.
As you read a story:
1. identify the main characters
2. decide what conflict they face
3. look for steps they take to settle that conflict
4. see if the steps cause other conflict
5. watch for clues and try to predict what the characters will do
6. enjoy the buildup of suspense
7. put yourself in the story
8. decide if you would have solved the conflict in the same way
4. SETTING- The time and place in which a story takes place. Details of a setting include:
- Time/Historical Period - the general period of the plot and the main location of the
story (ex - the story took place during the 1960's at Woodstock)
- Physical Features - what the place/location of the setting looks like physically (ex -
mountains, streams and fields of grass)
- Geographic Location - the actual location of the place (ex - the story took place in
China Town of NYC)
5. FORESHADOWING - This device uses clues that hint as to things that will happen later in
6. POINT OF VIEW - The voice telling the story is the narrator. Point of view refers to the
voice in which the story is told. It is the set of eyes the author uses to let the reader see the action
unfold. The three points of view or voices follow; however, of the three, first and third persons
are the most commonly used in writing stories:
- First-Person - One can spot first person point of view by the pronouns "I, we, & us"
used by the narrator. With the use of first person, the narrator is an actual character in
the story. His or her knowledge is, therefore, limited to that one person's perspective.
- Third-Person - When writing in third person, the narrator uses names of characters
& pronouns like "he, him, she, her, they, & them." If the narrator relates thoughts of
only one character in the story, it is third person limited, as in limited to the
knowledge of the thought process for that one character. In third person omniscient
point of view, the narrator knows and relates not only action of all characters in the
story, but of each character's thoughts as well, thus the term omniscient or all-
- Second-Person - A narrator using second person is rather rare. The pronoun "you" is
used in this type of writing. An example follows: "You feel the salt air on your skin.
You feel alone and isolated on the beach; yet, you feel deep inside of yourself that
you are not alone."
What are story elements?There are five basic but important elements in a story. The five components are: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict and the resolution. The essential elements keep the story running smoothly and allow the reader to follow the action in a logical way.
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