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Story Elements

Whether you’re going to join in with us in NaNoWriMo or you’re working on a short story you need to include the basic story elements in your work.

1. Setting: Include the place, time of day or night, what country, season, inside or outside, year or decade. These can be stated if they are important or weave it in your opening scene. For example, suspense novels sometimes have a date stamp at the beginning of each chapter (12:15 am, January 13th). Another way to indicate when your story takes place could be” Jane’s calf length suit skirt caught on her leg as she ran to a phone booth. Her white gloved fingers jammed a dime into the pay phone and she looked over her shoulder.

  2. Plot: If nothing is happening to your protagonist then you don’t have a story. In the first few paragraphs you have to grab your reader’s attention or they won’t purchase your book. Something has to happen or  be in motion to get things rolling.

3. Conflict: Without some type of conflict and challenge, the character has nothing to react to or to solve. The conflict can be internal or external. It can be a combination of both. An internal conflict could be a crisis of conscience or beliefs. External conflicts come from outside the protagonist. External circumstances or actions can be man versus man, man versus circumstances beyond the character’s control, and man versus society or social issue.

4. Characters: Your key characters are the protagonist (hero or heroin) and an antagonist. Also, develop the secondary and incidental characters who are included in the story. Leave out any character who does not have a reason for appearing in the story or furthers the action. Give your characters a personality, background, physical features, and quirks. Remember that even your antagonist needs at least one redeeming quality.

5. Point of View: Decide which character’s point of view the story represents. Either write it in 1st person or 3rd person.

I like to add a 6th element: Theme: This is the main idea or central insight behind the story. It helps you stay focused on the direction and meaning you want to give the reader.


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The Five Senses in Your Writing

Using the five senses makes your writing come alive. When reading a story or novel, I believe that the reader should be drawn into the actions and relationships. Most readers fall in love with characters who they can relate to and feel what they are feeling. The scene your character acts out needs to play like a movie in the readers mind. Include what they see, smell, sounds, hear, and taste. If your character enjoys a meal, then make the reader’s mouth water and their stomach growl. Bring smells and sounds to life. A character’s touch felt by the protagonist brings a sense of exactly what it feels like to the reader. Using the senses makes the difference between flat, mechanical writing and a book that people will want to read again and again. I challenge you to include the senses in your own writing. I’ve heard it said that if the writer feels it, then the reader does too. Enjoy your summer writing. Sit down with a glass of iced tea and make your work live.