If you are a new writer, you have likely already figured out that you need to spend time learning how to plot out a good story, a skill that requires practice. While it may not be apparent at first, to build a good plot, there are some elements that you must know if you want your story to become something engaging.
The four main elements of a story are the characters, setting, plot and theme. These are the foundation that you need to start with when you start building your book. There are others such as tone, style and point-of-view, for example, that then layer on top of these foundation elements.
A story contains many different elements that can help make it an engaging read. Each element serves a different purpose for the narrative and adds layers to help improve the overall experience. So let’s take a look at them and what they do for you.
The first and primary element is likely the most obvious one, characters.
They are one of the most critical part of a story to get right because they are what the audience will be able to connect with and can be used to reflect their own personality.
Characters are often called the backbone of any narrative.
Without a solid backbone, the rest of the story will not be exciting, no matter how clever and well constructed.
It is easy to gloss over the characters’ creation process, especially if their role isn’t the central focus. Instead, you need to make sure the character has a personality all their own. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or evil. What matters is that they are unique and memorable.
You have to make people care about them in one way or another, whether it be sympathy for a terrible situation they’ve been put in or anger for being the antagonist.
If done incorrectly, they can come across as flat and unimportant. Most writers understand the importance of great characters and work to create them accordingly. It is up to the reader to decide what elements make for a good character.
Secondly, there’s the setting.
This element describes where everything takes place, from physical locations to the time period. For example, some stories might take place solely in one location, while others may take place all over the world, but they all have a setting.
This can vary greatly depending on the genre of your book.
A plot in a fantastical world will have a much different kind of setting that you need to plan in far more detail than one set in present-day New York.
While these settings are worlds apart, they both serve the same general purpose of advancing the story.
The setting is a fine line between being descriptive enough that it immerses readers and being overly wordy.
It has to be enough for readers to get an idea of the location but vague enough that you don’t bore them with unnecessary details.
Spent time developing more details about your setting than you will ultimately use in your story. Knowing your setting in depth is critical to writing a good story.
The next element of a story is its plot.
The plot is the sequence of events that happen in a narrative.
It’s not always as simple as it sounds, sometimes there are hidden elements to uncover, or there are multiple twists and turns.
The simplest form the plot can take is a linear path, but others can be more complex and winding depending on how many plot threads you choose to weave into your story.
The plot should be engaging but predictable enough to keep readers invested and wanting more after each chapter.
There needs to be a buildup for any kind of resolution to have its full impact on the audience.
This is where the tension comes into play as it helps provide that push forward so that readers are not bored with the story and keeps them engaged.
Tension is a critical part of keeping your readers interested in what’s happening on the page and draws attention away from anything that might be lacking in other areas.
It makes for an engaging read where readers care about what is going to happen next.
It is what drives everything forward and moves your narrative from one point to another.
In addition to tension, you need to add conflict to your plot.
Conflict can be broken down into two different types: inner conflict and outer conflict.
Outer conflict, also known as conflict with another person, is an external problem that must be solved in a story.
Inner conflict is what the character believes about themselves and their own intentions for actions.
The main difference between these forms of conflict is the source- inner conflict comes from within while outer conflict arises because of other people or events outside of the protagonist’s control.
Adding conflict is one of the best ways to make your story engaging and exciting to read.
Conflict can be added by placing external problems before your protagonist, but that does not mean you should neglect inner conflict.
Both forms of conflict have their place in a story and help develop the characters as well as add suspense.
The tensions and conflict will combine to drive your story toward a satisfying plot conclusion.
The final of the main elements to build a good story is the theme. The theme is what your story is about on a deeper level.
The theme of your book will let readers know what kind of messages you are trying to convey, but it should not be something that feels too heavy-handed in the actual narrative.
Themes are important for helping readers understand the ideas you want them to take away from reading the story.
Some books will include a clear theme that the reader can spot right away, but others can be more subtle and may only become apparent once the story is over.
The theme could help you convey important messages to your readers that might not have been as obvious if it wasn’t included in the narrative.
This is not to say that the theme is meant to be a heavy element that you are trying to force your readers to take away from the story.
It is just something that goes into crafting a better narrative and gives readers an extra element to think about after reading your story.
Every writing element should be treated like another puzzle piece and put together to create the complete picture.
With all four pieces combined, you will have a complete story.
Each piece is vital to get the best end result and when all four are in place, you will have a much more rewarding experience for your readers.
So when you start your plot planning process, take some time to make sure to evaluate the four foundational elements are properly developed and integrated into the story you invent.
You can make your plot far better and end up creating something special if you take the time to add these.