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For Writers: The Most Important Elements of Fiction

Updated on February 22, 2022
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Andrea writes on various topics from dating, couples, astrology, weddings, interior design, and gardens. She studied film and writing.


I'm going to keep this incredibly simple. The three most important elements to any form of fiction are: character, setting, and plot. Fail at these, and you have a mediocre story. Honorable mention goes to: conflict, theme, and motif. These three technically could be considered subpoints of the three obvious necessities.

Characterization: you need compelling characters to move your plot forward. A strong character will engage the reader, it will take us on adventures, and will have some amount of relatable-ness. Do what you can to create and harvest characters who are original, rounded, and inspiring. If you make the same blueberry muffins as everyone else... don't expect any blue ribbon at the fair. A character needs a backstory, a goal, a conflict or else -- they're dipping into the realm of underdeveloped. Bring what you can out of your character, the main protagonist needs to have the most time in the story, and characters need flaws. Write something out of the ordinary; not the humdrum of existence that we crave to escape.

Setting: without a well-developed setting with location and time, the reader will be confused. Give them enough that they can visualize the space in which the characters are interacting. Setting connects to tone and mood. You don't have character propose at the bottom of a basement where coffins are kept -- unless that somehow relates back to the character. Most people shoot to have proposals in romantic locations. Setting definitely reveals how your characters feel so take them to wondrous places.

Plot: these characters need to be moved from point A to point B and whatever happens in between should be compelling. Study the hero's journey. Give us resolution, CONFLICT, and twists. Without a good plot, the characters are left with no real purpose, no real gumption.

These are the three most essential elements. Whole books have been written about each. Knowing these three to a high level will make your writing (in fiction) more successful. The rest is there to shade in the lines of the story.

*Consider in the following music video how characterization, setting, and plot help to give the short story identity.

Extended Tips

1. When writing fiction, visualize the world you're trying to create.

2. Create characters that are different from each other.

3. Think before you start writing how you want it to end and try to direction the action toward the end. Don't be disappointed if you're vision changes.

4. Be willing to write multiple drafts.

5. Don't stall the action. Less description, more action.

6. Consider setting, you don't have weddings in gas stations or funerals in amusement parks.

7. Your story must have conflict!

8. If you've written it down in the story, it needs to have a point. Don't linger somewhere just for the sake of lingering.

9. Write three-dimensional characters. Make them complicated, avoid stereotypes.

10. Your characters should not always succeed at their goals.

11. Your characters should be imperfect. They should make bad decisions every once in awhile.

12. Know your genre.

13. You don't have to wrap everything up when you end the story.

14. Don't just kill off characters for the sake of killing off characters. Kill them if it has meaning and does something integral to the story.

15. If it's been done, then you don't need to write it.

16. Listen to how people talk and try to write like that for dialogue.

17. Avoid cliches. If you've heard it a lot, then you probably don't need it in your own work.

18. Try planning and making notes before you write.

19. If you have a lot of characters that function the same way or exact copies of each other, try reducing the amount of characters you have or combining them.

20. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.

21. Use symbols and themes to help shed light on the story and give it greater meaning.

22. Don't drown your story in complicated stories to where it becomes distracting or too complicated to understand.

23. Your characters shouldn't always get what they want.

24. Avoid explaining things through flashbacks.

25. Sometimes the best place to end the story.... is where it began.

26. Name your characters different names. This sounds simple, but some great writers name too many of their characters the same names.

27. Remember your plots.

28. Avoid exposition.

29. Let your characters be smooth.

30. Keep the audience enthralled and sometimes distracted so that while they're reading they don't know what's coming ahead.

31. Don't have too many plots that you're required to fulfill.

32. Make sure that what your characters do makes sense for them.

33. Try writing out different options and then deciding what works best.

34. Write down your ideas on flashcards.

35. Your characters don't have to be likable.

36. The most beautiful stories are not necessarily easily understood.

37. Dare to have a great sense of vocabulary and beauty.

38. What's happening in the story is more important than the language that defines it.

39. Give yourself goals on how much you'll spend time writing.

40. Have fun!

© 2013 Andrea Lawrence


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