The essential elements in narratives are setting, characterization, action, climax, and outcome.
Every story happens somewhere at some time. The place and time of a story form the setting of the story.
In newspaper writing and historical writing, the when and where are clearly stated, but this is not
necessarily so in story writing. An American writer of today, writing about his own time, generally
takes his setting for granted; so does the reader. However, if the author is writing about the past -
for example, about the 1930's - he will be more explicit.
lf a story of today is good enough and is still read sixty years from now, the reader will be able to
figure out from certain details that the story takes place in the 1990's. Thus we know when we read the
works of 0. Henry that the setting of most of his stories is New York in the early 1900's - 0. Henry's
Every story usually has at least one leading character. This hero or heroine of the story is called the
Often there will be another character,called the antagonist, who opposes the plans or wishes of the
hero or heroine. There may also be other characters, of major or minor importance.
In our story, let us assume that the protagonist is a high school boy. (The other characters will
The Situation or Conflict
A writer can set his characters somewhere at some time and still not have a story. Something has to
happen; the story has to have a plot. Nothing usually happens in the course of the plot, however,
unless the leading character has a problem. He must find himself in conflict with someone or
something; he must be in a situation which must be resolved. The situation of our story might
be this: the boy is doing poorly in his work; he wants to drop out of school.
Now action begins to take place; things begin to happen. The situation sets events in motion. This is
where "the plot thickens." For example, the boy's father objects to his dropping out of school. (Now,
along with action, we have an antagonist, the father.) The boy decides to run away. He draws his
savings from the bank and takes a bus to New York.
The action arising out of the situation continues until it reaches the point of highest interest. This
high point is called the climax. For example, in our story, perhaps the boy gets to New York,
wanders around the streets, becomes lost, is stopped by a policeman, and taken into custody. The
policeman notifies the boy's father. The father drives to New York and enters the station house.
The boy sees his father again, hesitates, then rushes toward him. The father smiles and holds out
his arms to his son.
After the climax has been reached, the situation or conflict is resolved. This resolution is the
outcome of the story. lt winds up the plot (which, as you now know, consists of the situation,
action, climax, and outcome). For example, the boy returns home with his father. On the drive back,
they have a long talk. The boy decides to go on with school, the father agrees to be more understanding
and to spend more time with his son.
Setting, characters, plot (situation, action, climax, outcome): you will find these essential
elements in anything, that tells what happened - in short stories, novels, plays, television
shows, movies. The story may be simple or complicated, humorous or serious, sad or comic, dramatic
or farcical, but the elements of narrative are present.