Literature is a unique form of art in the sense that it allows writers to create entire worlds with vast histories, characters with extensive backstories, plots with countless twists and turns, and many other, highly-involved aspects. The written word allows creators and readers alike to delve deep into the stories and universes created.
Writing is truly the only art form that can go on indefinitely, adding layer upon layer to an ever-evolving story. Of course, all stories should have a conclusion, but the point is that writing allows for a more detailed and comprehensive journey into its art than any other medium.
This is accomplished through the proper use of the seven elements of literature. It is through these means that genuine intellectual, emotional, and physical ideas are related to the reader. This informative guide helps explain the different roles of literary elements and how they impact stories.
Creating Compelling Characters
The central element in literature is character. This element provides the human perspective of the narrative which unfolds. But that doesn’t mean that the characters even have to be human. They can be animals, fictional creatures, or even inanimate objects which are given life by the writer.
The character element of writing drives the plot forward, influences the direction and tone of the story, and embodies the various themes. It is the personalities, experiences, growth, and transformations of the characters that most draw readers in, creating an emotional connection to the story.
By sharing their triumphs and tragedies, readers explore deep, philosophical/moral questions and complex human experiences. The character development (referred to as character arc), is critical to the structure of the narrative. This makes strong, compelling characters and development an essential part of creating intriguing literature.
Revealing the Setting
The element of literature that serves as the location and time where a story occurs is known as the setting. This contributes significantly to a story’s development and ambiance. It influences a character’s behavior, frames the narrative, presents cultural norms, and identifies pivotal events.
It is one of the broadest elements in writing. A setting can range from outer space to medieval times to a post-apocalyptic society. In most stories, the way a character interacts with the environment greatly influences their personalities, values, and decision-making. It is often used to create tension or mystery, heighten the story’s mood, as well as to offer symbolic meaning.
A properly-developed setting encourages readers to immerse themselves in the story, not seeing the setting as a mere backdrop, but rather recognizing it as something that actually influences and shapes the characters and story around it.
Developing the Plot
Another unmistakable element of literature is plot. This is what orchestrates the events of the story. It shapes the story’s progressions, which usually come in five stages:
- Exposition (introduction of characters, setting, and initial conflict)
- Rising action (point at which conflict becomes more complex)
- Climax (the highest point of tension)
- Falling action (events following the climax)
- Resolution (conflicts are resolved and the story concludes)
Essentially, the plot is the backbone of the story, dictating the flow of action and various experiences. A good story isn’t just about what happens, it also deals with the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the unfolding events.
Establishing the Narrative
The element of narrative is the core of all storytelling, providing coherency and structure to any work of writing. Narrative envelops every other element of the story and weaves them together into an engaging and cohesive tale. It drives the reader’s journey, imparting meaning and message, while also evoking emotional connections/reactions.
By using devices such as rising tension, conflict, resolution, and others, the narrative helps create a dynamic and thought-provoking experience, while also shaping the perspective and tone. It is the guide that leads readers on a trek through the author’s uniquely-crafted world, introducing them to characters and exploring the themes.
Expressing a Voice
Something else that goes into crafting quality literature is understanding and using voice. This is because a distinct personality is required to lay out the perspective of the narrative, helping guide the reader’s understanding of and connection with a story. This voice can belong to the author, a character, or an outside narrator. It is mostly defined by word choices, tone, narrative style, and other factors. This is what brings life and individuality to the written word.
This element can make the narrative impersonal or intimate, comedic or somber, heroic or tragic, or many others. Equally important, the voice also conveys themes, establishes the atmosphere, and gently influences the reader’s perception of the characters and events taking place.
Creating and Driving Conflict
Conflict is another central element of literature. It serves as the driving force, pushing the plot forward. It is the manifestation of the struggles either between or within the characters. It can fall into the following categories:
- Man vs. self
- Man vs. man
- Man vs. nature
- Man vs. society
- Man vs. technology
These categories can represent internal and/or external battles, with the protagonists dealing with personal dilemmas, antagonistic forces, or both.
The Underlying Theme
The underlying message or recurring idea in literature is known as theme. This is the moral or idea that the writer wants the reader to realize somewhere along the journey. This integral element helps to provide a much deeper layer of meaning beyond the surface plot.
Themes are often complex ideas or symbols, relating to various aspects of the human condition, such as love, hate, morality, religion, war, addiction, and many others. It commonly speaks to broader political and social issues as well.
Weaving the Elements of Literature into Your Reading/Writing
These seven literary elements are the key to bringing stories to life. Although fully recognizing and understanding them sometimes takes a while, simply knowing the role they play in writing will allow you to shape and mold your own stories in new and exciting ways. Or, if you simply enjoy reading a good story, being familiar with these elements and how they impact the story will offer you even more insight and enjoyment.