The parts of a story consist of five main elements: characters, setting, plot, and conflict along with theme. The parts of a story are both technical and elemental in nature, but these are what make up the necessary parts of a story that readers yearn for.
You can use endlessly different story structures and styles, but each story or novel is going to boil down to three fundamental elements: character, setting, and plot.
These are your story’s main course, but what’s a meal without side dishes?
We’re also going to cover conflict, resolution, themes, morals, symbolism, point of view, and perspective: what they are, how to use them, and how all of these literary elements work together to make a complete and filling dinner–I mean story…I’m hungry.
Parts of a Story Plot: Characters, Setting, Plot, & Other Story Elements
Once you’ve got a solid story idea, the real work begins.
Here are the 10 essential parts of a story every writer needs to get it right. Without these, your story (whether you’re writing a short story or a full novel) will fall flat.
#1 – Characters
Your audience should feel different levels of closeness to your different characters, depending on if they’re main, secondary, or background character.
What do your characters want? Their desire can be simple or complex, tangible or concept–maybe they want a job, a house, approval, a child, contentment. If your character doesn’t want something, they won’t be compelled to act.
Download this character sheet to dive deep into understanding your character’s motives better:
Download your FREE character development worksheet!
If your character isn’t acting, they’re passive or they’re just a plot device. You want to avoid both, and this is usually accomplished through strong character development.
#2 – Setting
The setting is when and where your story takes place.
Aside from the physical location and position in time, your setting can include:
Take the time to consider these aspects to build a complex world for your characters to interact with.
Particularly in fantasy and sci-fi worlds, a lot of planning goes into establishing a convincing and engaging story setting that can either add to your plot or take away from it.
#3 – Plot
Your plot is the actual story–what happens, when, how, why, and what’s the result?
There are a lot of different ways to structure your plot, but in general, a plot arc has five main points:
Set-up/exposition – The beginning part of your story where you establish the world, the characters, the tone, and your writing style
Rising action – The rising action is usually prompted by your inciting incident. Here, you escalate tension and problems, explore your characters. This is the biggest chunk of your book.
Climax – This is the sort of “moment of truth.” The culmination of everything–the highest point of tension. The point the plot has been leading up to.
Falling action – What goes up, must come down. This is where you resolve any subplots and side stories.
Resolution – Wrap up.
Here’s a quick visual representation with explanations below:
Here’s what happened in the plot of this video:
Set-up: Supporting cast prepping to roll our main character down a hill in a tire. We can tell from the vibe and energy that this is just some classic lad antics.
Rising action: The tension builds as our MC gains momentum, and we can’t tell what’s going to happen.
Climax: Our MC is speeding down the hill at this point, when he nearly collides with a moving vehicle! Then he disappears into the water! Is he okay? Tension is at its highest.
Falling action: Our hero is safe! The vehicle and driver are fine.
Resolution: His stoned pals cheer him on. All is well.
Your conflict should rise throughout (peaking at the climax).
During the editing process, a good practice is to look at each scene and ask if there is conflict within it.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself (or your beta readers):
Does the scene add to the overall plot?
Does the scene advance internal or inter-character relationships?
Does the scene add to a subplot?
Does the scene answer or bring about any plot-crucial questions?
The conflict could lend to the overall plot, a subplot, conflict between characters, or even a smaller conflict that is resolved within that scene. For a story to be interesting, there needs to be conflict.
Scenes that don’t add to that are fluff.
#5 – Resolution
I want to talk a little more about resolution, since it’s so important. How you end your story is what will sit with readers the longest.
What’s the culmination of all we went through during the story?
What did the characters learn that led them to the decisions they ultimately made? By the end of your story, all of your conflicts should have a resolution.
In some cases, conflicts are intentionally left a bit open-ended without a solid resolution, but this should be done intentionally and there should be somesort of resolution, even if it’s an unsatisfying ending with a little remaining mystery.
Further boiling a story down will reveal elements like themes, morals, and symbolism.
#6 – Themes
A theme is your story’s main takeaway. Your story can have one theme, or several.
Some examples of themes include:
Coming of age–what struggles come with it, what’s good about it
Forgiveness–trying to achieve it, avoiding it, accepting it
Death–overcoming it, processing it, fearing it
Love–overcoming it, processing it, fearing it (lol)
Good versus bad
The list is literally endless.
The theme of your story helps to focus the narrative and answers the question: What’s the point?
What have your characters learned? How are they changed, and what will they affect now that they are different?
#7 – Morals
The moral of your story is related to theme–what message do you want your story to convey?
If the theme is what the character learned, you can think of the moral as what the reader learned.
Let’s take a coming of age narrative–what are possible morals in that type of story?
Don’t grow up too fast
Follow your dreams
Listen to the wisdom of others
Accept yourself as you are
Appreciate where you are and what’s happening now
Consider what morals you want to convey, but avoid directly stating them when writing your book. This is part of the experience of reading your story…and that’s for the readers.
A symbol can be anything from an object, a character archetype, an animal, an occurrence in nature. A window, an estranged father, a lion, a storm, a desk, a fire.
Symbols have meaning connected to them.
Here are some examples of symbolism in stories:
A window might signify freedom, longing, hope.
A lion might be bravery.
A storm might be impending doom or threat.
A desk could indicate creativity, work, neglect.
It all depends on the context of the story and the connotations you assign to your symbols.
Themes, morals, and symbolism are fun writing tools and parts of a story to work with, but be cautious of relying on them. They’re icing and sprinkles–not the cupcake.
#9 – Point of view
The point of view of your story is simply who is telling the story. The most common in fiction are first-person, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient.
First-person is the main character telling the story. It uses the pronouns I, me, myself.
A strength of using first-person is that your reader will connect with your character very easily–the reader essentially becomes the character. If done well, this is a very intimate reading experience.
A weakness of first-person is that your storytelling is limited to that perspective. It’s difficult to tell an entire story with a single, first-person narrator. It can be done, but it takes more effort than it might with a different point of view.
Here’s a first-person point of view example from my collection of short stories, Little Birds.
Third-person limited POV :
Third-person is an outside narrator telling the story. It uses the pronouns he, she, they.
Even though it’s an outsider narrator, third limited keeps us in the point of view of our character(s)–the reader only knows what the character knows.
A strength of third-person point of view is the versatility. It’s much easier to have multiple point of view characters with third-person, as opposed to first. You can also flow between third limited and third omniscient in a novel.
The weakness is you don’t get the closeness to the character you have in first-person, though this can still be created through strong character development and using the rule of show, don’t tell.