Writers use many devices to convey a story to a reader. These devices, or elements, each reveal something in the story that contributes to the meaning of the work. Learn the elements of literature and how to recognize and interpret them while reading and writing about an author’s work.
The Characters in the Story
Characters are one of the most important elements of literature. Characters are the people, animals, and animated objects that make up a story. They have intellectual, emotional, and social qualities. Main characters have important or central roles in a story, while minor characters have less important roles. Authors develop characters with speech, actions, appearance, other characters' words, and comments in the story.
Readers should study links, clues, and interactions between and about characters. To determine the role and importance of a character, look at the character's history, what the author reveals and does not reveal about the character, and what the character tells about himself or herself and others.
The Plot Thickens
Plot is the order of incidents or ideas in a story. A progressive plot has a central climax, or turning point of action, followed by a resolution. An episodical plot has one incident linked to another by a common character or theme.
Point of View
Who tells the story and how it is told is the point of view. The narrator is the character telling the story. The different points of view are:
- First-person – The narrator is involved in action, but sometimes has limited knowledge.
- Objective – The narrator is not a character in the story and remains unidentified. The narrator reports what happens and allows the reader to interpret meaning.
- Omniscient – The narrator is all-knowing. This gives the reader multiple perspectives.
- Limited omniscient – The narrator is all-knowing about one or two characters, though not all.
Setting is the time and place of the story. The setting can provide the historical and cultural context for characters. A backdrop setting does not have any importance to the story, meaning the story could take place anywhere. On the other hand, an integral setting influences characters, action, or the theme. Characters can behave in different ways, depending on the setting.
The theme is the main idea or point of a story. In literature, several themes reflect society. Common themes include love and hate, life and death, appearance and reality, free will and fate, madness and sanity, and society and individual. When an author openly and clearly states a theme, it is an explicit theme. When a theme is implied, it is an implied theme.
Tone lets the reader know how the author feels about his or her subject. The author’s words express his or her attitude toward the subject and readers. The author must choose words carefully because tone must be conveyed without vocal inflection. Tone can be serious, humorous, satirical, passionate, sensitive, or many other descriptions!
Style is how the author says something, the choice of vocabulary, language use, sentence construction, and imagery. The author’s style adds significance and impact to the work.
Studying literature involves reading critically, interpreting, and analyzing an author’s work. By learning the elements of literature, students can enrich their experience in reading all types of fiction and writing about them.