Analyzing How Story Elements Interact

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Authors don't simply put their thoughts on paper to create a perfect story. Instead, they need to design strong story elements that influence each other and interact. This lesson details those interactions.

Story Elements

What makes a story? Imagine you have just finished reading the novel The Hunger Games. Your best friend, Josh, who has never read it, asks you to tell him what it is about. How do you explain it to him?

You will probably start to tell Josh where the story takes place, who the main character is, and what happens to her. Unwittingly, you are telling Josh all the story elements, which are the pieces that make a story complete and comprehensible. Some of the most common story elements include setting, character, point of view, and plot.

For a story to be compelling, not only does it need to have those elements, but those elements must interact and influence each other. The rest of this lesson describes some common ways different story elements interact.

The Influence of Setting

When you are telling Josh about The Hunger Games, you should begin by explaining the setting, which is the time, place, and social situation of a story. For this novel in particular, all three aspects of the setting are very important. For Josh to really understand the story, you must tell him that the story takes place in the future in a post-apocalyptic America where teens are forced to fight to the death.

The setting influences all the other story elements. First of all, setting interacts with all characters, or people, animals, or objects portrayed in a work of literature. Naturally then, the setting affects those characters. For instance, because of the social situation, Katniss has been forced to watch her neighbors die in the Hunger Games for years. This makes her cynical and bitter towards the evil regime in charge, showing perfectly how the setting affects a character's personality and development.

In more simple terms, the setting can determine what type of character can even exist in the story. For instance, think of the movie The Little Mermaid. Could this story take place in a desert? Of course not! Ariel is a mermaid and needs to live in water. The setting of the sea allows for a character like Ariel to exist.

Furthermore, the setting also has a huge influence on the plot, or sequence of events in a story. Returning to Katniss, she eventually ends up in a fight to the death in the 74th Hunger Games. The arena for her games is a heavily wooded forest. This is the ideal setting for Katniss, as she is a hunter and can live off of the land. Due to this, she can outlive many of the other tributes in the games. In fact, it actually gives her an advantage as she is one of the only characters agile enough to climb and hide in the trees.

When reading a story, always note how the setting influences characters and plot.

Point of View in a Story

Another important story element is point of view, which is the perspective in which the story is told. First person point of view means that the narrator is a character who is in the story. Third person point of view means that the narrator is outside of the story.

The perspective of a story has a major impact on the other story elements. For instance, The Hunger Games is told from the point of view of Katniss. This first person perspective gives the reader major insight into her thoughts and motivations. In turn, this helps us to understand her decisions and the other plot events. This is best seen once she has entered the games and is desperate for water. Since we are privy to her thoughts, we understand how she realizes her mentor will not send her water because she is very close to a natural source. This character development in the connection to her mentor has a major role in the rest of the novel and the sequels.

On the other hand, third person point of view may keep the reader guessing as to a character's motives. You are more likely to misunderstand the character or be mystified by his or her actions. In addition, you might have more questions on the plot, since it might not be explicitly explained why certain events occur. This type of perspective is often used in suspenseful stories or thrillers, as the author aims to keep the audience guessing.

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