Structure in Literature: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Narrative Structure
  • 1:59 Example
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Connie Warner
In this lesson, we will learn exactly what is meant by structure of literature. Some common methods of organization are provided. The main focus will explore the narrative structure of literature, using the popular story of Cinderella to help understand the various elements associated with this structure.

Narrative Structure in Literature

To understand what is meant by structures of literature, let's first look at the definition of structure. Structure means 'composed of parts' or 'the organization of something,' when referring to literature. In its simplest form, we can think of literature as written material on a particular topic or subject. The structure of literature can be described as the organizational method of the written material. Some common methods of organization include the following:

  • Narrative (order of occurrence or order of telling)
  • Chronological (time sequence)
  • Comparison and contrast
  • Cause and effect
  • Inductive (specific to general)
  • Deductive (general to specific)

For this lesson, we will focus on narrative structure. The most common elements of the narrative structure are setting, plot, and theme. The parts of narrative plot include exposition (the beginning), rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The resolution is also called the denouement.

The setting and characters are introduced during the exposition, and we usually learn some background information to help us have a good understanding of the setting and characters. During the rising action, some form of problem or crisis becomes apparent. The climax is usually the turning point and includes the highest level of tension. During the falling action, we begin to see the characters solving their problems or crises. Finally, there is the resolution, in which there is some form of closure. The figure below is a good visual to remember the parts of the narrative structure.

Plot element diagram
Plot Structure

Example of Narrative Structure

A classic example to help understand the narrative structure is the story of Cinderella. This is a good example because nearly everyone has read some version of this story or watched a version of Cinderella on television.

During the exposition, we learn this story takes place long ago in a kingdom, and it involves a young, pretty girl named Cinderella who lives with her evil stepmother and stepsisters. We learn some background to help us understand these characters. The stepmother and stepsisters are not very nice to Cinderella, and they force her to do all of the chores.

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