The Elements of Fiction

A Survey
by Ulf Wolf

"I have gathered a nosegay of other men's flowers and only the thread that binds them is my own." Montaigne

“The elements that make up works of fiction have their roots hooked, it seems, into the universe, or at least into the hearts of human beings.” John Gardner

“Art is not an end in itself, but a means of addressing humanity.” Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky

“Fiction is the most joyous, beautiful, sophisticated, wonderful thing in the world.” Arundhati Roy

“In fiction two and two is always more than four.” Flannery O’Connor

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In my view, as a story evolves from Cause to Effect it stirs to life at Interest, then travels by those elements that serve it, toward Truth.

Please note that if an Element—i.e., Interest, Observation, et cetera—is hyperlinked (blue), I have posted the author quotes for that element on this site as well and you can read them by clicking that element. Also, posting these author quotes is an ongoing project, so check back now and then for updates.

Here is a story's path, as I see it:

Cause—

Interest is the seed that Observation (including Research) tends and grows. Experience is earth and the sun Imagination. Intention guides Creation: the world of tree, the resulting world: The Story.

Understanding—

Love, Reality and Communication—dimensions of life and mimesis both—form the writer’s and reader’s vital Understanding.

Language—

Words (including Nouns) stem from Concretes with Clarity as their aim. Semantics is their study, Rhetoric their harness, Rhythm their lungs, Pace their heart, Tone their sound, and Resonance their echo: this is Language. Given use, Style will emerge.

Craft—

Craftsmanship is the writer’s tools and techniques, Voice is their mastery and Integrity their aim.

Work—

Design determines Structure. Writing is rewriting, is Revision, is Work.

Mimesis—

Viewpoint and Distance govern Description, determining who does the telling, from where, and from how far. Selection and Detail are the life-blood of, and Senses the path to, Mimesis.

Drama—

Place is both stage and backdrop, Mood is the deeper place. Character is life in action and Choice its vital free will. Want is purpose and goal, Conflict is wants clashing to build both short term Tension and long term Suspense leading, through Growth, to Resolution of the Drama.

Movement—

The story’s Opening—those compelling first lines which earn the reader’s Attention and Curiosity—sparks the movement. Plot finds and carries the reader from there. Generosity is the fullness of motion that invites and permits reader Empathy. Stamina is both writer and story strength: no flagging, no letting up on the motion, no forgetting or letting go of the reader. Discovery is arrival—for writer and reader both.

Here—

Scene is the on-camera present in the form of Dialogue and Action worked to show and evoke Emotion.

There—

Memory relives the past, while Transition moves from scene to scene by Narrative with Exposition and Chronology as its purpose.

Dream—

Honesty and Morality grow the Theme, what the story tells, through Imagery, the story’s color, through Symbolism, its tokens, and Aesthetics, its beauty, into Dream lived into being by writer and reader both: the story’s co-creators.

Effect—

A story-long audience with a spirit—the true Reader, where Inspiration is the air you give, and where living the fictional dream—and being wiser for having lived it—is the reading: Enlightenment—toward Truth.