Fundamentals of Creative Writing

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  • 03. Characters
  • 04. Setting
  • 05. Point-Of-View (POV)
  • 07. Dialogue
  • 09. Learn The Elements Of Creative Writing With An Accomplished Writer

Like any other form of writing, creative writing takes time to excel at. However, it may be complicated to grasp because of the layers that make up a good piece of creative work.

It demands a set of skills and elements combined to form valuable work. And an author cannot succeed in their creative writing career unless they use every aspect in their writing.

Therefore, if you wish to practice and master them, you should register for online creative writing courses .

In the meantime, here are the key elements of creative writing to brush up on:

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You might be thinking, what is creative writing , and how does it have themes? A theme isn't the plot of the story; instead, it is the fundamental message being passed on.

Themes are usually common narratives, which means readers can easily perceive the subject of the story regardless of the culture they belong to or the country they live in.

A few great themes for you to practice creative writing include:

  • Good vs. evil
  • Circle of life

While themes convey moralistic messages, they must never be openly instructive. This is known as didacticism – preaching a subject so openly that readers lose interest in the story and ignore its true meaning.

There may be primary and secondary themes in a story. And books for kids usually only have a single primary theme, which is the central message of the story.

However, books for older people might have more than one theme as adults are capable of greater understanding.

Furthermore, creative writing embraces two kinds of themes:

  • Explicit theme : A theme openly and directly stated
  • Implicit theme : An indirectly hinted or indicated theme

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Style in creative writing is defined as the kind of language used. A writer is responsible for creating a writing style as they put their words together to form a story.

Most story writers use a standard writing style. It might sound natural at first, but when you read it closely, you may realize that it is quite formal.

Utterances like "uh," are avoided, and the sentences are better tied together. Moreover, the use of contractions is also minimized. And as easy as it is to understand, it is nothing like conversational English.

Stories written in conversational style are informal as they sound like regular speech. The storyteller's part and the character's dialogues both sound like a normal conversation.

However, a decorative or unusual style of creative writing is used in historical fiction or extreme-fantasy novels.

Furthermore, the earlier editions of traditional English literature might have some examples of unusual writing styles.

But, unfortunately, old-age poetry also uses the same style, so it is pretty challenging to read and comprehend.

Log story short, authors use a various mix of styles to write captivating stories.

Character development is the most crucial element of creative writing! It is the element that explains your narrative to the readers and investigates your subject.

Yet, characters are more than that. They permanently reside in the memories due to the impact they make on the reader's mind.

Characters are often used to help the reader relate to the story. Readers connect themselves to the personalities in the novels they read, which creates a sense of intimacy.

Spending long hours thinking about the best possible character arcs is an essential element of composing fiction.

Any story holds two main types of characters:

  • Protagonists : The main character in the story's plot
  • Antagonist: The opposing force against the good character. This could also either be a person, civilization, nature, or destiny

Other characters in the story are considered side roles or minor roles. Therefore, they have little effect on the proceedings.

A writer writing in her journal

The setting  involves the location and the era in which the story occurred, according to the writer.

However, it might not have as significant an impact on the story as other elements of creative writing have.

There are two types of settings in creative writing;

  • Integral setting is crucial and relevant to the plot as it inspires the kind of activities, characters, or subject that any other location could not have
  • Background setting, on the other hand, is comparatively less plot-pertinent. We can say that it plays the role of a bland curtain or regular scenery set in a theater

However, it depends on the readers to interpret the setting as they like. For instance, if the story should occur in a vast city, it could be considered an integral setting. This is better explained in these tips .

But other readers might perceive the same location differently because the story could occur in any city according to them.

The setting is still an essential element of creative writing as it simplifies conflict, highlights characters, and influences moods.

Furthermore, if the conflict is "human against nature" then, the setting can play the antagonist's role in the story.

Point-Of-View (POV)

Point of view is the storyteller's perception of the characters and events. In fictional stories, it is either shared by using a first person or third person speech.

The first-person point of view is always a self-witnessed opinion by the author, while the third-person point of view helps describe the events happening to other characters.

A plot is an artistic tool used by writers to structure the events in a story . It is the responsibility of the plot to introduce an occasion, event, or defining moment .

Then, this moment may lead to tension, struggle and bring up the primary narrative in the book. The plot always leads to a series of events that are associated with unlocking the dramatic mystery.

Often, it may also involve a conflict, which is usually the main fight between the protagonist and antagonist.

Either way, it is supposed to be a life-altering event for the protagonist as they either defeat their fears, foes, or inhibitions.

Meanwhile, the beginning of any story holds incredible worth. It needs to:

Moreover, the beginning also weaves into the eventual plot of the story. This plot also ends up developing towards the ending of the story.

This is how a plot focuses on maintaining the reader's attention throughout the story. The goal is that the story leaves the reader with a feeling of fulfillment and content.

Another valuable element of creative writing is creating natural scenes. To compose great scenes in your tale, you must already be able to visualize them.

A writer needs to realize what their scenes will be about and what they want the characters to say – the dialogue!

Dialogues are not just about what the characters say; it is also about what they wear and where they reside.

A good writer figures these details out beforehand. However, if you are just beginning your creative writing career , you should focus on the following questions to comprise a great dialogue:

Details are good; they allow the reader to imagine and see the writer's story practically. But adding unnecessary amounts of irrelevant information can curtail your writing progress.

This might also bore your readers and make them lose interest. Remember, the dialogue and scenes should always be moving towards the climax.

The last question you should consider is how you will compose your dialogue. If you wish to learn how to be a good composer, you must focus on your dialogues' tempo, sound, and fluency.

A collection of books laid out open

The tone is the most crucial element of creative writing as it sets a connection between the reader and the writer.

It can be described as the attitude displayed by the writer towards their subject of writing. To put it simply, the tone is the gravitas that you, as a reader, get from the author's writing.

You may have noticed that it is pretty difficult to describe the concept of tone. This is because the tone is the toughest creative writing element – it is easy to identify but harder to put into words.

Authors use various tones in their novels; however, humor is the easiest one to identify. Therefore, if you are trying to describe the style of your writing to a friend or professor, you should use adjectives like:

Learn The Elements Of Creative Writing With An Accomplished Writer

This might have provided you with a detailed understanding of the elements of creative writing.

However, if you wish to practice, learn and improve your writing, sign up with Superprof for the best creative writing classes.

Superprof is a platform where teachers and students can find each other. Enter your preferences and choose from a list of experienced professionals in your area.

You may find someone who will offer a free first lesson alongside flexible class schedules and creative writing guides .

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Story Ideas About Talent and More...

On this page, you’ll find story ideas you can turn into fiction. Scroll down to the bottom for links to hundreds of other story starters and prompts.

Creative Writing Prompts – Talents

Here are some story starters about talents. Problems normally make stories more interesting, so in these prompts, the main character's talent gets him or her into trouble. 1. Your character's an excellent conversationalist who easily makes friends. He goes to party, where he notices an awkward-looking girl sitting alone in the corner, ignored by everyone. Feeling sorry for the girl, he decides to go talk to her. He succeeds in engaging her in conversation. Unfortunately for him, he is too successful. The girl attaches herself to him, and he can't get rid of her. She seems absolutely determined to follow him home... 2. Your character's a very talented defense lawyer. Her client is accused of being a serial killer. Your character's absolutely sure of two things: he's guilty, and if he has the chance, he'll kill again. And she's pretty sure that she can get him acquitted, in which case he'll walk free... 3. Your character has excellent hearing. One night, your character goes with his wife to his in-laws' house. When he's in the bathroom, he overhears a conversation between his wife and her parents. "Don't worry," his wife says. "As soon as I get rid of him, everything will be fine." Could she be talking about your character? What's going on? 4. Your character's an extremely talented pickpocket. He learned the skill when he was young and poor. Now he has a good job, a healthy bank account, and a respectable lifestyle, but he thinks it's a shame to let such remarkable talent go to waste... 5. Your character's an amazing ballroom dancer. Unfortunately, his wife can't dance at all. She's also extremely jealous and gets very upset if he dances with another woman. Your character misses dancing. He decides that what his wife doesn't know won't hurt her. But things don't go as planned...

Story Prompts About Families

1) Your character goes to talk to his/her fiancé's estranged father, to try to convince him to come to the wedding. Your character's fiancé and the father haven't spoken in years, and your character is hoping to patch things up between them. But after hearing the father's side of the story, your character begins to think about calling the wedding off... 2) Your character and his/her identical twin were adopted by different families. When they meet as adults, each of them envies the other one's life. They decide to trade identities... 3) Your character has always wanted a child. When s/he sees his/her neighbors mistreating their little boy, s/he decides to steal him... 4) Your character knows that his/her parents love his/her sibling more than they love your character. S/he has a plan to change this... 5) Your character is moving back home to take care of a parent who has just undergone surgery. Your character had a difficult childhood and is still very angry with this parent... 6) Your character suspects that his/her new stepparent is actually a... (pick one: werewolf/spy/demon/witch/serial killer/extraterrestrial).

Creative Writing Prompts – 3 Elements

Challenge: write a story that contains all three elements in one of these lists. - an older brother, an unfair contest, and the skeleton of a bird. - flirtation, whiskey, and a mistake at the zoo. - a children's book, a box of matches, and a frightened security guard. - a bathing suit a hair salon, and an amazing rumor that turns out to be true. - a sports car, a rope, and an obnoxious ex-girlfriend. - skydiving, an extreme diet, and unrequited love. - a murder plot, a bowl of lentils, and a gold tooth. - a mistake at work, a bank account number, and an empty house with an open window. - an antique, a torn letter, and a familiar-looking stranger. - an ice storm, a bicycle, and a treasure map. - a magic trick, a shadow, and a missing friend. - a traffic accident, a famous actor, and a business opportunity. - a family secret, a string of pearls, and the desire for revenge. - a motorcycle race, an injury, and a former enemy who turns out to be an ally.

Story Starters - New Beginnings

1) The New Garden. Digging a new garden in their back yard, your character discovers a dead body buried there. The body is soon identified as your character's spouse's ex...

2) The New Job.  After going through some financial difficulties, your character is thrilled to finally get a well-paying job. But on their first day of work, your character is disturbed by powerful romantic feelings for their new boss. Your character tries to hide these feelings -- they don't want to do anything that might put their job at risk. But the feelings are so strong...

3) The New Baby.  Soon after your character's child is born, your character begins to notice something eerie about the new baby, something that doesn't seem quite human...

4) The New Friend.  Your character's new friend seems to be asking an awful lot of strange questions about your character's family background. It's almost as if they know something about the family that your character doesn't know...

More Story Ideas

Join our free e-mail group to get more story ideas and by e-mail. And browse the hundreds of story starters on our website:

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Creative writing: Forms and Elements

Creative writing

There are many ways of writing any work, and any written piece can be manipulated and creatively delivered by an creative author. Regardless of the genre (novel, poetry, travel guide, magazine feature, e.t.c), the writer may combine several writing forms to achieve his, her purpose.

All forms of writing can be creative. Creative writing is more about how the writer uses words and manipulates ideas to evoke specific emotions. This means even informative writing can be turned into creative work. The major differentiating factor for creative work is its emphasis. The primary aim of such writing is more to evoke emotions and less to tell. There are, however, times when confusion arises where informative work is creative and creative work is educational, or they weigh the same. But then, consider the elements of creative writing (character, plot, setting, point of view, style, themes, and literary devices.

Forms in creative writing

For a student of creative writing, it is vital to learn different writing forms as well as elements or creating such work. It does not matter the genre; all writing forms can be creatively employed and altered by a creative writer to meet their expectations. The most common creative writing forms include the following:

One of the characteristics of creative writing is that they present the ideas of the creative writer to the audience. By so doing, the writer engages the readers in his beliefs about a specific aspect of life. In most cases, the writer uses their own or the experience of others to present their ideas. This process is called reflection. The writer looks back at their experiences or another person to build their story.

Exposition or reporting

This is a form that covers almost all genres of writing. It involves exposing or showing the events of a story to the reader. It can be seen mostly in textbooks, magazine articles, and news stories. For the case of creative writing, exposition comes out when a character takes and informing role. Writers use description to achieve this form of writing.


When reporting on specific information, the writer seeks to convey a vital impression of a specific place or the object. They want to tell how they feel about the thing, more than just telling facts. An author can include a description in a small part of a narrative or a significant part of the whole work. Many travel writing use description to attract readers, and sometimes good fiction requires it too.


An explanation is quite straightforward. It is mostly used in writings like product descriptions and similar pieces of work. It involves helping another person understand or perceive something by informing or reasoning rather than using persuasive language. Explanation work includes instruction, rules/guidelines, argument, and analysis.

An argument is a form of explanation that aims to change the viewpoint or attitude of the reader about a specific idea or situation. It follows a rhetoric line, persuading through emotion while employing the basis of logic or reason. Consider political statements; for instance, many are rhetoric. In an argument, there are always two points of view present with the writer building a case for one, to either refute or defeat the other.

Human beings are said to be natural storytellers. This is why narration is the most used form of expression. Narrative involves the direct telling of stories or events that happened over a specific period. Narration brings the reader to draw images of the event in their minds. Most creative writing works employ this approach.

Elements of creative writing 

The most significant confusion is on how much each element in creative writing should be used. For learning purposes, it is important knowing them and how to apply when a case arises. They are as discussed below:

The entire story is based on what the characters do or say. At the very least, they should start from the plot of the story. Characters may be anything from human beings, animals to animated objects, which readers identify with, even in fictional worlds.

When the reader is on a story, and they are enjoying it, it is normal for a special kind of suspension of disbelief to hit their minds. This is why it vital for writers to have great skills in using what is known as verisimilitude (believability). Unless a reader is convinced somehow by the validity of a character, it is difficult for them to enter a state of suspension and disbelief.

This is a short account of what happens in the story. It is the first thing a writer will be exposed to through different cultures before they begin writing a particular story. All plots follow a generally simple arc, and they are essential for genres such as books, movies, and songs. A plot carries the underlying skeleton of everything in the work they represent.

Simply put, the setting is where the story happens. It might not be one in the entire story; different works have different needs. It can be ample space, as in “Until I Find You,” in which two European cities appear as characters or a room in your house. When picking your setting, consider how it will affect the general themes in your story.


Generally, tales grow taller the more they are told. Therefore presents or absence of reliability in point-of-view is a vital aspect. When picking the point-of-view, consider whose story you are describing. If it is personal, the first point-of-view is automatic. And if telling another’s account, you either use second or third person point-of-view.

Many people get confused with what style is because it is comprised of thin, blurred ephemeral parts, hard to grasp. A simple take could be that it is the signature inside your story as described by your vocabulary, syntax, rhythm, voice, and mood.

Works of fiction can be based on a variety of ideas. The theme is simply the “lesson of your story.” It can also be more significant ideas, including murder, betrayal, honesty, and compassion.

Literary devices

Apr 01, 2020

Mar 27, 2020

Different people have different names for creative writing. It was traditionally referred to as literature. It is an art of imagination and making things up. In the world of writing, creative works are done in a way far from academic or technical...

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3 elements of creative writing

The Writing Cooperative

Paul Stimers

Nov 25, 2020


The 3 Elements of Writing: Inspiration, Imagination, and Perspiration

But the greatest of these is perspiration.

So, you want to be a writer, but you aren’t sure you can write. Like any craft, writers learn and perfect their skills. There aren’t any shortcuts, but there is a formula that will transform a normal person with average abilities into a published author.

Writers need three things: inspiration, imagination, and more than anything else the willingness to work hard.

1. Writing and inspiration

People assume great writing requires one thing: a vivid imagination. But I disagree. What writers require is a catalyst that ignites their thinking. Here are examples of real-life events that inspired three well-known movies:

Here’s an example from Stephen King’s The Shining .

King and his family stayed at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. It was late in the season. The building with a few exceptions was empty of guests and reportedly haunted. This provided the inspiration for The Shining. In his book, Stephen King writes the story of a family, hired as caretakers, who spend a winter alone in the Overlook Hotel with devastating results.

How many people stayed in that same hotel late in the season? How many of them wandered the halls and felt the tingle of something mysterious. Maybe they took a turn down a hallway and thought they saw something out of the corner of their eye. I’m guessing some dad or mom went back to their room and told their children they were staying in a haunted hotel, and they even caught sight of a ghost.

Over the years, that scenario may have been repeated dozens or hundreds of times. Having a vivid imagination isn’t limited to writers. Parents love tweaking their children with something scary. But it was King who wrote the story.

The first element of being a writer is waiting for an idea that inspires a story or article. It isn’t something you force. It just happens. But you can encourage it by asking yourself questions. Here are some examples of what to ask:

What if the hotel is haunted?

What if a family gets stuck in the hotel all winter and can’t leave?

What if one of the family members has mental problems, becomes delusional, or even possessed?

Writers ask themselves questions about normal events. They wonder if something they’ve learned or experienced could turn into a story or article. And they look for a twist that spurs their imagination.

2. Writing and imagination

When I was a kid, I loved horror movies. I still love them. But I always wanted the show to be scarier, more intense. When I was a child, I could see things at night moving in the crack of a partly opened closet door. Or I would jump from my bed so the thing that lived under my bed couldn’t grab me. But as I got older, it took more to scare me, so I created a scarier experience.

Friday night was my monster movie night. My parents would go to bed around 11 p.m. It was the weekend, so I’d stay up to watch the scary show playing that night. But just watching a scary movie wasn’t enough. I wanted to feel frightened. So I created a scarier environment. I would sit alone, in a chair, in the middle of the living room, with the lights off. And in the dark, I would watch the movie. Before long, I would imagine things moving in the dark behind me. I could feel something creeping up on me, reaching out for me.

I would force myself to sit in that chair and not move. No matter how frightened I felt, I would not give in to my fear. And I watched the movie to the end. And it never failed to scare me.

The goal of a writer involves creating an environment that stimulates the mind. It’s important to feel and believe something is true. Anything short of believing becomes a lie. And writers, even those who write fiction, should always tell the truth.

The reason imagination follows inspiration is that whatever inspired the story doesn’t tell the entire story. It is the spark that fires our imagination. It is our imagination that creates the story. It tells us the who, what, when, where, and why.

In Stephen King’s The Shining , he used his creative mind to show us:

Stephen King is a master of the craft because he knows how to answer all these questions as he builds layer upon layer of dread. And by the time we finish reading his book, we become believers in his tale. We allow our imagination to believe in the world he’s created.

If you are writing a short story or a novel, you need a cast of characters, a location, a time, and an event that will tell a story. That is the framework of a story. In your imagination, you create another world with a beginning, middle, and end.

Or if you are writing an article or non-fiction book, you explain a process or build a set of detailed, easy to understand, step-by-step instructions. Even in writing non-fiction, you use your imagination to help your reader understand how to do something, learn about someone, explain a process, or resolve a mystery.

After having written the story or article, the actual work of writing is next. In this step, you take the rough structure of what you’ve written and mold it into something wonderful. This is what Stephen King says is a little like “murdering children”

3. Editing and perspiration

Editing what you’ve written is like exercising. It’s work. And it isn’t easy. If people tell you otherwise, don’t believe them. Most people who write about how they have “the” method that makes writing easy, are selling a course, are uninformed or lying.

The brutal truth is there is no fast-track to success. There are no secrets. There are no shortcuts. But there is exercise, work, and perspiration.

I’d love to sugarcoat this thing we call writing. I’d like to make you believe that all you have to do is sit down, drink something warm, and write something profound in one session. Then you send it out. The first publisher who gets your work publishes it. Thousands of people read it and they love it. And then the money rolls in. After that, all you have to do is do it again and again. It’s as simple as wash, rinse, repeat.

It won’t happen.

I like this quote from Stephen King:

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” — Stephen King

King is the best at what he does. And he’s done it for over 40 years. He knows what he’s talking about.

Editing is brutal and hard work. It involves using a scalpel, surgical saw, and a medical mallet. It’s dirty, painful, and bloody. You go through your story and rip it apart. At this stage, you realize you connected an arm bone to the ankle bone. That’s a big problem. But there is no choice. You cut off the arm and reattach it to the shoulder. You’re going to have to do some suturing because you left open wounds. And you’ll find some growths that don’t belong. They’ve got to go, too. Maybe you missed the heart of the story. Don’t worry. You’ll catch it in the rewrite. But you must do some open-heart surgery to get the heart in place and beating right.

And when you’re done operating on your story, you must go over it again. You’ll always find something more that needs a little fixing. Nothing major, but you want to make it right. So a snip here, a cut there, and a few more sutures, and you’re done.

To be a writer means rewrite… edit… rewrite… edit… rewrite… publish. But there is danger. At some point, rewriting can become an excuse not to publish. You’ll always find more things you can fix, but if they don’t make a difference, send your story or article out into the world.

Anyone can write, but not anyone can be a writer. It isn’t because people don’t know how to make words into sentences and then into paragraphs and chapters. It’s because writing done right isn’t easy. It’s hard work and often discouraging. And it’s a lonely business.

But when you’ve finished all the hard work, and you believe your story can live on its own, you must launch it out into the world. It’s a little scary sending your child to live or die on its own. And you wonder how it will do. But it is a fantastic feeling knowing that you’ve finished your work and others will read and love it.

Have you wanted to write but haven’t done it? What’s held you back?

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Writing :: the Craft

The best from the pros on creative writing.

3 elements of creative writing

Elements of Creative Writing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Creative writing is any writing that goes outside the bounds of normal professional , journalistic , academic , or technical forms of literature, typically identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes or with various traditions of poetry and poetics . Due to the looseness of the definition, it is possible for writing such as feature stories to be considered creative writing, even though they fall under journalism, because the content of features is specifically focused on narrative and character development. Both fictional and non-fictional works fall into this category, including such forms as novels , biographies , short stories , and poems . In the academic setting, creative writing is typically separated into fiction and poetry classes, with a focus on writing in an original style, as opposed to imitating pre-existing genres such as crime or horror . Writing for the screen and stage— screenwriting and playwriting —are often taught separately, but fit under the creative writing category as well.

Creative writing can technically be considered any writing of original composition . In this sense, creative writing is a more contemporary and process-oriented name for what has been traditionally called literature , including the variety of its genres . In her work, Foundations of Creativity , Mary Lee Marksberry references Paul Witty and Lou LaBrant ’s Teaching the People’s Language to define creative writing. Marksberry notes:

Character (arts)

A character (or fictional character ) is a person in a narrative work of arts (such as a novel , play , television series or film ). [1] Derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktêr , the English word dates from the Restoration , [2] although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. [3] [4] From this, the sense of “a part played by an actor ” developed. [4] Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre or cinema , involves “the illusion of being a human person.” [5] In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. [6] Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase “in character” has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. [4] Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practised by actors or writers, has been called characterisation . [4]

A character who stands as a representative of a particular class or group of people is known as a type. [7] Types include both stock characters and those that are more fully individualised . [7] The characters in Henrik Ibsen ‘s Hedda Gabler (1891) and August Strindberg ‘s Miss Julie (1888), for example, are representative of specific positions in the social relations of class and gender , such that the conflicts between the characters reveal ideological conflicts. [8]

The study of a character requires an analysis of its relations with all of the other characters in the work. [9] The individual status of a character is defined through the network of oppositions (proairetic, pragmatic , linguistic , proxemic ) that it forms with the other characters. [10] The relation between characters and the action of the story shifts historically, often miming shifts in society and its ideas about human individuality , self-determination , and the social order . [11]

Classical analysis of character

In the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory , Poetics (c. 335 BCE), the Greek philosopher Aristotle deduces that character ( ethos ) is one of six qualitative parts of Athenian tragedy and one of the three objects that it represents (1450a12). [12] He understands character not to denote a fictional person, but the quality of the person acting in the story and reacting to its situations (1450a5). [13] He defines character as “that which reveals decision , of whatever sort” (1450b8). [13] It is possible, therefore, to have tragedies that do not contain “characters” in Aristotle’s sense of the word, since character makes the ethical dispositions of those performing the action of the story clear. [14] Aristotle argues for the primacy of plot ( mythos ) over character ( ethos ). [15] He writes:

In the Poetics , Aristotle also introduced the influential tripartite division of characters in superior to the audience, inferior, or at the same level. [17] [18] In the Tractatus coislinianus (which may or may not be by Aristotle), comedy is defined as involving three types of characters: the buffoon ( bômolochus ), the ironist ( eirôn ) and the imposter or boaster ( alazôn ). [19] All three are central to Aristophanes ‘ “ Old comedy .” [20]

By the time the Roman playwright Plautus wrote his plays, the use of characters to define dramatic genres was well established. [21] His Amphitryon begins with a prologue in which the speaker Mercury claims that since the play contains kings and gods, it cannot be a comedy and must be a tragicomedy . [22] Like a lot of Roman comedy , it is probably translated from an earlier Greek original, most commonly held to be Philemon ‘s Long Night , or Rhinthon ‘s Amphitryon , both now lost. [23]

Types of characters

Round vs. flat.

In his book Aspects of the novel , E. M. Forster defined two basic types of characters, their qualities, functions, and importance for the development of the novel: flat characters and round characters. [24] Flat characters are two-dimensional, in that they are relatively uncomplicated. By contrast, round characters are complex figures with many different characteristics and undergo development, sometimes sufficiently to surprise the reader. [25]

Dynamic vs. static

Dynamic characters are the ones who change over the course of the story, while static characters remain the same throughout.

Creation of characters

In fiction writing , authors create dynamic characters by many methods, almost always by using their imagination. Jenna Blum in The Author at Work described three ways of creating vivid characters: [26]

3 elements of creative writing

Setting (narrative)

In works of narrative (especially fictional ), the literary element setting includes the historical moment in time and geographic location in which a story takes place, and helps initiate the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world [1] or milieu to include a context (especially society ) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may include culture , historical period , geography , and hour . Along with the plot , character , theme , and style , setting is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction . [2]

Role of setting

Setting is a critical component for assisting the story, as in man vs. nature or man vs. society stories. In some stories the setting becomes a character itself. The term “setting” is often used to refer to the social milieu in which the events of a novel occur. [3] Novelist and novel-writing instructor Donna Levin has described how this social milieu shapes the characters’ values. [4] For young readers in the US (K-5), the setting is often established as the “setting”. As children advance, the elements of the story setting are expanded to include the passage of time which might be static in some stories or dynamic in others (e.g. changing seasons, day-and-night, etc.). The passage of time as an element of the setting helps direct the child’s attention to recognize setting elements in more complex stories. Setting is another way of identifying where a story takes place.

Types of settings

Settings may take various forms:

Theme (narrative)

In contemporary literary studies , a theme is the central topic a text treats. [1] Themes can be divided into two categories: a work’s thematic concept is what readers “think the work is about” and its thematic statement being “what the work says about the subject”. [2]

The most common contemporary understanding of theme is an idea or point that is central to a story, which can often be summed in a single word (e.g. love, death, betrayal). Typical examples of themes of this type are conflict between the individual and society; coming of age; humans in conflict with technology; nostalgia; and the dangers of unchecked ambition. [3] [ examples needed ] A theme may be exemplified by the actions, utterances, or thoughts of a character in a novel. An example of this would be the theme loneliness in John Steinbeck ‘s Of Mice and Men , wherein many of the characters seem to be lonely. It may differ from the thesis—the text’s or author’s implied worldview. [4] [ example needed ]

A story may have several themes. Themes often explore historically common or cross-culturally recognizable ideas, such as ethical questions, and are usually implied rather than stated explicitly. An example of this would be whether one should live a seemingly better life, at the price of giving up parts of ones humanity, which is a theme in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World . Along with plot , character , setting , and style , theme is considered one of the components of fiction . [5]

Various techniques may be used to express many more themes.


Leitwortstil is the repetition of a wording, often with a theme, in a narrative to make sure it catches the reader’s attention. [6] An example of a leitwortstil is the recurring phrase, “So it goes”, in Kurt Vonnegut ‘s novel Slaughterhouse five . Its seeming message is that the world is deterministic : that things only could have happened in one way, and that the future already is predetermined. But given the anti-war tone of the story, the message perhaps is on the contrary, that things could have been different . A non-fictional example of leitworstil is in the book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now written by Gordon Livingston, which is an anthology of personal anecdotes multiple times interjected by the phrases “Don’t do the same thing and expect different results”, “It is a bad idea to lie to yourself”, and “No one likes to be told what to do”.

Thematic patterning

Thematic patterning means the insertion of a recurring motif in a narrative. [7] For example, various scenes in John Steinbeck ‘s Of Mice and Men are about loneliness. [8] Thematic patterning is evident in One Thousand and One Nights , [9] an example being the story of “The City of Brass”. According to David Pinault, the overarching theme of that tale, in which a group of travellers roam the desert in search of ancient brass artifacts, is that “riches and pomp tempt one away from God”. [10] The narrative is interrupted several times by stories within the story. These include a tale recorded in an inscription found in the palace of Kush ibh Shaddad; a story told by a prisoner about Solomon; and an episode involving Queen Tadmur’s corpse. According to Pinault, “each of these minor narratives introduces a character who confesses that he once proudly enjoyed worldly prosperity: subsequently, we learn, the given character has been brought low by God … These minor tales ultimately reinforce the theme of the major narrative”. [10]

Motif (narrative)

A narrative motif can be created through the use of imagery, structural components, language, and other narrative elements. The flute in Arthur Miller ‘s play Death of a Salesman is a recurrent sound motif that conveys rural and idyllic notions. Another example from modern American literature is the green light found in the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald .

Narratives may include multiple motifs of varying types. In Shakespeare ‘s play Macbeth , he uses a variety of narrative elements to create many different motifs. Imagistic references to blood and water are continually repeated. The phrase “fair is foul, and foul is fair” is echoed at many points in the play, a combination that mixes the concepts of good and evil . The play also features the central motif of the washing of hands , one that combines both verbal images and the movement of the actors.

While it may appear interchangeable with the related concept theme , [8] the term “motif” does differ somewhat in usage. Any number of narrative elements with symbolic significance can be classified as motifs—whether they are images, spoken or written phrases, structural or stylistic devices, or other elements like sound, physical movement, or visual components in dramatic narratives. To distinguish between a motif and theme a general rule is that a theme is abstract and a motif is concrete. [9] A motif is not necessarily a theme. The latter is usually defined as a message, statement, or idea, while a motif is simply a detail repeated for larger symbolic meaning. In other words, a narrative motif—a detail repeated in a pattern of meaning—can produce a theme; but it can also create other narrative aspects distinct from theme. Nevertheless, the distinction between the two terms remains difficult to distinguish precisely. For instance, the term “ thematic patterning ” has been used to describe the way in which “recurrent thematic concepts” are patterned to produce meaning, such as the “moralistic motifs” found throughout the stories epic narrative One Thousand and One Nights . [10]

Dialogue in writing

Dialogue in fiction is a verbal exchange between two or more characters. If there is only one character talking aloud it is a monologue .


“This breakfast is making me sick,” George said.

The George said is the identifier. Said is the verb most writers use because reader familiarity with said prevents it from drawing attention to itself. Although other verbs such as ask , shout , or reply are acceptable, some identifiers get in the reader’s way. For example:

“Hello,” he croaked nervously, “my name’s Horace.” “What’s yours?” he asked with as much aplomb as he could muster. [1] another example is: “My name is Peg, what’s yours?” I asked. “My name is William, but my friends call me Will,” said Will.

Stephen King , in his book On Writing , expresses his belief that said is the best identifier to use. King recommends reading a novel by Larry McMurtry , who he claims has mastered the art of well-written dialogue. [2]

Substitutes are known as said-bookisms . For example, in the sentence “What do you mean?” he smiled. , the word smiled is a said-bookism.

Style (fiction)

In fiction , style is the codified gestures, [1] in which the author tells the story. Along with plot , character , theme , and setting , style is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction . [2]

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Writer's Hive Media

The 3 Essential Elements of Plot Every Writer Should Know

by John Kerr | Nov 17, 2022 | Creative Writing

How many times have you sat down at the keyboard with a fantastic story premise in your mind, but had trouble getting it organized in a manner that truly flows on the page? A solid story premise can act as fuel to your passion for writing. There is so much possibility when you have an exciting idea brewing. However, without a strong understanding of the three elements of plot, these ideas often go nowhere and are forgotten quickly. 

Conflict is the driving force behind most plots, however, especially in long-form fiction. Conflict can help propel your plot, and can create tension and suspense for your characters that might not otherwise exist. Conflict can take many forms, but all conflict ultimately boils down to a clash of opposing forces. This clash can be between two characters, as in a love story where one person tries to resist their feelings for the other. It can also be between a character and an outside force, such as nature or society. 

Example of Conflict from To Kill a Mockingbird

There are many examples of conflict in To Kill a Mockingbird , but one that stands out is the conflict between Atticus and the mob that’s accusing his innocent client, Tom Robinson. This is an example of successful conflict because it results in a change of heart for some of the men in the mob, who realize that what they’re doing is wrong. 

Additionally, the situation highlights the strength of Atticus’ character, as he bravely faces down an angry crowd. This scene also helps to build tension and suspense in the novel, making it more exciting to read. Ultimately, the conflict between Atticus and the mob is an important part of To Kill a Mockingbird , and helps to make the story more compelling.

Internal Character Conflict 

Internal conflict is a plot element that refers to the struggles that a character experiences within him/herself. This struggle can manifest as a clash between two different impulses, values, or beliefs. For example, a character might be torn between their duty to their family and their desire for personal freedom. 

Internal conflict can also arise from a character’s efforts to come to terms with a traumatic event from their past. This type of conflict can be very intense for readers because it often leads to characters making poor decisions or remaining stuck in a state of limbo for extended periods throughout the story. 

Example of Internal Conflict 

Scout Finch, the protagonist and narrator of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird , is one of the most memorable characters in literature. Though only six years old at the start of the novel, Scout is wise beyond her years, and her development over the course of the book is fascinating to read. 

In particular, Scout’s internal conflict between innocence and experience is a central theme of the story. At the beginning of the novel, Scout is a naïve young girl who sees the world in black and white. However, as she witnesses injustice and cruelty firsthand, her innocent view of the world begins to unravel. By the end of the book, Scout has come to understand that human beings are complex and that distinguishing between good and evil is not always simple. This newfound maturity is evident in her changed reactions to different events and her growing feelings of guilt and contempt for society. Though she has lost her innocence, Scout has also gained a greater understanding of the world around her, making her one of literature’s most intriguing and well-rounded characters.

External Character Conflict

The external conflict pits the protagonist against an outside force such as another character, nature, or society. This type of conflict can be very suspenseful, as the reader doesn’t know whether the protagonist will be able to overcome the obstacles in their way. 

Some specific examples of external conflict include:

External conflict can also explore ideas like morality, prejudice, and power dynamics. In any case, an external conflict is a powerful tool that authors can use to make their stories more engaging and exciting.

But, enough about conflict. Let’s discuss our next plot element. 

2) Character Growth

So what is the point of all this conflict? Well, it’s through conflict that your character can experience change. It’s the metamorphosis or growth of your character that will allow your readers to relate and engage with your plot. Afterall, it’s human nature to grow and change when we face life’s challenges. A fictional character who shows growth will feel far more realistic than a static, 2D character that never changes.

In order to achieve growth for your characters,  you can visualize your character’s journey as an arc. A character arc is when a character grows and changes through conflict. Most plots track a character as they become a better or worse version of themselves. It’s this gradual rise and fall of your character arc that creates tension, builds suspense, and provides satisfying resolutions throughout your story. 

What’s A Character Arc?

The character arc is the journey a character takes from the story’s beginning to the end. This journey includes both physical and emotional changes, and some sort of conflict often catalyzes the journey . 

Character arcs can be physical, emotional, or spiritual, but it always involves some kind of growth or change. The character arc is the character’s journey from innocence to experience or ignorance to enlightenment. It can also describe the character’s emotional development, from happiness to sadness or anger to forgiveness.

The character arc is often one of the essential elements of a story, as it can help create empathy for the character and make the story more relatable. When done well, a character arc should generate an emotional reaction with your reader. If done poorly, it can feel contrived or artificial. 

Example of a Character Arc

To understand character arcs fully, let’s look at the character arc of Scout Finch again from To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Scout Finch is the narrator and protagonist in To Kill a Mockingbird . She is a young girl growing up in the town of Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930s. The novel follows Scout’s journey as she learns about life, love, and loss. Through her experiences, Scout grows and matures, eventually becoming a more compassionate and empathetic person.

One of the most significant events that shapes Scout’s character is when her father, Atticus Finch, defends a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of rape. Throughout the trial, Scout witnesses the racism and bigotry that exists in her community. She also sees how her father stands up for what he believes in, even when it isn’t popular. This experience helps Scout to develop her own sense of morality and justice.

These lessons culminate for Scout in the novel’s finale. Scout spends most of the book frightened of her reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley. She is prejudiced against Boo even though she has never met him. However, it is Boo who saves Scout and her brother when they are attacked by the novel’s antagonist, Bob Ewell. 

Boo kills Bob, bringing justice to Maycomb after the townspeople failed. Through this experience Scout realizes that she unfairly judged Boo just as the town had unfairly judged Tom Robinson. 

3) Literary Theme 

A literary theme is the main idea or underlying meaning a writer explores in a novel, short story, or other literary work. When it comes to creating a theme, it’s not always an element of craft that happens purposefully. In fact, some writers don’t recognize the overarching theme until the story is nearly finished, and that’s completely okay! When it comes to recognizing and zeroing in on your story’s theme, it’s important to let it show itself naturally. Your theme should not be some lesson or agenda you’re trying to force upon your reader. Instead, you should allow it to appear to the reader on its own through events, character actions, etc. 

Sometimes we underthink the theme, and we define the story’s theme with a single word. For instance, you might hear that the theme of the Lord of the Rings is sacrifice. But that’s wrong. A theme cannot be summed up in a single word or idea. You need to investigate what Lord of the Rings says about sacrifice. Is sacrifice necessary, unavoidable, or should we avoid it at all costs?

A story is more than just a sequence of exciting events. A compelling story must have a sense of purpose just as every person in life has a purpose. That being said, forcing your story’s purpose or making it become a “lesson” for your dear little reader is an amatuer way of thinking about your theme. While it’s your story’s job to reveal the theme as it develops, it’s your job as the author to help connect the dots from theme element to theme element throughout the story, so that your reader can fully grasp it.

The theme allows your reader to see the larger picture and understand the true importance of what is happening in your story. In short, the theme is what makes a story worth telling. It provides direction as your reader travels along with your characters. If you’re having trouble seeing your theme yourself, you may need a beta reader to help you pinpoint it. Once you recognize your theme, think about how it’s woven throughout your story. How can you help your readers more easily recognize the theme without forcing it?

As you write your novel or short story, keep these three essential elements of plot in mind. While it is important to consider these elements of plot, you certainly don’t want to overthink them or allow them to stunt your writing progress. If you feel you’re lacking conflict, character growth, or a theme, just let your story flow anyway. Once you move into the editing phase, you can work out the kinks of your story at that point. The most important thing is to get your story written!

John Kerr

John Kerr is a writer and junior high English teacher with published works in “Helios Quarterly Magazine,” “The Wifiles,” Listverse, “WhatCulture,” “SFS Shorts,”, The Writing Cooperative, and more.

John has a degree in history from the University of Texas at Arlington. After graduating, he discovered a passion for teaching and sharing his love for literature. He loves discussing the intricacies of a well-developed plot, poem, or even a good sentence!

He is the owner of a creative writing website called The Art Of Narrative , where he shares tips and advice on creative writing.

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