Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Elements of a Story

What makes a good story?
Think about this for a while, don’t answer right off. While you’re pondering think about the stories you have loved. You know, the ones that instantly pop into your mind whenever anyone asks you “what’s your favorite book?” What is it about that story that you admire? Is it the protagonist, the circumstance, the purpose, the adversary, or the catastrophe that appealed to you? There’s a pretty good chance that it was all of those things because a good story juggles all five:

  • Protagonist
  • Circumstance
  • Purpose
  • Adversary
  • Catastrophe
It would be rather blah to just have a story about a character living in perfect circumstances and never wanting anything, never overcoming something and never living through a crisis of some type. What’s the point?

As writers our job is to tell the best story possible and to do that we use all five story elements. Yep, all of them.To get you going, see if you can write a paragraph that explains your story using all the story elements.

For example I’ll use my book, The Forgotten Warrior.

Sydney Morgan (protagonist), a sixteen-year-old girl with a black belt in karate,
learns (circumstance) her mother has cancer and is forced to tolerate her absentee father (adversary) who comes back into her life. She can’t forgive him for leaving, plus she’s worried (purpose) about her mother and little sister and has to take care of them. Just when she thought things could not get worse, Syd is given a clear stone that sends her back in time (catastrophe). Syd’s desperate to find her way back home.

Of course, there’s much more to the story such as she meets Tarik, a stripling warrior, and falls in love. She also meets Chief Captain Heleman, who asks her to train the stripling warriors to fight. But through everything that happens to Sydney, the five elements are the pulse that beats throughout her story: protagonist, circumstance, purpose, adversary and catastrophe.

You’re probably thinking that was easy for me because my story is already written. Okay, let’s plot a brand new story using the five elements.

Protagonist – Jesse, a sixteen-year-old girl,
Circumstance – has no idea who her parents are. She’s lived in one foster home after another.
Purpose - Jesse wants to belong to a family. The Davenports’ are her last chance. They do volunteer work at an assisted living center and take Jesse with them.
Adversary – As Jesse listens to an elderly woman trying to recall a memory, Jesse is suddenly thrown into the scene in the elderly woman’s mind.
Catastrophe – A shadowy figure threatens to kill Jesse if she intrudes on the woman’s memories again.

Okay, this is a story I’m toying with right now. I have a basic idea and know where I want to end up. Story elements help reinforce and flesh out the character’s inner and outer conflict, which will continue throughout the entire book until the very end.

Do you think using these story elements will help you as you write your book?
Let me know what you think, and give it a try.


  1. A similar format to this is what helped me plot a novel of mine once and I loved it! Thanks, Kathi!

  2. Those 5 elements are vital for a good story. I've never laid it out like that - I'm not much of an outliner - but I really like the idea of analyzing it :)

  3. Jemi, I'm glad you liked it! analyzing helps me to keep my story focused. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  4. Great post, Kathi. These guidelines are perfect to keep writers focused on the story.



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