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Storytelling 101: The 6 Elements of Every Complete Narrative


Everyone enjoys a good story. Telling a good story, however, isn’t as easy at it seems. It takes dedication to the craft, a willingness to learn and understand the different elements and techniques, and a heck of a lot of practice. Regardless of genre or style, however, all good stories have six common elements. When developing your next narrative work, make sure you’re paying careful attention to all of these.

1. Setting

The setting is the time and location in which your story takes place. Settings can be very specific, but can also be more broad and descriptive. A good, well-established setting creates an intended mood and provides the backdrop and environment for your story.

Example 1: July 21st, 1865 – Springfield, Missouri – Town Square – 6pm.

Example 2: A tired little cottage on a lonely night.

Wood Cabin Night Sky Time Lapse by davidjaffe

2. Characters

A story usually includes a number of characters, each with a different role or purpose. Regardless of how many characters a story has, however, there is almost always a protagonist and antagonist.

Central Characters: These characters are vital to the development of the story. The plot revolves around them.

Protagonist: The protagonist is the main character of a story. He or she has a clear goal to accomplish or a conflict to overcome. Although protagonists don’t always need to be admirable, they must command an emotional involvement from the audience.

Antagonist: Antagonists oppose protagonists, standing between them and their ultimate goals. The antagonist can be presented in the form of any person, place, thing, or situation that represents a tremendous obstacle to the protagonist.

Demonic Woman by rightcameraman

3. Plot

The plot is the sequence of events that connect the audience to the protagonist and their ultimate goal.

Example: A group of climbers plan to escort paying clients to the summit of Mt. Everest.

There is always a clear goal. In this case, it’s to get the paying clients safely up the mountain and return them to basecamp unharmed.

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4. Conflict

The conflict is what drives the story. It’s what creates tension and builds suspense, which are the elements that make a story interesting. If there’s no conflict, not only will the audience not care, but there also won’t be any compelling story to tell.

Example 1: “We climbed Mt. Everest without issue.”

Without some sort of conflict, there’s no story. It’s just a statement. As an audience member, I think, “Oh, cool. Sounds like fun. Did you take any photos?”

Example 2: “We attempted to climb Mt. Everest and were suddenly hit with an unexpected storm, causing our team to become dispersed with zero visibility and a lack of oxygen, ultimately leading to the death of 13 people.”

Now there’s a story. As an audience member, I want to know, “What happened? How did 13 people die?”

Conflict is what engages an audience. It’s what keeps them white-knuckled, at the edge of their seats, waiting impatiently to see if the protagonists will overcome their obstacle.

Avalanche at Basecamp by RickRay


5. Theme

The theme is what the story is really about. It’s the main idea or underlying meaning. Often, it’s the storyteller’s personal opinion on the subject matter. A story may have both a major theme and minor themes.

Major Theme: An idea that is intertwined and repeated throughout the whole narrative.

Minor Theme: An idea that appears more subtly, and doesn’t necessarily repeat.


6. Narrative Arc

A strong story plot has a narrative arc that has four required elements of its own.

Setup: The world in which the protagonist exists prior to the journey. The setup usually ends with the conflict being revealed.

Rising Tension: The series of obstacles the protagonist must overcome. Each obstacle is usually more difficult and with higher stakes than the previous one.

Climax: The point of highest tension, and the major decisive turning point for the protagonist.

Resolution: The conflict’s conclusion. This is where the protagonist finally overcomes the conflict, learns to accept it, or is ultimately defeated by it. Regardless, this is where the journey ends.

Friends Watching a Film by hotelfoxtrot
While every story is different, a successful one captivates its audience and inspires an emotional response. As humans, we love to be entertained, and storytelling is universally accessible. Learning to craft a compelling story by engaging an active audience is the art of storytelling.

Top Image: Man on the Run by konradbak