What are the elements of a story? (with examples)

Robert Johnston

The story elements they are the traits, tools and characteristics that make the development and existence of this literary genre possible. The objective of the elements is to make known within which category or subgenre the story is, as well as to expose the characters, time and actions that shape the story.

The story is a short narrative that tells real or imaginary stories through the action of characters and a plot that lacks complexity. In addition to the aforementioned features, every story has a specific environment, an atmosphere and a type of narrator.

The elements of the story are all those features, tools and characteristics that make the development and existence of this literary genre possible. Source: pixabay.com.

On the other hand, stories may contain other elements depending on the content that it develops. Additional components can limit general features with the firm intention of highlighting those belonging to a specific subgenus. For example, in a police court report the investigation will stand out.

The dynamism and appeal of the story are linked to the elements that make it up, since without their existence the story would not be concrete. The use of the components of this type of narration will depend to a great extent on the creativity of the author..

Article index

  • 1 Elements of the story and their characteristics
    • 1.1 - Characters
    • 1.2 - Narrator
    • 1.3 - Action
    • 1.4 - Environment
    • 1.5 - Atmosphere
    • 1.6 - Topic
    • 1.7 - Time
  • 2 Elements of the horror tale
    • 2.1 - Suspense
    • 2.2 - Mystery
  • 3 Elements of the detective story
    • 3.1 - Research
    • 3.2 - Tracks
    • 3.3 - Hypothesis
  • 4 Elements of the literary tale
    • 4.1 - Written word
    • 4.2 - An author and a version
  • 5 Elements of the Science Fiction Story
    • 5.1 - Possible facts
    • 5.2 - Conflict
  • 6 Elements of the Latin American tale
    • 6.1 - Traditional or manners
    • 6.2 - Magic realism
  • 7 References

Story elements and their characteristics

The general elements of the story are the following:

- Characters

The characters are those who are responsible for carrying out the actions that take place in the story of the story, these can be represented by people, animals or objects. In general, these present physical, psychological and emotional characteristics that distinguish them from others.

On the other hand, a character can act as a narrator, that is, he tells what happens to him in the first person or he can also participate in the story and present it as an observer.

Now, according to their level of importance, the characters can be protagonists, secondary or referential. In relation to their actions, they are classified as good or bad.

Main characters

The main characters are those or the one who stars in the central plot of the story, placing the most important events around them. The qualities of these characters, in general, are positive in all aspects, in such a way that they arouse the interest of the reader. Example: José Claudio and Mariana de Wells by Mario Benedetti.

Secondary characters

This type of personages take part in some events of the story, generally carry out actions close to the protagonists and have a blood bond or fraternity with them. They usually support the main character in his decisions or accompany him in his adventures and circumstances. Example: Continuing with Benedetti's story, Alberto is the secondary character.

Incidental or referential characters

These characters participate very little in the story of the story and are often only named by the other characters to refer to a specific moment. Example: Enriqueta, Menéndez and Trelles are the referential characters of Wells.

- Storyteller

The narrator of a story is the one who reveals the story that unfolds in all its details. There are several types of narrators, the most used are the protagonist (or first person) and the omniscient (or know-it-all).

The writer Mario Benedetti. Source: Argentine magazine “Humor” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now, the main narrator tells the events from a personal point of view, since it is he to whom the events happen. While the omniscient is the one who knows every detail of what happens in the story and makes it known from a more objective perspective, it may or may not be a character in the story.

Main narrator

“The last customer of the night” by Marguerite Duras:

“… We had left Saint-Tropez in the afternoon, and drove until late at night. I don't remember exactly what year it was, it was in the middle of summer. I had known him since the beginning of the year. She had found him at a dance she had gone to alone. It's another story ... ".

Omniscient narrator

Wells by Mario Benedetti:

“… The voice was directed at the husband, but the eyes were fixed on the brother-in-law. He blinked and said nothing, but José Claudio replied: 'Not yet. Wait a Little while. First I want to smoke a cigarette. ' Now she looked at José Claudio and thought, for the thousandth time, that those eyes did not seem blind ... ".

- Action

The action refers to the acts carried out by the characters of the story within the story that is told. In general, the actions or events have a certain duration of time and take place in a specific place.

Image from the tale of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault. Source: Edward Frederick Brewtnall [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, action is the element capable of giving movement and transformation to the story, since from it entanglements are born and solutions are produced.


Fragment of The wells:

“José Claudio's hand began to move, feeling the sofa. What are you looking for? she asked. 'The lighter'. 'To your right'. The hand corrected course and found the lighter. With that trembling that gives the continuous search, the thumb rolled the wheel several times, but the flame did not appear ... ".

- Atmosphere

The environment is the place where the actions take place, that is, the space where the characters unfold. This element can vary according to the moment in which the story is given, being able to possess real or fictitious features.


Continuing with the example of the story by Mario Benedetti, the actions are carried out mainly in the living room of the married couple formed by José Claudio and Mariana.

- Atmosphere

The atmosphere refers to what is breathed in the story, that is, to the tensions, emotions or sensations that the characters convey. This element is associated with the environment where the events occur and with the main theme of the story.


The atmosphere in the Mario Benedetti story that has been taken as an example is one of tension, distrust and hostility due to José Claudio's suspicions of his wife's infidelity and at the same time because of his lack of vision. At times, nostalgia is breathed in front of the memories that Mariana has of the beginning of her relationship with José Claudio.

- Theme

The theme in the story refers to the central issue that involves the main characters.


The main theme in Wells is infidelity.

- Weather

Time refers to the length of the story. It can take hours, days, months, or years. The passage of time produces changes in the behavior of the characters and in their physical appearance.


In the aforementioned story by Mario Benedetti, time passes in the present of the mid-fifties, specifically, in the autumn season. Sometimes, there are jumps into the past through the memories of the character of Mariana.

“She barely opened her mouth and ran the tip of her tongue down her lower lip. A way like any other to start remembering. It was in March 1953, when he turned 35 and was still seeing… ".

Elements of the horror tale

Horror stories have the same elements of a different themed narrative. The above means that the story is made up of: characters, actions, environment, atmosphere, time and plot.

However, this type of literary subgenre has special components that determine its terrifying character. Some of the most common are:

- Suspense

Edgar Allan Poe, writer of horror stories. Source: Unknown; Restored by Yann Forget and Adam Cuerden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A horror story is endowed with suspense, that is, a period of time either silence, surprise or irruption that makes the story more attractive. Suspense is created to attract the reader's attention through a mysterious character or element.


Stephen King's "Survivor":

“… On deck, everything was confusion. I saw a woman running across the slippery deck, screaming and holding a child. As the ship tilted, she gained speed. Finally, he hit the gunwale at thigh level, jumped over her, gave two turns of the bells and disappeared from my sight ... ".

- Mystery

In every horror story the element of mystery is essential, thanks to this the normal and serene rhythm of the story is broken.


Continuing with the Stephen King story, the following excerpt is described:

“… The swelling and loss of color are even greater. I will wait until tomorrow. If the operation is essential, I think I can carry it out. I have matches to sterilize the knife and needles and thread from the sewing box. As a bandage, the shirt ... ".

Elements of the police tale

The detective story contains the general elements of this variety of narration (characters, actions, setting, plot, time and atmosphere) and incorporates others to make the story more substantial and interesting. Usually the characters are represented by policemen, detectives, murderers, thieves, good guys and bad guys..

Some of the different elements of police stories are:

- Investigation

In every police story there is an investigation, which makes the development of the story possible and produces the most relevant actions. The results will make possible the resolution of the case under investigation.


Taking the example of The crimes of morgue Street by Edgar Allan Poe, the investigation is based on discovering the perpetrator of the murders of a mother and daughter.

- Tracks

The clues are the traces left by criminals and followed by investigators to find out the causes of a crime, catch those involved and solve the plot.


In the story of Allan Poe mentioned above, the clues to find the murderer are not precise, since all they had was a brutal murder, so they had to go to testimonies to clarify the case.

- Hypothesis

The hypothesis is the assumption of what is believed to have occurred in the crime. In general, this theory is developed by the police or investigators and serves to guide the solution of the case.


On The crimes of morgue Street the hypothesis is represented by the investigators' assumption that the murders were committed by five men because of the atrocity at the crime scene. However, the story takes an unexpected turn.

Elements of the literary tale

The literary tale usually presents the same general elements of this narrative genre, that is, characters, environment, actions, atmosphere, time, among others. Now, the additional components are comparable to those of the traditional story, by virtue of the fact that it is based on writing.

The additional elements of a literary tale are:

- Written word

Every literary tale is made known in writing, which means that it does not go from generation to generation as in traditional ones..


- "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe.

- "The fear" by Ramón del Valle-Inclán.

- "The night of the ugly" by Mario Benedetti.

- An author and a version

Literary stories have an author, that is, they have not been made known through oral tradition. At the same time, the quality of having a writer generates a single version, its content, characters, actions, environment and other elements are maintained over time..


- "The flies" by Horacio Quiroga.

- "The night face up" by Julio Cortázar.

- "The owner of the canon" by José Urriola.

Science fiction story elements

The stories that belong to the subgenre of science fiction share the same elements as those previously described, they differ only in the type of events they expose. At the same time, they are framed within imaginary scientific themes..

In accordance with the above, it can be said that the components of this type of story are:

- Possible facts

In science fiction stories, facts or events are narrated that are associated with reality, but that occur in an imaginary environment with the support of all known sciences.


The last question from Isaac Asimov:

“… With miserable air, Zee Prime began to collect interstellar hydrogen with which to build a star of its own. If stars were ever to die, at least some could be built ... ".

- Conflict

Science fiction stories have a plot or plot that is generally associated with conflicts that originate in space. Also in artificial intelligence, in the use of technology, in unforeseen intergalactic phenomena and in human invention.


The conflict in the story The sentinel by Arthur Clarke is related to the discovery of a device found on the moon and research to find out its usefulness.

Elements of the Latin American tale

The Latin American tale is characterized by having the same variety of elements of the narratives described above, although with some additional ones. Among those we can mention are:

- Traditional or costumbrista

An outstanding feature of the Latin American tale is its traditional character. The above means that it is impregnated with characters, environments and language typical of a particular region, this in turn creates identification with the reading public.


The Burning Plain from Juan Rulfo:

“The late Torricos were always good friends of mine. Perhaps in Zapotlán they did not like them, but what is mine, they were always good friends, until a little while before they died. Now that they did not want them in Zapotlán did not have any importance ... This was from old times ".

- Magical realism

In most Latin American stories there is the presence of magical realism, that is, of events difficult to explain that cause surprise and amazement in the reader. This type of realism breaks with the tranquility of everyday life.


The light is like water by Gabriel García Márquez:

“… Called urgently, the firefighters forced the door to the fifth floor, and found the house full of light up to the ceiling. The sofa and the armchairs covered in leopard skin floated in the room at different levels ... ".


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