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the 5 elements of story

Storytelling goes back thousands of years, crossing cultures and bridging divides. A good story has the power to entertain, educate, and inspire and as authors, this is our ultimate goal.

One of the ways you can achieve this is to consider the five elements of story in relation to your book idea. These five elements will be the foundation of your manuscript and spending time on each of these areas will contribute to the success of your work.

Keeping your book idea in mind, ask yourself if you have identified these five elements:

Element 1: Protagonist

Who is your main character and what is their defining characteristic? In the early stages, you don’t necessarily need detailed character profiles but knowing a defining characteristic will help you develop your character organically through the writing process. When I wrote the first few chapters of The Good Mother, I only knew that my protagonist was a woman called Catherine and her neighbours, family, and friends would describe her as generous, undertaking lots of volunteer work for her community. The rest of Catherine’s character developed as I wrote the novel.

Element 2: Situation

Once you’ve identified your main character, you need to think about the new situation they find themselves in and what inciting incident propelled them into that new world. Continuing with the example of Catherine in The Good Mother, her new situation was writing to a murderer in prison and although the reader doesn’t know it at the time, it was the death of her child that incited her to do that.

Karen Osman at desk reading The Good Mother

Element 3: Goal

Next, it’s time to think about what your protagonist wants – what is their goal or objective? For Catherine it was revenge. For Katniss in The Hunger Games, it was to win the competition and return to her family. For Iron Man in The Avengers, it was to save the world. By identifying the goal of your main character early, it will help guide your writing in the right direction.

Element 4: Antagonist

By identifying the antagonist in your story, otherwise known as the villain, baddie or opponent, you’re creating conflict in your book. In fiction, the antagonist is usually a character, but in non-fiction depending on the type of book you’re writing, it can be more of a concept or theme.

Element 5: Crisis

The final element is the disaster or crisis that your protagonist faces. Of course, there could be several disasters in your story but element five refers to the biggest challenge your main character has to overcome. If we take the example of The Hunger Games again, the crisis is when the game-makers change the rules at the last moment, forcing Katniss to choose

between killing her closest ally or being killed by him.

These five elements make up a story and it can take time to identify these for your own book.

You may even be tempted to ignore some of them and begin writing anyway but at some point, you will need to know who and / or what plays these roles. The earlier you know these elements, the easier the writing will be.



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I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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