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What Are Literature Elements?

Pablo Garcia
Pablo Garcia

Literature elements are the essential components for the creation of a literary work. These include things such as theme, structure, character, and the narrative point of view of the work. Poetry shares some of the elements of fiction and also has some distinct elements of its own. Literary elements make up the basic structure which the author uses to express the ideas contained in the theme of the work. What makes the story, novel, or poem classic literature is the craft with which the author brings those elements to life.

Theme is one of the central literature elements. It is what the story is really “about.” For instance, Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment could be said to be about the theme of redemption. The poem “Ash Wednesday,” by American poet T.S. Elliot, suggests the theme of a doubter’s struggle to accept the existence of God.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Structure and plot are also important in literature. They act as a guide to the reader as to where the story is leading. Structure involves a beginning, middle, and end to the story and can be arranged in many ways. Plot keeps the reader involved in the narrative of the story and can provide clues as to what may happen to the characters.

The setting of a story involves the time and place of the narrative. The setting can determine how the characters might think, feel, and act. A story set in a brothel will have different themes and characterizations than one set in a monastery. Setting can also determine how the characters would speak and the kind of dialogue they would use.

The element of character establishes the personality and outlook of the principal character or “protagonist” of the story. The story may be told from the point of view of the protagonist in the first person. It can also be told in the third person by a narrator, who explains the characters' backgrounds and motivations.

Most literary works set up some sort of conflict for the protagonist and other characters important to the story. Conflict involves opposing forces of some kind. This can be a conflict with the wills of other individuals or with social norms. Conflict can also involve impersonal forces like nature, or deal with political or religious ideas.

Narrative poems, which are poems that tell stories, have some of the same literature elements as do short stories, plays, and novels. Such poems employ theme, structure, conflict and setting. Poetry contains distinct literature elements such as metaphor, symbolism, and lyrical rhythm for words. Traditional stories sometime use these same poetic elements as part of the style of the story. Recognizing these elements is important to the study of literature.

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