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What is a Story Element?

Setting Story Elements


Simply put, a Story Element is a mandatory portion of a story. You can think of the story elements as the building blocks you’ll use to ensure your novel is strong. They are tools to help you design and evaluate your story.

Every scene in a novel is made up of story elements, and Fictionary groups the 38 Fictionary Story Elements into structure, character, plot, and setting.

Why do Elements of a Story Matter?

A great story is made up of a collection of great scenes structured in a compelling order. Fictionary shows you how to use the 38 Story Elements to create remarkable scenes, link them together, and finish a novel your readers will love.

Characters, plot, and settings are essential components of a great story.

Character, Plot, and Setting

38 Fictionary Story Elements

Download the 38 Fictionary Story Elements

Character, plot, and setting elements are all interrelated. One may be more important than the other depending on the type of story being written, but a story must have all three components. Therefore, every writer and editor must be talented in evaluating the three types of components.

Character elements include story elements such as Character per Scene, Point of View character, and Scene Impact on Protagonist.

Plot elements include story elements such as Scene Name, Purpose of a Scene, and Tension.

Setting elements include story elements such as Location, Time, and Objects.


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Story Form

First, we have to understand form. The Story Arc, the Chapter and Scene Structure,  and the Word Count per Scene make up the form of the story.

Story Content

Once the story is formed, you can start evaluating the story content against the 38 Fictionary Story Elements.

Every scene in a story is made up of story elements, and a writer or an editor must evaluate every scene against the story elements.

Let me stress, we’re talking about form and not formula.

“The choices a writer makes about each scene makes a story unique.”

Story elements help you focus on what to consider and where to make creative choices. The choices a writer makes about each scene, the story elements, and the placement of the scenes all contribute to the story’s uniqueness.

A scene that is evaluated against the story elements will lead to the scene being rewritten in a way that brings the scene to life.

Remember, all the story elements work together in an interrelated manner. They get lonely on their own 🙂


“Fictionary is about the ART of STORY DESIGN.”

A great story is made up of a collection of great scenes that flow smoothly from one to another. Fictionary shows you how to use the 38 Story Elements to create and link great scenes, turning those scenes into a powerful story.

Why 38 Story Elements and not 5 or 7 or 8?

Do an internet search looking for story elements, and you’ll often find articles about 5, or 7, or 8 story elements. Evaluating a story against a low number of story elements will not make a story great.

Performing a story edit on a novel is a cognitively, complex task.  To do it well, both a writer and an editor need an organized method to ensure they cover all the winning elements of a story.

There are 15 basic story elements in Fictionary. This gives the author a focussed place to start their story edit. We believe this is the minimum number of story elements needed to be evaluated for each scene for an author to improve their story.

If you’d like to learn more about the basic story elements, download our free ebook: Basic Story Elements of Fictionary.

An exceptional editor will know all 38 story elements and how to evaluate a story against them. They should never use just the 15 basic story elements.

When to Edit with the Story Elements

A story edit can only be performed once a draft manuscript is written.  The story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I know that sounds obvious, but if the whole structure isn’t there, the manuscript is not a draft yet. Along with the beginning, the middle, and the end, the story must also include the inciting incident, plot point one, middle, plot point 2, and climax.  All the connecting scenes are also written.

Story Arc Review

There must be an inciting incident, which is whatever happens to shift the protagonist from their ordinary life.

Plot point one is where the protagonist can’t turn back from this new challenge, whatever it is, in the story.

The middle is where they start to muck things up, they get proactive instead of reactive and they’re going to move towards plot point two which will be their lowest point in the novel.

Then on to the climax, which is the scene with the most tension and where the reader learns if the protagonists wins or loses when it comes to achieving the story goal. A resolution follows the climax.

Once a draft is written, only then can a story edit be performed using the 38 Fictionary Story Elements. The elements all work together, and the editing includes looking at the overall structure, each scene, and back to the overall structure.

How to check if a story arc is consistent?

The story arc is one way to evaluate the structure of a story.

Fictionary Story Arc Ranges

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Character Story Elements

Evaluate and revise your story against the Character Story Elements, and you’ll create captivating characters. You’ll start by looking at who is in a scene. This is critical for having control over your story. For every character, ask if the character is needed in the scene. Do they serve a purpose? If not, it might be time to cut them. Yes, harsh, but sometimes necessary.

Once you know who is in the scene, look to see if the point of view character is the right one. This means asking who will be impacted most by the scene. If it’s not the POV character, it might be time to choose a different one.

If a character doesn’t want something badly, what are they doing being the point of view character for the scene?

And even if they do want something, is it related to the story? If not, it’s the wrong thing to want.

What happens if the character doesn’t get what they want? Are there consequences? If not, again it’s the wrong thing to want.

Read the scene and ask: How does this scene impact the point of view character and the protagonist (if they are not the POV character)? If the character’s emotional state doesn’t change from the beginning of the scene to the end, the character will seem flat, and hence the scene is boring.

List what the POV character knows. Then remember to check they can only action of events they know about.

And finally, are the characters in motion? Characters who don’t move are dull.


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Plot Story Elements

Naming a scene is one of my favorite elements. It gives you an after draft outline to help you revise your story. It also means the scene has focus.

Read The Story Arc & Why Stories Captivate Readers to learn all about the Story Arc.

The purpose of the scene is why the scene is in the story.

Varying the scene opening and closing types ensures you keep the story from being repetitive.

If a reader is not anchored in point of view, location, and time, they will get confused and may stop reading.

Entry and exits hooks grab the reader and keep them engaged in the story.

Either tension or conflict must be in every scene. Without one, the story drags. To do this well, you must understand the difference between tension and conflict.

Revelation, backstory, and flashbacks contain what the reader needs to know and nothing more. We’ve put together two checklist for flashbacks and backstory.

The scene middle is the turning point of the scene and the climax is the most exciting part of the scene.

Keeping track of the flow of action and sequel scenes helps you control the pacing.

When the reader knows something the protagonist doesn’t, you’ve automatically added suspense.

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Setting Story Elements

The setting elements are often under or over utilized. But first, it’s important that we are working from the same definitions of what is setting in a story.

The location, and yes, you guessed it, is where the scene takes place. Don’t let this be chosen automatically. Strategically choose the location for the maximum tension.

Date/and time are when the scene happens.

Objects are things in the scene.

The senses help the reader experience the scene through the character. This is how you control connecting readers to characters.

When you review the emotional impact of the location, ask if you chose a different place would there be more tension? If the answer is yes, choose a new location.

Keeping track of changes in location (location split) within a scene means if a scene gets too long, then a location change is a good place to break the scenes into two scenes.

Weather is not just about having weather. It’s about using the weather to increase tension or conflict, so choose the weather wisely.

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Story Elements and Creativity

Story elements don’t limit your creativity. They ignite it!

The elements force you to evaluate your story in a structured manner, and by evaluating your story, you’ll come up with new ideas to make your story better. The Story Elements focus you on what to consider and where to make creative changes.

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The Top 5 Mistakes Story Editors Make

  1. Being subjective instead of objective
  2. Not being comprehensive
  3. Being vague instead of specific
  4. Favoring big-picture editing over details and vice versa
  5. Too much copyediting

How to get better at structural editing?

As an editor, it’s important to avoid the top 5 mistakes.

​1. An Exceptional Editor is Objective

Have you ever had a client who said, “I don’t like your advice. You’re just one person with an opinion.”?

This means the writer thought the edit was subjective instead of objective. To be an exceptional editor you need to know how to give objective advice that motivates a writer instead of sending them into a world of despair and making them think they can’t write.

Personal biases must be removed from the editor’s work. Some editors focus on characters, some on plot, some on setting, and horrors…on copyediting instead of story editing.

​2. An Exceptional Editor is Comprehensive

There are 38 Fictionary story elements. An editor must evaluate the story against these elements if they want to be comprehensive.

​3. An Exceptional Editor is Specific

Advice that is specific and actionable gives the writer a way to improve. Vague advice is not helpful. The advice I really don’t care for is, “Make your protagonist likable.” What does that mean? As a writer, what am I supposed to do with that vague recommendation?

​4. An Exceptional Editor Gives Big-picture and Detailed Advice

​This means you’ll give advice about the overall story structure right down to the scene level.

5. An Exceptional STORY Editor Does Minimal Copyediting

If you’d like to learn more about why it’s important not to copyedit while story editing, our course An Insider’s Guide to Story Editing as a complete section on what copyediting is along with examples for real edits on what is too much copyediting, what is good copyediting, and when copyediting is considered editor intrusion.

You can take the course using coupon code INSIDERSVIEW and get the course for $39US instead of $99.  That’s my gift just because you’re reading this blog post.


Download our free eBook to learn more about the Fictionary Story Elements.

Fictionary Story Element eBook

When do you ever get to see what a story editor delivers to a client if the client is not you?

Fictionary Insider's View to Story Editing

Our course gives you an insider’s view of what happens in a story edit. This is similar to a structural or substantive edit for fiction.

Before you hire an editor or edit your own story, it’s important to understand what a story edit is.

Thirteen professional editors edited the same novel.

Each editor worked separately in Fictionary StoryCoach.

This course evaluates their edits and shows you what worked and what didn’t. We’ll show you two scenes before editing and after revisions based on the editors’ suggestions. We even compare the editors’ summary letters and per scene notes.

For writers looking to hire a professional story editor, this course shows you what you should receive from a story editor. It will also show you how an editor might look at your story.’

Sign up now for great value.

On sale for $39 USD. Use Coupon INSIDERSVIEW
Regular Price: $99.

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StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?