Literary Elements


Literary devices are common structures in writing that make up the components of literature.  We use these devices to help us interpret and analyze literary works.  The names of literary devices may also be called literary terms. Literary devices include both literary elements and literary techniques. Literary elements are the essential parts of storytelling that are found in almost all types of literary and narrative writing.

A literary element, or narrative element, or element of literature is a constituent of all works of narrative fiction—a necessary feature of verbal storytelling that can be found in any written or spoken narrative. For example, plot, theme, character and tone are literary elements. Literary Elements have an innate presence in the literary piece and are widely hired by writers to develop a literary piece e.g. plot, setting, mood, characters, narrative structure, theme, moral etc. 

Common Literary Elements —

Narrator: A person who tells the story.

Plot: Plot is known as the foundation of a novel or story, around which the characters and settings are built. The plot is a literary term used to describe the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. It is the logical sequence of events that develop a story. The structure of a novel depends on the organization of events in the plot of the story. 

There are five main elements in a plot.
  • Introduction or Exposition 
The introduction is the beginning of the story, where the characters and setting are established. The conflict or main problem is introduced.
  • Rising Action
Rising action occurs when a series of events build up to the conflict. The main characters are established by the time the rising action of a plot occurs, and events at the same time, begin to get complicated. It is during this part of a story that excitement, tension, or crisis occurs.
  • Climax
In the climax or the main point of the plot, there is a turning point of the story. This is meant to be the moment of highest interest and emotion, leaving the reader wondering what is going to happen next.
  • Falling Action
Falling action, occurs when events and complications begin to resolve. The results of the actions of the main characters are put forward.
  • Resolution
Resolution, or the conclusion, is the end of a story, which may occur with either a happy or a tragic ending.

Dialogue: A dialogue is a literary technique in which writers employ two or more characters to be engaged in conversation with one another. Generally, a dialogue makes a literary work enjoyable and lively, where characters of a narrative speak to one another. The use of dialogue is prevalent in fiction, but this technique can also be found in poetry, non-fiction, films, and drama. Moreover, dialogue makes a literary piece interesting and alive, and gives enjoyable experience to the readers.

There are two types of dialogue in literature:
  • Inner Dialogue – the characters speak to themselves and reveal their personalities. Writers employ literary techniques to use inner dialogue, like stream of consciousness or dramatic monologue. We often find such dialogues in the works of James Joyce, Virginia Wolf, and William Faulkner.
  • Outer Dialogue –  is a simple conversation between two characters, used in almost all types of fictional works.

Mood: In literature, mood is a literary element that evokes certain feelings or vibes in readers through words and descriptions. Mood is referred to as the general atmosphere of a literary piece, as it creates an emotional setting that surrounds the readers. Mood is developed in a literary piece through various methods, including setting, theme, tone, and diction.

Setting: It refers to the time and place in which a story takes place. The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. 

Narrative method: Narrative is a report of related events presented to listeners or readers, in words arranged in a logical sequence. The manner in which a narrative is presented comprising plot and setting. Therefore, writers employ narrative techniques in their works to attract readership. The readers are not only entertained, but also learn some underlying message from the narratives.

Conflict: conflict is a literary element that involves a struggle between two opposing forces, usually a protagonist and an antagonist. It is an issue in a narrative around which the whole story revolves. It is essential for a writer to introduce and develop conflict, whether internal, external, or both, in his storyline in order to achieve the story’s goal. Resolution of the conflict entertains the readers.

Antagonist: an antagonist is a character, or a group of characters, which stands in opposition to the protagonist, which is the main character. It is common to refer to an antagonist as a villain (the bad guy), against whom a hero (the good guy) fights in order to save himself or others.  e.g. Claudius in the play Hamlet

Protagonist: A protagonist is the central character or leading figure in poetry, play, narrative, novel, or any other story. A protagonist is sometimes called a “hero” by the audience or readers. Regardless of what title you give a protagonist, he or she remains the key ingredient in the development of the story, which is why the story revolves around him or her. The protagonist struggles against the antagonist, taking the plot to a climax. e.g. Hamlet in the play Hamlet

Theme: Theme is defined as a main idea or an underlying meaning of a literary work, which may be stated directly or indirectly. It is central idea or concept of a story. Major and minor themes are two types of themes that appear in literary works. Examples of theme in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” are matrimony, love, friendship, and affection. The whole narrative revolves around the major theme of matrimony. Its minor themes are love, friendship, exaggeration etc.

Tone: Tone, is an attitude of a writer toward a subject or an audience. Tone is generally conveyed through the choice of words, or the viewpoint of a writer on a particular subject. The manner in which a writer approaches this theme and subject is the tone.
short examples of tone –
    • The kind touch of her mother’s hand comforted her in her pain.
    • The singing of birds was deemed a messenger for approaching spring.
    • He was on his way to home when he saw a boy of ten, who moved his heart as he stood weeping.

Literary terms refer to the style, technique, and formatting used by writers and speakers to ingeniously emphasize, elaborate, or strengthen compositions. A literary element, or narrative element, or element of literature is a constituent of all works of narrative fiction—a necessary feature of verbal storytelling that can be found in any written or spoken narrative. Authors use literary elements to make their writing more interesting. Instructors use them as starting points for analysing and discussing the literature students read. Literary terms have a wide range of application, from the poet’s beauty, to the speaker’s influence, to the novelist’s story progress.