The Elements of a Novel

Let us get a brief overview of the elements of a novel before we can write our own. It is definitely a fine idea to understand these elements and how a good writer uses them to produce a fine piece of work.

One word of caution though: do not fret about getting all the details exactly right. Relax, breathe and let your imagination soar.


Remember always to be flexible. You will never find information that is all inclusive, nor will you find that which tells you exactly what a novel entails. Rather, all this flood of information simply gives you a rough boundary so that you know how far you can stray. However, within this boundary, you are free to exercise your imagination in any way you fancy.


Above all: have fun! If you enjoy it, you are certain to achieve success.


So this is how we are going to work: after getting a brief overview of the elements of a novel, we are then going to tackle each and every one of these in detail in future articles. It might seem daunting, but when you take one thing at a time, everything is easy.


Okay, let us take a close look at the elements of a novel.


  • Plot:

    Before you even write a book, you should have a good idea of what it is going to be about. You have everything well thought out, and you are bursting with ideas that you can’t wait to put on paper. In your mind, you can visualize the events, and you very well know the way your story should flow. You want it to end in a certain way and you desire the reader to be affected in a certain manner.

    Yes, you have a rough idea of how the events should flow from the very beginning down to the very end. Your story will not simply be a combination of unrelated and haphazard events. Rather, these events will be arranged in a certain pattern, with discernable logical transitions between them. Indeed these events are bridged, so that your reader will ‘journey’ on without encountering confusing gaps.

    This in essence, is what a plot is: a flow of events in a story. The plot has five parts to it, and these are:

    • exposition

    • rising action

    • climax

    • falling action

    • resolution

    Let us discuss each of these in detail.

    1. Exposition


      This is where you introduce the characters, the setting, and the conflict. This is where you set the stage, so to speak—that proverbial stage where your characters are going to act and where all the action is going to take place.

      The exposition is the part of the novel of least action, but that does not mean it is not important. It is in fact the most important part of your plot. This is because it is where you set the ground work; the foundation of your whole book. A poor foundation will render your whole weak useless. Is it not true that most of us put books away because the first few pages are down right boring?

      So pay particular attention to the exposition.

    2. Rising Action

      Ah! This is where the novel starts getting interesting. The characters start acting. They get caught up in problems and/ or move to solve these problems. The reader is gripped by the action. The transition from exposition to rising action should happy early on so as to engage the reader and keep her reading. If this transition does not happen early enough, your reader will get bored and won’t see the point of reading on.

    3. Climax

      This is where the action reaches its peak. The conflict is highest. At this point, the reader cannot simply put the book down.

      Falling Action

    4. After the graph of activity reaches its maximum, it rapidly starts dropping. During this period, the truth is brought out, and all the mysteries are solved.

    5. Resolution

      The conflict is resolved, and the story comes to its end. The reader responds with a sigh, a chuckle, a sniffle, a frown—whatever response you intended.

  • Setting

    The setting refers to the place and time in which you set your story. Settings in novels must be realistic to life. The sounds and the sights should be those that the reader is conversant with, those in real life, those that she can easily imagine.

  • characterization

    The characters in a novel are realistic and have full human attributes. They feel the sting of failure, the twinge of conscience due to wrong doing, the joy of friendship, and a vast number of human emotions. They have hopes, dreams and ambitions.

    The character is one of the most important of the elements of a novel, because it is through them that the author tells the story.

    Simply put, there is no story without the characters.

  • Theme

    This is the major idea, or motif, that permeates the whole work. This motif recurs throughout from the beginning to the end. It is the writer’s very reason for writing.

    Some writers want to mock the brutish realities of life, the corrupt practices of people in power, or they simply want to bring out a certain point about life.

  • Conflict

    The conflict, tension or problem is what makes the story move.Of the elements of a novel, this one is one of the most important. The characters move to solve this conflict, and their endeavours to solve these problems are what make the story worth reading. Without conflict, there is no story.

    Here is the blue print of a normal story:

    A problem arises----character(s) move to solve problem---Problem solved.

    You will find this sequence in all stories. It is all about problems…


With this succinct look at the elements of a novel, you are now ready to write your own, aren’t you?

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