CSUN  Wordmark
Pat Swenson, CSUN - Elements of Fiction Analysis
literature banner

Prof Pat Swenson

Campus Email: pat.swenson@csun.edu

ProfPat's Main Page

ProfPat's Education Links

Department Information

Department of English

708 Sierra Tower
Phone: 818.677.3431

English Department Website

Liberal Studies Program

EA 100
Phone: 818.677.3300

Liberal Studies Website

Elements of Fiction Analysis



The purpose of literature is not to simply reveal information, but to reveal something about the characters and their lives – to reveal the human condition. The protagonist is the central character, or hero, and is considered dynamic. In other words, the character grows as a person, learns a vital lesson, or becomes something else. A static character, despite credibility, does not change in the story.

Point of View (POV)

Stories are told from the point of view of a narrator. When the narrator is a character it is referred to as first-person narration. If we have reason to doubt the information we are getting, we call the narrator unreliable. In third person narration, the narrator can have omniscience (all-knowing) or limited omniscience (narrator tells us the feelings/thoughts of only one character). Stream of consciousness narration shows us the continuous stream of inner feelings and thoughts of one character.

Plot & Conflict

Plot is a linked chain of events. A narrator may present these events out of chronological order through a flashback. A complication in the character’s lives introduces the story’s conflict, which occurs when the protagonist struggles against an antagonist or opposing force. There are four different kinds of conflict:

     Person-against-self - an internal conflict of feelings.

     Person-against-person - the typical protagonist vs. antagonist scenario.

     Person-against-society - the protagonist battles against the larger organizations of society
      (or a system of beliefs held by society).

     Person-against-nature - the protagonist is threatened by a component of nature.

The chain of events, known as the rising action, builds to a climax, the point in a story where the conflict is decided. Sometimes a writer will use the technique of foreshadowing by planting clues about the outcome or about conflict that will occur later in the story. Following the climax is a resolution, or denouement. In a closed ending, loose ends are tied up – the fate and perhaps the future of the characters is revealed. An open ending does not offer a complete resolution – the reader is left to imagine the fate of the characters.


Theme in literature is the idea that holds the story together, such as a comment about society, human nature, or the human condition. It is the main idea or central meaning of a piece of writing.


The writer may use a symbol, a person, object, situation, or action that operates on two levels of meaning. A motif is an image, object, character, situation, theme, or word that the writer uses repeatedly throughout a story – many times it carries a symbolic meaning.


Setting is the locale in which you find the characters. Description of setting can establish the atmosphere, mood, or tone of the story, the emotional state the writer wants you to be in while you read the story.