Boulder Writing Critique and Workshop Message Board › Here are descriptions of the Five Elements of Story for Critique.
|A former member||
The Five Elements of Story for Critique.
THEME, SETTING, PLOT, CONFLICT, AND CHARACTER.
The theme is what the story is about. It is the central topic but it’s usually not presented directly. The theme is the truth behind the story and is the connection between the writer and the reader. Theme, plot, and structure are inseparable and in a sense, everything in the story is linked to the theme.
Usually when a reader gives the writer overall reactions to a story the theme is included. It should be that clear in a readers first impression. Without one central theme a writer’s work will lack focus for the reader. In critique groups, a reader can usually find a one central theme quickly, even in the process of an early work, and even if the writer hasn’t seen it yet.
There can be more than one theme in a story but one dominant theme should be obvious to the reader and should carry throughout the story.
Setting is the picture the writer paints for the reader. A writer is the eye in the story and what the writer creates needs to get across to the reader enough to keep the readers interest-- enough so that the reader can visualize some sights, sounds, and colors through the writer’s language.
Sometimes with settings that are familiar to the reader, our minds will fill in the rest on just a few clues from the writer.
If the setting is unique, new and unfamiliar to the reader , describing the setting in more detail might be more important.
Setting is sometimes filled in last. So keep in mind which draft you are reading. If you feel like you are just not there at all in the setting of the story, the writer needs to know. A piece should be prepared to make some of that connection.
Sometimes it’s hard for a writer to know how much setting is required for the reader. So this is where a critique is valuable.
Plot is a sequence of events, the reason why things happen in a story. Plot helps the reader understand the choices the character makes and gives that story its shape.
A story should have some movement. You should have a sense that it is going somewhere. If the story seems to stall, if you are losing interest as a reader and it is somehow related to timing more than a general feeling about the writing overall, then maybe the plot needs some attention.
Does a scene go on too long? Is something repeated that has already been addressed? Does enough happen to keep us interested?
The pattern of events accomplishes some effect for the reader.
Sometimes there are subplots. Sometimes there is a braided or back story which has its own plot. By the time a writer has brought a story to a critique group they have spent hours with it. There might be a different starting point which would be indicated by a readers interest. This insight can go a long way in having a writer start to rearrange their own story when it needs it.
Conflict is central to the plot. If something is acquired too easily, there is less drama, less conflict. Conflict is one side against the other, a desirable instability that helps hold a readers interest.
If a story feels flat for you when you are reading it, it might be because the conflict isn’t there, or isn’t clear.
There are several different kinds of conflict: A conflict with self (Internal), a conflict in a relationship (Relational) , or a problem that is outside the protagonist (External).
If you read a story that keeps your interest there probably is conflict.
Conflict reaches a high point, a climax, which is the turning point of the story. Something happens that resolves that conflict.
As a reader you might also find, there is not enough. A critique group helps to determine if the writer has made the conflict clear, has made the reader ask questions and wonder what will happen, sometimes trying to predict the outcome.
The character is the story and guides the reader through that story. A character can be a person, an animal or a thing presented by the writer .
Characters don’t always have to be likeable but the reader has to relate to the character in some way.
The character is the medium that the writer uses where the reader interacts with the story. The character also has personality traits that help with the plot and create mood. The character itself is an important tool for the writer and is the heart of the story that evokes emotion from the reader.
If the story is lacking some feeling for the reader, there are probably not enough of the character tools utilized by the writer.
Another part of story…
Voice is the tone, the unique quality the author lends to the writing. Voice can be hard to obtain, and sometimes easy to lose. Most of us have a writer’s voice that aligns with our own speaking voice. Some of us have a writer’s voice that is above our speaking voice. Some people write in a voice that is somewhere below their speaking voice.
Sometimes the flow of writing is interrupted by a shift in voice. Sometimes the voice of a narrator, like an “offstage” voice can creep into a story. This might be a writer’s way of making notes to himself in the writing process, but doesn’t belong in the end story for an audience.
If flow breaks in a piece it can sometimes be voice; the use of a wrong word, etc.
Another part of story…
POINT OF VIEW
Someone is between the reader and the story. That is the person who is telling the story, the point of view.
Some other points to keep in mind for critique;
ADDRESS THE QUESTIONS THE WRITER MAY ASK.
After the time and dedication a writer has put into their work, critique time is valuable. If a writer has addressed the group with questions and thoughts about the piece that is being presented, please take the time to read and address those questions. Critique the work according to what the writer has told you about the piece and the questions that are asked.
There are several different stages to works in progress. In the interests of time to the writer and reader pay attention to the writer’s ultimate goal:
Which draft you are reading? Early drafts still have a long way to go. As a reader you are offering guidance to a future finished piece.
The author’s plans for the piece. Who is the author’s likely audience? What genre is the piece?
Where the piece is in relation to the author’s entire work? Is it a chapter, short story, the beginning, intro, or end of a book?
Does the author have plans to revise the piece further? If so, don’t restructure the writers work at this point. Spend time on other areas of critique.