Setting is all about “when” and “where.” It could be a specific time and place, like Brooklyn, New York, in the summer of 1986. Or it could be more of a description, like, a crisp, chilly autumn morning. Location, time of day and weather are all part of a story’s setting. The best setting descriptions are full of details and often include at least some of the five senses in what they describe: how a place looks, smells, sounds, feels (the ‘mood’) and...if it’s a setting in a castle with candy walls...tastes.
Plot is the term for the events that make up a story and how they relate to each other. The plot is sometimes called the storyline. Take a familiar story like The Three Little Pigs. What’s the plot? Three pigs decide to build houses out of different materials. A hungry wolf comes along and blows the first two houses down. When he can’t blow the last one down, he tries to get the pigs another way. They end up getting him instead. The plot should give you a good sense of what the story is about and often includes the conflict, the climax (the most exciting point that the story builds up to) and the resolution (when the conflict is over).
A character is simply somebody in a story. Everyone in the story is a character! The characters and their actions are what move the plot along by doing things. Even when characters don’t seem to DO much—like a couch potato brother who sits around playing video games all day—they still give you a lot of information. The main character is the most important person in a story. There are also secondary characters—the action doesn’t revolve around them, but they can often be the most memorable.
Characters usually have “traits.” These are details about how a person acts, what they look like and what they might do. A character could be red-headed and shy. Another character could be 100 years old and a lover of skateboarding.
A conflict is a problem in a story. There are the things that the main characters wants to do, and then there are the things that get in the way of what he or she wants to do. That’s usually the conflict. If somebody wants to go on a trip, but doesn’t have the money to pay for it, that’s a conflict. If somebody has to go to school every day, but there’s a ghost that keeps tripping them in the hallway, that’s a conflict.
There are internal conflicts and external conflicts. An external conflict is a problem that comes from the world around a character. A neighborhood bully, a thunderstorm when you want to go to the beach, those are external conflicts. Then there are internal conflicts—those that happen in your mind. If you find a $100-dollar bill on the street in front of your house, do you keep it or try to find out who it belongs to? If a character is struggling with something, he or she has an internal conflict.
The theme of a story is the main idea. It goes beyond the specific details of the story and is about a more universal idea that the story has at its core. In a story about a kid who’s graduating from high school and starting college, there could be lots of details about his life now and what his life will be like in the future. He’s excited about the future, but he’s sad to leave behind his hometown. The theme for that story might be “growing up” also known as “coming of age.” Other themes that get used a lot in stories are friendship, loyalty, courage, loneliness and freedom.