What Are the Different Characteristics of Fiction?

H. Lo

Fiction is any narrative work in which the events that take place are imaginary. Anything that fits within the parameters of this definition can generally be a work of fiction, no matter the format or genre. For example, a fantasy book can be fiction, and the same goes for a science fiction movie. Characteristics of fiction vary, depending on personal opinion, but the usual elements different people will list are character, plot and point of view. Setting, style and theme are additional characteristics of fiction.

Fiction involves imaginary events, such as an asteroid striking Earth.
Fiction involves imaginary events, such as an asteroid striking Earth.

A character is a figure in the story who can take a major or minor role. Characterization, the method by which the author shows who a character is, reveals him or her to be either static or flat, or dynamic or rounded. The plot is the action, or sequence of events, that makes up the story; main elements of a typical plot include conflict, climax and resolution. Point of view refers to how the author tells the story and from whose perspective. For example, a story might be told by the main character using a first-person point of view or by a narrator using a third-person point of view.

Important aspects of fictional works include plot, character, and point of view.
Important aspects of fictional works include plot, character, and point of view.

The setting is the time, place and social environment in which the story unfolds; it is the setting that provides a background for the characters and the plot to develop. Style refers to how the author uses language to tell the story. The author’s choice of words, or diction, as well as how he uses those words, or syntax, make up the style of writing and, therefore, the tone of the story. The theme is the story’s main idea or meaning; in general, it is the message that comes from the story. The idea of a theme can sometimes be hard to grasp and does not necessarily refer to morals; in addition, it should not be confused with the story’s plot or subject matter.

As fundamental as these main characteristics of fiction are, it is important to understand that works of fiction are not bound by them. Since fiction is either partially or wholly imagined by its author, and many other fictional works do step outside the boundaries. In addition, the value of certain characteristics of fiction over others is subjective. An author who does not see the importance of setting within the context of his story, for example, might de-emphasize it in favor of other characteristics.

Under the rubric of fiction, there are many sub-genres, including mysteries and historical fiction.
Under the rubric of fiction, there are many sub-genres, including mysteries and historical fiction.

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Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - One day my son brought home a book of realistic fiction he was reading in school. I was shocked. There was a lot of profanity and drugs and even some hints at sex in the book.

Realistic fiction characteristics are more raw and visceral, at least if this book is any indication. It wasn’t a bad book really. It was a mystery novel, and it was written so well I started reading it and couldn’t put it down.

Still, it’s definitely different. I didn’t tell my son he couldn’t read it, but I told him to think critically about what he is reading, including all the “bad” stuff that was in it.


@SkyWhisperer - I notice that nowadays a lot of fiction is written from first person point of view. I’ve never liked that approach. It’s less subtle and it limits the narrator. He is not omniscient.

I’ve never understood why more fiction writers are choosing to write this way. I think it’s because we’ve become more psychoanalytical as a culture, wanting to delve into the character’s deepest, innermost thoughts.

However, with first person point of view, there’s almost a voyeuristic quality to it. The narrator is telling you everything he is thinking.


@David09 - What makes it challenging is that fiction books reflect different writing styles. So you have to get used to how the author is making his point first and then figure out what he is saying.

Take setting. I’ve always loved Ernest Hemingway for the way he treated setting and description. That is to say, there was very little of it. He focused on dialogue and action to move the story along.

I actually think Hemingway is easier to understand for that reason alone. Not every author is Hemingway of course. You will find writers who weave their themes into the story by the way they describe setting, and you have to pay attention there.

Debate is good either way. I don’t think we can know for certainty what the author is saying but we should be able to make a good argument. You marshal your evidence by picking up on story elements.


Of all the different elements of fiction described here, I think theme is what students debate the most. I remember many classroom discussions in college where we all had our ideas of what the author was trying to say.

Some people took a more subjective approach to interpretation, believing that it was impossible to know for sure what the author meant and that you can read whatever you wanted to in the story.

Some people, like me, were a little more rigid, and believed that through a careful analysis of the text, it was possible to figure out the theme and the author’s intentions. Needless to say, I was in the minority.

I’ve mellowed a little more in my older years, but I still believe it’s possible to get a reasonable grasp on the theme of the story. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing the story in the first place? I think authors write to be understood.

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