YW Workshop – Part 3

Part 1 — Stories and the Storyteller
Part 2 – Types of Stories
Part 3 — Elements of a Story
Part 4 — Characters
Part 5 — Dialogue
Part 6 – Poetry (Section A)

Elements of A Story

by Julie A. Serroul

Discussion on Part 2 of the Workshop:

In Part 2 of the Young Writer’s Workshop, the exercise was to examine some of your favorite novels and stories and attempt to pigeon-hole them into the different Genre Categories. Below I have chosen a select few story titles and done so as an example.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (by J.K. Rowling) Fantasy
Ghost Beach (Goosebumps Series, by R.L. Stine) Horror/Adventure
Dancing With an Alien (by Mary Logue) Science Fiction/Romance
Mystery at Fire Island (by Hope Campbell) Mystery
The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (by Hugh Lofting) Adventure/Comedy
Titan A.E., Cale’s Story (by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta) Science Fiction
Catch Me, I’m Falling In Love (by Mary Anderson) Romance

Part 3 — Elements of a Story

The Setting:

In order to decide on your Setting, you need to answer the questions, “Where is it?” and/or “When is it?” But the setting doesn’t just give the reader a picture in their mind of where/when the story is taking place. The Setting creates the Mood; It is vitally important that the Reader feels physically transported to your setting. The Reader needs to feel “there”, to the degree that they can describe it as if they actually had been there. Now, that doesn’t mean that you need to use three pages of descriptive words and phrases to accomplish this. In fact, you can make a very vivid setting with a paragraph or even just a few lines.

Setting is important at the beginning of your story, but it remains important all the way through your story – In other words get the reader “there” and keep them “there”. It is especially true with longer pieces, but even in a short story in can be sparingly done. If you really want your Reader to feel plunked into your little imaginary place, one enhancing method is to use some of their physical senses: Sight; Smell; Touch; Hearing; even Taste. Having your character rub the wooden arms of his kitchen chair, for instance, while he is thinking or speaking, will have the Reader feeling the grain of the wood brush across their own fingertips (in their imaginations, of course!). This type of Touch association is a strong connection for us as readers, because wooden surfaces are something most people have felt and can imagine easily. So, fit little details of your character’s environment into your work in bite-size pieces throughout your story. This is especially true if changing scenes – Paint the picture again – and that is what you are doing, painting a picture of your world in their mind and then dropping them inside it.

Another thing you may want to think about is what is going to happen in the scene or short story. Then give your readers a hint of what’s to come in the setting. You can play with the Reader’s emotions here, and create a little of what is called “foreshadowing”. For examples: Dark woods = Fear; Circus & Clowns = Happiness/Anticipation.


#1: Show, don’t tell. This is a very important detail to remember. Read the following:

It was a dark and scary night. It was cold, and it was so windy that the trees shook. Joe felt very afraid.

It didn’t take long to describe that sample to you because I told you the details. Now read the following:

The air was cold against Joe’s face, he barely felt the branch that scraped across his numb cheek. The wind howled as it whipped the tops of the trees surrounding him. He thrust his hands out into the inky blackness ahead, trying to feel his way, his own gasping breaths the only other sound he could hear.

The second sample took longer to write because I showed you the details, but I think you’ll agree that it is decidedly scarier than the first. Now, examine the second paragraph and see if you can pick out examples of the Senses. You should be able to find Touch, Hearing and Sight (although the Sight is a little tricky as it is “inky blackness” which may seem to be more absence of Sight!), but it wouldn’t be difficult to include Smell and Taste. Perhaps he could have smelled the musky, dank smell of the damp earth and moss beneath his feet. And as for Taste, he could have tasted his own sweat, tears, or had his scrape been bad enough, even blood (yuck!). Although you shouldn’t go overboard and use every sense, every time, used sparingly it is a very effective way of making your reader feel “there”.

#2: Don’t Stop to Think. Before writing anything remember that you don’t worry about spelling, sentence structure or anything else grammatical until later. Just relax and write for the first draft and then the fun’s over and the work begins, because if you want your work to be as relaxing to read as it was to write, then you have to “Edit” “Edit” “Edit” your next couple of drafts until you get it “just right”.


Think of a Setting – Decide what kind of “Mood” you’d like to have in your setting and write for 5 minutes describing your “Scene”. Use some of the tips above, and, if you like, send your finished piece to me – I’d love to have a look, and maybe we’ll even show your scene as an example.

In Part 4 of the Young Writer’s Workshop we’ll discuss Charaters, why you love them, why you hate them, and how to make them believable.

Go on to Part 4

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