Which element dominates the stories you write and read?
The Four Elements
Your choice reflects your passion. Whichever element is strongest in your story is the one you should concentrate on writing. This does not mean you exclude the others. It simply helps you find your ‘voice’ and write to your strengths. All stories require a good plot. Identifying the type of story you like to write about is not the same as plotting. However, it will give you guidelines for choosing plots that suit your writing style.
Air = Mystery
If you plot a story around a question – uncovering information, looking for someone and searching for clues – mystery is the most important element. Your story begins with a question and ends with an answer. All mysteries follow the format of the chase, as do most adventure stories.
Examples: The Firm, The Da Vinci Code, Black & Blue, The Poet, The Star, Sherlock Holmes, The Hunt for Red October, The Colour of Magic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Animal Farm, The Fugitive
The best way to tell this story? You want a character to find out who did it, how they did it and why they did it. Tell the story from the viewpoint of both the protagonist and the antagonist.
Earth = Setting
If you plot a story around the world you create, the setting is your most important element. Your character travels to a new ‘world’, changes and chooses to either stay in that world or come home. Your story begins when the character arrives in this setting and ends when he leaves. Some Science Fiction and Fantasy novels fit into this category. Historical, and pioneering, journeys also qualify for this story type.
Examples: Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Shogun, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, The Fountainhead, Treasure Island, Mort, The Magic Faraway Tree, On the Road, The Heart of Darkness, Spud
The best way to tell this story? You want a character to explore or discover your creation. Tell the story from that character’s viewpoint.
Water = Character
If you plot a story around a character whose ‘character’ changes then this is your element. The protagonist’s role in society changes. Your book begins when the character is so unhappy that he begins to change. It ends when the character either accepts a new role or remains in the old role. The character could end up being happy or unhappy whichever way the story ends.
Examples: Room, To Kill A Mockingbird, Pride & Prejudice, The Prince of Tides, A Man in Full, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, White Oleander, The Pilot’s Wife, I Know This Much is True, Gone with the Wind, Emma, The Great Gatsby, The Old Man & The Sea
The best way to tell this story? You want to watch the character change. Tell the story mainly from that character’s viewpoint, using first or third person. Using other characters as viewpoint characters adds mystery, texture and perspective.
Fire = Happening
If you plot a story around ‘something’ that happens that makes the world a dangerous place, this is your element. Your book begins when a threat is perceived; it moves into a journey and builds up to a battle. The story ends when a new order takes over, an old order is restored or when anarchy descends. The plot here is the quest. All fantasy and science fiction uses this ‘happening’ for a story premise. The hero here has to find something or someone who can save the world. Sometimes, the hero is the saviour.
Examples: The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Dune, Macbeth, Lord of the Rings, Mad Max, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, The Count of Monte Christo, The Stand, Artemis Fowl, The Godfather
The best way to tell this story? Do not make the mistake of using a narrator. The viewpoint character experiences the story. He guides us with what he knows and understands. We only care about this type of story when we care about him.
The Fifth Element? The Abyss – aka Reader’s Hell
This is for all of those books you should think of as worthy, but secretly you know they’re not. You just don’t know how to describe them.
Examples: The Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, July’s People, The God of Small Things, The Reader (Feel free to add your own to this list.)
© Amanda Patterson
Are you looking for more inspiration? Read these posts:
- Beat Writer’s Block With Help From The 4 Elements
- What Is Your Writing Element? Air, Earth, Water Or Fire?
- 10 (Amazingly Simple) Tips to Get You Back on The Writing Track
- 13 Ways To Start A Story
- What does it take to write a book? The five qualities published authors share
- How To Write A Beginning And An Ending That Readers Will Never Forget
- Plotting – 10 Basic Dos and Don’ts