A literary element is a constituent of all works of narrative fiction—a necessary feature of verbal storytelling that can be found in any written or spoken narrative. This distinguishes them from literary techniques, or non-universal features of literature that accompany the construction of a particular work rather than forming the essential characteristics of all narrative. For example, plot, theme, character and tone are literary elements, whereas figurative language, irony, or foreshadowing would be considered literary techniques.
Literary elements aid in the discussion and understanding of a work of literature as basic categories of critical analysis; literary elements could be said to be produced by the readers of a work just as much as they are produced by its author. For the most part, they are popular concepts that are not limited to any particular branch of literary criticism, although they are most closely associated with the formalist method of professional literary criticism. There is no official definition or fixed list of terms of literary elements; however, they are a common feature of literary education at the primary and secondary level, and a set of terms similar to the one below often appears in institutional student evaluation. For instance, the New York State Comprehensive English Regents Exam requires that students use and discuss literary elements relating to specific works in each of the two essays.
- "Regents High School Comprehensive Examination in English" (PDF). Office of State Assessment. New York State Education Department. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
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