I read something recently that gave me pause, and it was this: That the four main elements of fiction are character, voice, plot, and theme.
I didn't agree with it. On further reflection, I still don't. For one thing, where is setting? Without a sense of place, you're missing a necessary element, the means of creating mental pictures, that allows the reader to enter into your story.
I could add it to the list and have the Big Five: character, voice, plot, theme, and setting. But I'm still not satisfied, and I know why. For me, voice comes under the umbrella of character. It's not separable from it, and is subject to it.
Voice is important, of course. Gotta have it. But I've never been on the "voice, voice, voice, voice, it's ALL voice" bandwagon. Recently, I've learned more about voice than ever, through the most thorough critique I've ever had, from the fabulous Kathleen Duey. But the very experience underscored even more, for me, that voice, whether you're in first person or third, is about character (as is POV). Realizing and increasing the close tie between my character and the voice, even in third person, helped me boost my WIP to a higher level.
And proved false to me another notion: That you can receive/give help in fixing plot, but not voice. "The voice is either there or it's not." Well, no. It can be strong in places and falter in places. It can slip up in individual word choice. And you can both receive and give help in fixing it. As a writer and teacher, I've been on both sides of that coin. :)
But here's a fifth element that I would argue could be added to the list: quality of prose. A way with words. An ear. The way one's talent comes through in the writing itself. Which is related to voice, but different from it. It's necessary, and it's the only one of the elements, I'd argue, that has to be somewhat inborn. Because you can't just fit good character, setting, plot, and theme together and out comes a great story. The writing itself, the vehicle, has to be there, and though a writer learns to hone this through reading and writing, it is hard-to-nigh-impossible for someone else to help you with it.
Here's my stab at a list of the basic elements of fiction: character, setting, plot, theme, and prose. (Who, When/Where, What, Why, and How?)
What do you think? Am I nitpicking semantics? Have any "rules" you'd like to smash today? :)