Guide to Literary Terms

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Features Of Prose

what are the characteristics of prose?

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Prose can be best defined formally and can be defined in contrast to poetry and to other forms of writing (like certain lists or certain kinds of directions/instructions). 

"Prose - the ordinary form of spoken and written language whose unit is the sentence, rather than the line as it is in poetry. The term applies to all expressions in language that do not have a regular rhythmic pattern" (eNotes).

Prose is perhaps the most common mode of writing and uses the conventional forms of grammatically complete sentences. In prose, sentences are almost always presented on the page within a paragraph structure

Here is an example of a prose passage:

"Reading is the foundation of language arts. To be a competent writer, one must first be a good reader. Reading begins with learning that a language's alphabet is formed of individual letters that compose words, sentences, and paragraphs. Reading, however, is also being able to understand the larger meanings that exist within the printed word and often beyond it" (eNotes).

Notice that the writing in the passage above uses complete sentences structured into a paragraph format. 

If we take the same language and utilize a different form/format, we will see how prose differs from poetry. 

Reading is

the foundation

of language arts. 

Here, the form is poetic (although the language remains "prosaic"). The difference between prose form and poetic form is noticeable in the way the words are laid out on the page. Poetic form uses line-breaks and utilizes a stanza structure instead of a paragraph structure. 

If the writing uses complete sentences in paragraph form, it can be considered prose. This includes "prose poetry," which is something of a grey area between poetic language/expression and formal prose conventions (i.e., complete sentences and paragraph structure). 

If writing uses phrasing that does not amount to grammatically complete sentences then we will not consider it prose. For instance, a list of your favorite movies written with titles only in a...

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Prose writing is the newest of the genres of literature. Its characteristics are embedded in its length of narration, its organization and a writer's narrative technique. Prose works are described based on the presence of these features on a general term. However, a choice of language and creative imagination that is specific and at the same time detailed makes prose a unique reserve for the intellectuals. A quick look at some of its features will give an insight into what makes it unique from other genres.

1)Plot: The summary of major events in a literary work is described as the plot. The events in the story constitute the storyline and the manner they are narrated refers to the plot structure. The plot of a story is the ‘what’ of the story. It consists of the actions and reactions that characterize the story. The narration can take any of the order below

Linear/Chronological Order: In this order, the sequence of narration follows a general pattern of the beginning, middle and ending. This is the route most writers take. In Richard Wright’s Blackboy,(a memoir) the narration chronicles the life and development of the author from childhood to adulthood living in the brutality and racism of the American South during the Jim Crow era (commonsensemedia)

In Media Res: A writer can deviate from the norm and structure his narration in a non-chronological order. This plot reveals some complication and demands a careful study of the writer’s intention. This kind of narration tend to begin from the middle, and by the employment of flashback, the story reverts back to the beginning to explain preceding events then later come back to its starting point and finally takes us to the end. An example is Homer’s Illiad whose narrative began from Achilles quarrel with Agamemon during the Trojan war, without taking the reader to the birth and growth of Achiles(

In Ultimate Res:

“This story begins with the actual outcome or ending and then relates events in reverse order, thus drawing the audience attention on the “how”, rather than the “what” of a story.


2) Prose is written in everyday language. The expressions in prose text relate to common expression we are familiar with in the real world; although they are construed to obey the rules of grammar. Unlike poetry where high and connotative language is employed, prose communicate in both formal and informal speeches which makes it approachable for every class of the society. The writer’s choice of words is called diction.

3) Prose is written in Chapters and Paragraphs in organization. In poetry where lines and stanzas are used and Acts and Scenes for drama, prose division takes a longer format in chapters and subsections. In Richard Wright Native Son, the pages are divided into three subsections: Fear, Flight and Fate.

4) Characters/Characterization: Characters are the personalities created by the writer to craft his stories, while characterization is the “description of a character’s physical attribute as well as the character’s personality. The way that characters act, think, and speak also adds to their characterization” ( The writer also gives us insight into the world of their characters by revealing their thoughts and intentions, their strength and weaknesses, their pride and humility among others

5) Theme: Prose works are sometimes written to address a concern in the outer world. The novelist can fashion his characters to reflect the lives of some persons or people in the physical world to show his disapproval or otherwise of how such people are treated in the society. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart attempts to depict the lives of Africans in the precolonial era, and also the cultural, traditional and religious worldview of the people before the coming of Christianity.

marizi | Student

Prose is a form of narrative writing without poetic form (rhyme scheme). It can either be fiction (novel, folktale/fable, short story) or non-fiction (biography, autobiography, essay, articles)

Its characteristic are:

-  utilize some figurative language (metaphor/simile) to entice the interest of the readers but more focused on telling a story.

-  straight-forward approach as a form of information or persuasion.

-  a medium to express ideas or point of view.

- written in a form of paragraphs that can be accompanied by dialogues, graphics, headings and/or subheadings.


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