General Characteristics of Prose Writing

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In today’s class, we will be talking about the general characteristics of prose writing. Enjoy the class!

General Characteristics of Prose Writing

Prose Writing

Prose writing possesses a lot of attributes or features. Below are some of the general characteristics of prose writing.

Subject Matter:

This is the main idea of the story. It is not what the work contains, but what the work refers to. The subject matter in prose fiction is a kind of summary of what is presented in the work. It is what the story is all about. It is the subject of discussion in the work which is different from the theme. The theme refers to the ideas which are stated abstractly but the abstract ideas are dramatized through the subject matter. The subject matter is how the idea is explicated to form the story.

Characters and Characterization:

This is a person depicted in a narrative or drama. A character can be any person, a figure, an inanimate object, or animal. There are different types of characters, and each serves its unique function in a story or a piece of literature.

Types of characters

There are many types of characters which include:

  • Confidante:

A confidante is someone in whom the main character confides. He reveals the central character’s thoughts, intentions, and personality traits. However, a confidante need not necessarily be a person. An animal can also be a confidante.

  • Dynamic Character:

dynamic character changes during the course of a novel or a story. This change in character or his/her outlook is permanent. That is why sometimes a dynamic character is also called a “developing character.”

  • Static Character:

static character remains the same throughout the whole story. Even the events in a story or novel do not change the character’s outlook, perceptions, habits, personality, or motivations.

  • Antagonist:

An antagonist is a bad guy or an opponent of the protagonist or the main character. The action in the story arises from a conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. The antagonist can be a person, an inanimate object, an animal, or nature itself.

  • Protagonist:

Every story has a protagonist, the main character, who creates the action of the plot and engages readers, arousing their empathy and interest. The protagonist is often a hero or heroine of the story, as the whole plot moves around him or her.

  • Round Character:

The round characters are well-developed and complex figures in a story. They are more realistic and demonstrate more depth in their personalities. They can make surprising or puzzling decisions, and attract readers’ attention. There are many factors that may affect them, and round characters react to such factors realistically.

  • Flat Character:

flat character does not change during a story. Also, he or she usually only reveals one or two personality traits.

  • Stock Character:

A stock character is a flat character that is instantly recognizable by readers. Like a flat character, the stock character does not undergo any development throughout the story.

Characterization is the concept of creating characters for a narrative. It is a literary element and may be employed in dramatic works of art or everyday conversation. Characters may be presented by means of description, through their actions, speech, or thoughts.

  • Conflict:

Conflict in literature is defined as any struggle between opposing forces. Usually, the main character struggles against some other force. This type of conflict is what drives each and every story. Without it, the story would have no point or purpose. In another view, conflict is a literary element that involves a struggle between two opposing forces, usually a protagonist and an antagonist.

  • Plot:

The plot is the storyline of a text. An author puts together a series of events to create a story. The sequence of that series of events is the plot. A story does not exist without a plot. A plot includes every event that occurs throughout a text. The plot should be developed in such a way to interest the readers and to keep them guessing at the next points. A good plot is one that has well-developed characters who are engaging in several conflicts. There is a traditional plot structure that many texts follow. Below is a common plotline example:

  • Exposition:

The exposition is the introduction to the story. Characters and setting are introduced.

  • Rising Action:

The rising action presents a central conflict within a character or between one or more character. The conflict builds during the rising action.

  • Climax:

The climax occurs when the conflict is at its peak and when there seems to be no viable solution to the conflict.

  • Falling Action:

The falling action occurs after the climax when the reader is still unsure if the protagonist will be able to resolve the conflict.

  • Denouement:

The denouement (also called the resolution) is the conclusion to the plot. Typically, the conflict is resolved at this point.

Types of plot

There are two types of plots in literature. They are

  1. Simple plot
  2. Complex plot.

A simple plot will have one storyline that usually moves in a straightforward manner toward resolution. In a simple plot, there are usually not too many obstacles to overcome. There may be some big and fearsome ones but the need to surmount them is unambiguous.

A complex plot will have several storylines that intermingle and go back and forth in time, not moving in a straight line toward resolution. There are probably many obstacles to overcome and it may not be clear that solving them is an unmitigated good. The ending may be ambiguous.

  • Theme:

This is seen as representing for the reader what a story amounts to or the sum-total of the idea that the novel gives about life. It is something deeper than subject matter; indeed it is the vision of the novel and the profound questions raised about life. Moreover, it is a conceptual distillation of the story and is often listed as one of the fundamental elements of fiction. It is also the central idea or insight serving as a unifying element, creating cohesion and is an answer to the question.

  • Setting:

The setting is an environment or surrounding in which an event or story takes place either nonfiction or fiction. It is the time and place (or when and where) of the story.  The setting is an essential component of literature, and it’s one of the first things a writer considers when he or she invents a story. It not only influences a story’s characters and events but also enhances the reader’s ability to imagine those characters and events. In other words, setting the scene lets the reader know what type of literary world he or she is entering so that he or she can get “grounded” and experience it more fully.

There are two types of setting namely fictional and non-fiction setting. Settings can be either imagined or real. It’s worth noting that the categories of “imaginary” and “real” don’t necessarily correspond to fictional and non-fictional works, respectively—a fictional story can be set in a real location, such as Nigeria, Ghana, or Uganda.

  • Narrative Techniques/Point of View:

These are the methods and devices writers use to tell stories, whether in fiction or non-fiction. There are several types of narrative techniques or point of view. They include the following:

First-Person Narrator: First-person narratives cross all genres of literature and are characterized by the writer or a story’s character using his own voice to tell the tale. With this technique, the narrator employs the first person by referring to himself as “I,” and is either actively or passively involved in relating the events of the story. The narrator may or may not be privy to whatever action is about to unfold, and he need not be the primary character.

The first-person narrative technique is especially popular in writing personal diaries or memoirs, dramatic monologues, mystery novels and even “interior monologues,” in which a character essentially has a discussion with herself.

Third Person/ Eye of God/Omniscient Narrator: With this technique, the author chooses to have the story told by an outside narrator who knows all – hence the term “omniscient.” Third-person narrators refer to characters by name or use common pronouns such as she, he and they. Authors may use third-person narrators to speak to readers directly, although they don’t necessarily reveal all they know of the past, present and future.

  • Mixed:

This technique is a narrative technique whereby the author of a literary work employs more than one narrative technique in his work. It could be that he uses any of the third person and multiple points of view simultaneously in his work or other narrative techniques as the case may be.

  • Multiple:

This is a narrative technique whereby the story is told from various perspectives of the characters in the literary work. This is seen to be used by the popular gender studies writer, Akachi Ezeigbo, in one of her seminal works titled The Last of the Strong Ones.

  • Tone:

This is the way a writer expresses his attitude through his writing. In written composition, it is an attitude of a writer toward a subject or an audience. The tone is generally conveyed through the choice of words or the viewpoint of a writer on a particular subject. The manner in which a writer approaches the theme and subject is the tone.

The tone can be formal, informal, serious, comic, sarcastic, sad, or cheerful, or it may be any other existing attitude. Tone, in a piece of literature, decides how the readers read a literary piece, and how they should feel while they are reading it. It stimulates the readers to read a piece of literature as a serious, comical, spectacular, or distressing manner.

In addition, tone lends shape and life to a piece of literature because it creates a mood. Moreover, tone bestows voice to characters and throws light on the personalities and dispositions of characters that readers understand better.

  • Mood:

In literature, the mood is a literary element that evokes certain feelings or vibes in readers through words and descriptions, as well as through a work’s setting, tone, theme, and diction. Usually, the mood is referred to as the atmosphere of a literary piece, as it creates an emotional setting that surrounds the readers.


In our next class, we will be talking about the Forms of Literature.  We hope you enjoyed the class.

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12 thoughts on “General Characteristics of Prose Writing”

  1. Cara delevingne

    Was helpful to an extent, although, I didn’t get what I really needed.
    It’s not that bad. It’s manageable.

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