The Meanings of 54 Literary Terms Associated with Prose

Reading Time: 7 minutes


Every serious Literature student should know the following literary terms and concepts specifically related to prose.

PROSE: Prose is the ordinary non-metrical form of a written or spoken language. It is made up of narrative prose, scientific prose and emotive prose.

NARRATIVE PROSE: Narrative prose describes things or events. Examples of narrative prose are short stories, history, folklore, myth, biographies, autobiographies, character sketches and novels.

SCIENTIFIC PROSE: Scientific prose describes “things” rather than events. It deals with how things happen in a logical order e.g. Natural Science, Philosophy, Law etc.

EMOTIVE PROSE: Emotive prose aims at producing an emotional effect on the reader or listener. The object of emotive prose is to make the reader or listener experience emotions of pity, fear, awe, joy, sorrow, love, hatred etc.  Political speeches , sermons and satire are examples of emotive prose.

Now let’s look at some popular literary terms used in the appreciation of prose.

  1. ROMANCE LITERATURE: A romance is a literary work filled with intense feelings of excitement, intrigue and suspense. Medieval romance novels are characterized by elements of chivalry
    Example: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Modern day popular romance novels are more about the romantic relationship or love between two people and usually have an emotionally satisfying ending.
  2. CONFLICT: Conflict in literature is the struggle between opposing forces in a work of art. Conflict is an important ingredient in any piece of good literature.
  3. POETIC JUSTICE: Poetic justice is said to have been done when bad or evil is punished and good triumphs.
  4. FICTION: Fiction is an imaginary long narrative prose. It is also called PROSE or NOVEL
    Example:  The Ancestral Sacrifice by Kaakyire Akosomo Nyantakyi and Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe.
  5. AUTOBIOGRAPHY: An autobiography is a person’s life story written by the person himself and usually in the first person narrative voice.
  6. BIOGRAPHY: The life story of a person written by another person.
  7. PARODY: A parody is a literary work which is an exaggerated imitation, ridiculing or lampooning another literary work in a harsh or satirical manner.
  8. ROUND CHARACTER: A round character is a character who changes and develops as the story progresses. He or she is also called a multi-dimensional character.
  9. FLAT CHARACTER: A flat character is a character who does not change or develop much in a literary work. A flat character is a mono-dimensional character with easily identifiable and predictable features and mannerisms. Such a character may also be referred to as a stock character or stereotypical character. raj-eiamworakul-603747-unsplash
  10. ANTI-CLIMAX OR BATHOS: Anticlimax or bathos is the opposite of climax consisting in a descent from a higher level to lesser heights, from the sublime to the trivial and where the intensity or importance weakens instead of increases toward the end
  11. THEME: The underlying message in a work of art. Love, hate, materialism, corruption, politics, marriage, childlessness and failed governance are examples of theme.
  12. SUSPENSE: There is suspense in a literary work when a reader is kept in a state of high expectancy, eager to know what will happen next.
    Example: In English, my name means hope. In Spanish, it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he’s shaving, songs like sobbing. By delaying the disclosure of the narrator’s name, the writer has used the literary technique known as suspense

You may also like: Regrets, a short story full of suspense.

13. ALLUSION: Alussion is the reference to issues that are outside the literary work being studied.

14. CLIMAX: Climax refers to the crisis stage in a series of events in a story or play. Climax is the highest point of tension. It is  the turning point in a work of art from which there is no turning back.

15.CHAPTER: A major division of prose.

16.PARAGRAPH: A sub-division of a chapter.

17. POINT OF VIEW: Point of view is the angle from which the narrator sees and narrates events.

18. FIRST PERSON NARRATOR: A first person narrator is a narrator who narrates a story in which he takes an active part. He uses the first person pronoun, “I” a lot. He may be biased and subjective.

19. THIRD PERSON (OMNISCIENT) NARRATOR: A third person narrator is the one who is not part of the story but narrates the story as an outsider. He uses the third person pronouns – He, She, It, They.

20. SECOND PERSON NARRATOR: A second person narrator is the narrator who uses the second person pronouns, you, and appears to be addressing the reader directly.

21. FABLE: A fable is a story involving animal characters. Example: The Tortoise and the Birds.

22. FOIL: A foil is a minor character in a work of art used to expose and emphasize the attributes of a main character

23. CHARACTERIZATION: The techniques an author uses to build a character into what he wants him/her to be. These techniques include:
v) what the character says
vi) what the character does
vii) what other characters say about him
viii) authorial comments (what the author says about him)

24. A RELIABLE NARRATOR: A reliable narrator is a narrator (persona), usually a third person narrator, who is detached from the story and is therefore considered to be objective.
25. ALLEGORY: An allegory a literary work with two levels of meaning – the surface meaning and the symbolic or deeper meaning. In an allegory, the characters, setting and incidents are used as symbols to represent what are actually being referred to. An allegory is, therefore, a consistent and systematic description of another order of things beyond the obvious one. Example: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress.
26. TONE: Tone in literature refers to the manner in which a writer puts across his feelings in his work. The tone of a writer shows his mood and attitude.
27. MOOD: Mood in literature is the feeling or emotion of a writer. The mood of a writer can be seen in the words he uses hence a writer’s mood reflects in his tone.
28.  STYLE: It is the writer’s manner of writing. Style in literature involves the writer’s deliberate method of selecting and arranging expressions and constructions intended to produce a particular effect
29. A STATED THEME: It is one that the author expresses directly in the work
30. AN IMPLIED THEME: An implied theme is one that is not stated directly in the work but is suggested by the work’s other elements.
31. ATMOSPHERE: Atmosphere in literature is the general feeling that a story, play or poem creates. The atmosphere could be one of sadness, dullness, gaity, frenzy, tension, calmness etc. Atmosphere and mood are interrelated.

32. SUBJECT MATTER: The subject matter of a novel refers to its contents. It deals with all what the writer has described or narrated in a literary work. It is from the subject matter that the theme is derived.

33. PARABLE: A parable is a short narrative, illustrating some moral truth. It is briefer than an allegory.

34. NON-FICTION: Non-fiction is used to describe any literary work which is factual and true other than imaginary. Examples are biographies, autobiographies and historical accounts.

35. RIDDLE: A riddle is a short statement that does not identify its subject but provides enough clues for the reader to recognize the subject.
Example: Riddle: I never invited him to follow me but he did as soon as I stood up.
Solution: The human shadow.

36. FOLKTALE: A folktale is a popular story handed down orally from past generations. It deals with traditional beliefs, customs, taboos, etc. It is normally used to entertain or educate.

37. NEMESIS: A situation in which a character is punished for his bad deeds or misdeeds. Thus the person’s misfortune (nemesis) comes as a fitting reward for his misdeeds and as such, we are not made to sympathize with him.

38. OMNISCIENT NARRATOR: A narrator who tells a story in such a way that he takes the position of an all-knowing being. The omniscient narrator is able to tell what goes on even in the minds of all characters, their private  thoughts, their ambitions, their fears, their secret plans and what they say to themselves. The omnicient narrator is also called the third person narrator

39. CARICATURE: It is the description of a character using exaggeration and oversimplification of their characteristics. Caricature is employed in literature mainly to ridicule or make fun of a character by exaggerating that literary figure’s peculiar characteristics. It has the effect of making readers laugh at the character being so ridiculed.

40. MYTH: It is a story, handed down from olden times, especially concepts or beliefs about the early history of a, race, explanation of natural or social phenomenon such as the seasons of the year. A myth normally involves supernatural beings or events.

41. LEGEND: A legend is an old story from a distant past,  especially one of doubtful truth, e.g. the legends of King Arthur, the legends of Okomfo Anokye of the Asante Kingdom.

42. ANECDOTE: An anecdote is a short, usually amusing story about some real person or event. It is

43. MYSTERY: Mystery refers to a work of fiction that contains a puzzling problem or event not explained until the end so as to keep the reader in suspense.

44. PARANORMAL FICTION: Paranormal fiction or paranormal romance is a genre of fiction which incorporates elements of fantasy, romantic love and science fiction. You will find mythical characters with supernatural abilities in paranormal literature. Example: Fallen by Lauren Kate

45. FANTASY LITERATURE: Fantasy literature is a story set in an imaginary world usually without any real world events, locations or people.  Most of the characters in fantasy fiction are supernatural beings with magical powers.

46. NARRATOR: The person who tells a story. The narrator is the speaking voice in a story. It is the narrator, also known as persona, who addresses the reader.

47. NARRATIVE: A narrative is a story or an account of an event or series of events. A narrative may be either true or fictional.

48. SHORT STORY: A short story is a prose narrative that is shorter than a novel and which usually describes just one event or a tightly constructed series of events.

49. TALE: A spoken or written narrative, usually less complicated than a short story.

50. REALISTIC LITERATURE: A literary work in which the characters, the setting and the action purport to be like those found in real life. Realistic fiction mirrors contemporary life.

See also: Realism in American Literature

51. SUB-PLOT: A part of a story separate from the main one. Sub-plot is also known as counter-plot. Example: The love affair between the characters called Teacher Arkorful and Mariama in the novella, Regrets by yours truly.

52. VILLAIN: It is a wicked or a bad character (wrongdoer) who enjoys seeing people suffer or being in trouble in a work of art.

53. PROTAGONIST/HERO: A protagonist or hero is the main character in a literary work.

54. SAGA: A long heroic narrative  of legendary figures and events. A saga was a feature of the literature of medieval Norway and Iceland.

Ralph spends his day working as an online entrepreneur and e-learning strategist. As a digital publishing trainer/consultant, he has developed exceptional skills in SEO-content writing. He writes extensively on lifelong learning and personal development issues. Ralph is the CEO of RN Digital Media Ent - a digital publishing & content marketing services platform he founded in 2017.

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