Definition of Prose
Prose is a literary device referring to writing that is structured in a grammatical way, with words and phrases that build sentences and paragraphs. Works wrote in prose feature language that flows in natural patterns of everyday speech. Prose is the most common and popular form of writing in fiction and non-fiction works.
As a literary device, prose is a way for writers to communicate with readers in a straightforward, even conversational manner and tone . This creates a level of familiarity that allows the reader to connect with the writer’s expression, narrative , and characters. An example of the effective familiarity of prose is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye :
What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
Salinger’s prose is presented as first-person narration as if Holden Caulfield’s character is speaking to and conversing directly with the reader. This style of prose establishes familiarity and intimacy between the narrator and the reader that maintains its connection throughout the novel .
Common Examples of First Prose Lines in Well-Known Novels
The first prose line of a novel is significant for the writer and reader. This opening allows the writer to grab the attention of the reader, set the tone and style of the work, and establish elements of setting , character, point of view , and/or plot . For the reader, the first prose line of a novel can be memorable and inspire them to continue reading. Here are some common examples of first prose lines in well-known novels:
- Call me Ishmael. ( moby dick )
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ( A Tale of Two Cities )
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. ( Pride and Prejudice )
- It was love at first sight. ( catch 22 )
- In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ( The Great Gatsby )
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. ( 1984 )
- i am an invisible man . ( Invisible Man )
- Mother died today. ( the stranger )
- They shoot the white girl first, but the rest they can take their time. ( Paradise )
- All this happened, more or less. ( Slaughterhouse-Five )
Examples of Famous Lines of Prose
Prose is a powerful literary device in that certain lines in literary works can have a great effect on readers in revealing human truths or resonating as art through language. Well-crafted, memorable prose evokes thought and feeling in readers. Here are some examples of famous lines of prose:
- Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird . ( To Kill a Mockingbird )
- In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart. ( Anne Frank : The Diary of a Young Girl )
- All Animals are Equal , but some animals are more equal than others. ( Animal Farm)
- It is easier to start a war than to end it. ( One Hundred Years of Solitude )
- It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both. ( Charlotte’s Web )
- I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. ( The Color Purple )
- There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you, ( I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings )
- The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42. ( The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy )
- The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you. ( The Book Thief )
- Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity. ( In Cold Blood )
Types of Prose
Writers use different types of prose as a literary device depending on the style and purpose of their work. Here are the different types of prose:
- Nonfiction: prose that recounts a true story, provides information, or gives a factual account of something (such as manuals, newspaper articles, textbooks, etc.)
- Heroic: prose usually in the form of a legend or fable that is intended to be recited and has been passed down through oral or written tradition
- Fiction : most familiar form of prose used in novels and short stories and featuring elements such as plot, setting, characters, dialogue , etc.
- Poetic Prose: poetry written in the form of prose, creating a literary hybrid with occasional rhythm and/or rhyme patterns
Difference Between Prose and Poetry
Many people consider prose and poetry to be opposites as literary devices . While that’s not quite the case, there are significant differences between them. Prose typically features natural patterns of speech and communication with grammatical structure in the form of sentences and paragraphs that continue across the lines of a page rather than breaking. In most instances, prose features everyday language.
Poetry, traditionally, features intentional and deliberate patterns, usually in the form of rhythm and rhyme. Many poems also feature a metrical structure in which patterns of beats repeat themselves. In addition, poetry often includes elevated, figurative language rather than everyday verbiage. Unlike prose, poems typically include line breaks and are not presented as or formed into continuous sentences or paragraphs.
Writing a Prose Poem
A prose poem is written in prose form without a metrical pattern and without a proper rhyme scheme . However, other poetic elements such as symbols metaphors , and figurative language are used extensively to make the language poetic. Writing a prose poem involves using all these poetic elements, including many others that a poet could think about.
It is not difficult to write a prose poem. It, however, involves a step-by-step approach.
- Think about an idea related to a specific theme , or a choose topic.
- Think poetically and write as prose is written but insert notes, beats, and patterns where necessary.
- Use repetitions , metaphors, and similes extensively.
- Revise, revise and revise to make it melodious.
Prose Edda vs. Poetic Edda
Prose Edda refers to a collection of stories collected in Iceland, or what they are called the Icelandic Saga. Most of the Prose Edda stories have been written by Snorri Sturluson while has compiled the rest written by several other writers. On the other hand, most of the poems about the Norse gods and goddesses are called the Poetic Edda. It is stated that almost all of these poems have been derived from the Codex Regius written around the 13 th century though they could have been composed much earlier. Such poems are also referred to as Eddaic poetry. In other words, these poetic outputs and writings are classical poetic pieces mostly woven around religious themes.
Examples of Prose in Literature
Prose is an essential literary device in literature and the foundation for storytelling. The prose in literary works functions to convey ideas, present information, and create a narrative for the reader through the intricate combinations of plot, conflict , characters, setting, and resolution . Here are some examples of prose in literature:
Example 1: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.
Steinbeck’s gifted prose in this novel is evident in this passage as he describes the last moment of sunset and the onset of darkness. Steinbeck demonstrates the manner in which a writer can incorporate figurative language into a prose passage without undermining the effect of being straightforward with the reader. The novel’s narrator utilizes figurative language by creating a metaphor comparing the sun to a drop of liquid, as well as through personifying dusk and darkness as they “crept.” This enhances the novel’s setting, tone, and mood in this portion of the story.
However, though Steinbeck incorporates such imagery and poetic phrasing in this descriptive passage, the writing is still accessible to the reader in terms of prose. This demonstrates the value of this literary device in fictional works of literature. Writers can still master and offer everyday language and natural speech patterns without compromising or leaving out the effective descriptions and use of figurative language for readers.
Example 2: This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold
In this poem by Williams, he utilizes poetic prose to create a hybrid work of literature. The poem is structured in appearances like a poetic work with line breaks and stanzas . However, the wording of the work flows as prose writing in its everyday language and conversational tone. There is an absence of figurative language in the poem, and instead, the expression is direct and straightforward.
By incorporating prose as a literary device in his poem, Williams creates an interesting tension for the reader between the work’s visual representation as a poem and the familiar, literal language making up each individual line. However, rather than undermine the literary beauty of the poem, the prose wording enhances its meaning and impact.
Example 3: Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
This passage introduces Vonnegut’s work of short fiction. The narrator’s prose immediately sets the tone of the story as well as foreshadows the impending conflict. The certainty and finality of the narrator’s statements regarding equality in the story establish a voice that is direct and unequivocal. This unambiguous voice set forth by Vonnegut encourages trust in the narration on behalf of the reader. As a result, when the events and conflict in the story turn to science fiction and even defy the laws of physics, the reader continues to “believe” the narrator’s depiction of the plot and characters.
This suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader demonstrates the power of prose as a literary device and method of storytelling. By utilizing the direct and straightforward nature of prose, the writer invites the reader to become a participant in the story by accepting what they are told and presented through the narrator. This enhances the connection between the writer as a storyteller and a receptive reader.
Synonyms of Prose
Prose has a few close synonyms but cannot be used interchangeably. Some of the words coming near in meanings are unlyrical, unpoetic, factual, literal, antipoetic, writing, prosaic and factual.
What is Prose? Definition, Examples of Prose
Home » The Writer’s Dictionary » What is Prose? Definition, Examples of Prose
Definition of prose: Prose is often defined as straightforward rather than poetic writing.
What is Prose?
When identifying a piece of writing as prose, the piece should be written in a typical, straightforward manner. It will follow grammatical structures rather than a meter or verse pattern.
Examples of Prose in Writing
Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City , is a work of nonfiction that utilizes prose when describing the effect the fair had on the local hospitals:
- “With so many people packed among the steam engines, giant rotating wheels, horse-drawn fire trucks, and rocketing bobsleds, the fair’s ambulances superintended by a doctor named Gentles were constantly delivering bruised, bloody, and overheated visitors to the exposition hospital.”
Mark Haddon also writes using prose in his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when his teenaged protagonist finds his neighbor’s murdered dog:
- “It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.”
Different Types of Prose
While prose can be broadly defined as straightforward writing that resembles everyday spoken word, there are categories that prose can be broken into: nonfiction, fictional, heroic, and poetry.
Nonfictional prose writings are pieces that are written that contain mostly facts but may contain pieces of fictional information for literary purposes. Many memoirs can be described as nonfictional prose because the writers often include fictional information to make their life stories more interesting for the readers.
Fictional prose is writing that is entirely made up by the authors such as in short stories or in novels. These are pieces such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
Heroic prose pieces are written or oral stories that follow the traditional structure used by oral expressionists such as Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey . Both of these pieces include such structures as an invocation to the Muses or epithets that are used in oral storytelling.
Prose in poetry refers to works that include large amounts of poetic devices such as imagery, alliteration, and rhythm but are still written in a straightforward manner rather than in verse form.
The Function of Prose
Prose is used when the writer wants to tell a story in a straightforward manner. It should be used when the writer wants their writing to resemble everyday speech.
Examples of Prose in Literature
Here are some examples of prose in literature:
Nonfictional prose can be found in Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road because the piece is told in a straightforward manner:
- “I was born in a Negro town. I do not mean by that the black back-side of an average town. Eatonville, Florida, is, and was at the time of my birth, a pure Negro town—charter, mayor, council, town marshal and all.”
Fictional prose is used in John Kennedy Toole’s only novel A Confederacy of Dunces :
- “ Ignatius himself was dressed comfortably and sensibly. The hunting cap prevented head colds. The voluminous tweed trousers were durable and permitted unusually free locomotion.”
Dramatic prose can be found in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare often uses prose in this play when servants talk to show their lack of education and has higher-class characters talk in verse form. Here a servant speaks:
- “Now I’ll tell you without asking: my master is the great rich Capulet; and if you be not of the house of Montagues, I pray, come and crush a cup of wine. Rest you merry!”
Define prose: Prose is writing that resembles everyday speech. It is straightforward, ordinary language rather than following a meter or rhythmic pattern like poetry.
Final example of prose:
Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem is written using the ordinary language found in prose:
- “It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil.”
What Is Prose? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples
Prose (PROHzuh) is written language that appears in its ordinary form, without metrical structure or line breaks. This definition is an example of prose writing, as are most textbooks and instruction manuals, emails and letters, fiction writing, newspaper and magazine articles, research papers, conversations, and essays.
The word prose first entered English circa 1300 and meant “story, narration.” It came from the Old French prose (13th century), via the Latin prosa oratio , meaning “straightforward or direct speech.” Its meaning of “prose-writing; not poetry” arrived in the mid-14th century.
Types of Prose Writing
Prose writing can appear in many forms. These are some of the most common:
- Heroic prose: Literary works of heroic prose, which may be written down or recited, employ many of the same tropes found in the oral tradition. Examples of this would include the Norse Prose Edda or other legends and tales.
- Nonfictional prose: This is prose based on facts, real events, and real people, such as biography , autobiography , history, or journalism.
- Prose fiction: Literary works in this style are imagined. Parts may be based on or inspired by real-life events or people, but the work itself is the product of an author’s imagination. Examples of this would include novels and short stories.
- Purple Prose: The term purple prose carries a negative connotation. It refers to prose that is too elaborate, ornate, or flowery. It’s categorized by excessive use of adverbs, adjectives, and bad metaphors .
Prose and Verse
While both are styles of writing, there are certain key differences between prose, which is used in standard writing, and verse, which is typically used for poetry .
As stated, prose follows the natural patterns of speech. It’s formed through common grammatical structures, such as sentences that are built into paragraphs. For example, in the opening paragraph of Diana Spechler’s New York Times article “ Among the Healers ,” she writes:
We arrive at noon and take our numbers. The more motivated, having traveled from all over Mexico, began showing up at 3 a.m. About half of the 80 people ahead of us sit in the long waiting room on benches that line the walls, while others stand clustered outside or kill the long hours wandering around Tonalá, a suburb of Guadalajara known for its artisans, its streets edged with handmade furniture, vases as tall as men, mushrooms constructed of shiny tiles. Rafael, the healer, has been receiving one visitor after another since 5. That’s what he does every day except Sunday, every week of his life.
Although Spechler utilizes some of the literary devices often associated with verse, such as strong imagery and simile , she doesn’t follow any poetic conventions. This piece of writing is comprised of sentences, which means it is written in prose.
Unlike prose, verse is formed through patterns of meter , rhyme , line breaks, and stanzaic structure—all aspects that relate to writing poems . For example, the free verse poem “ I am Trying to Break Your Heart ” by Kevin Young begins:
I am hoping
to hang your head
While this poem doesn’t utilize meter or rhyme, it’s categorized as verse because it’s composed in short two-line stanzaic units called couplets . The remainder of the poem is comprised of couplets and the occasional monostich (one-line stanza).
- Prose Poetry
Although verse and prose are different, there is a form that combines the two: prose poetry. Poems in this vein contains poetic devices, such as imagery, white space, figurative language , sound devices , alliteration , rhyme , rhythm , repetition, and heightened emotions. However, it’s written in prose form—sentences and paragraphs—instead of stanzas.
Examples of Prose in Literature
1. José Olivarez “ Ars Poetica ”
In this prose poem, Olivarez writes:
Migration is derived from the word “migrate,” which is a verb defined by Merriam-Webster as “to move from one country, place, or locality to another.” Plot twist: migration never ends. My parents moved from Jalisco, México to Chicago in 1987. They were dislocated from México by capitalism, and they arrived in Chicago just in time to be dislocated by capitalism. Question: is migration possible if there is no “other” land to arrive in. My work: to imagine. My family started migrating in 1987 and they never stopped. I was born mid-migration. I’ve made my home in that motion. Let me try again: I tried to become American, but America is toxic. I tried to become Mexican, but México is toxic. My work: to do more than reproduce the toxic stories I inherited and learned. In other words: just because it is art doesn’t mean it is inherently nonviolent. My work: to write poems that make my people feel safe, seen, or otherwise loved. My work: to make my enemies feel afraid, angry, or otherwise ignored. My people: my people. My enemies: capitalism. Susan Sontag: “victims are interested in the representation of their own sufferings.” Remix: survivors are interested in the representation of their own survival. My work: survival. Question: Why poems? Answer:
Olivarez crafted this poem in prose form rather than verse. He uses literary techniques such as surprising syntax, white space, heightened emotion, and unexpected turns to heighten the poetic elements of his work, but he doesn’t utilize verse tools, such as meter, rhyme, line breaks, or stanzaic structure.
2. Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Melville’s novel is a classic work of prose fiction, often referenced as The Great American Novel. It opens with the following lines:
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
3. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark
Playing in the Dark , which examines American literature through the lens of race, freedom, and individualism, was originally delivered while Morrison was a guest speaker at Harvard University. She begins:
These chapters put forth an argument for extending the study of American literature into what I hope will be a wider landscape. I want to draw a map, so to speak, of a critical geography and use that map to open as much space for discovery, intellectual adventure, and close exploration as did the original charting of the New World—without the mandate for conquest.
Further Resources on Prose
David Lehman edited a wonderful anthology of prose poetry called Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present .
For fans of prose in fiction, the editors of Modern Library put together a list of the 100 greatest novels .
Nonfiction prose fans may enjoy Longform , which curates and links to new and classic nonfiction from around the web.
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What is Prose — Definition and Examples in Literature
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P rose can be a rather general literary term that many use to describe all types of writing. However, prose by definition pertains to specific qualities of writing that we will dive into in this article. What is the difference between prose and poetry and what is prose used for? Let’s define this essential literary concept and look at some examples to find out.
What is Prose in Literature?
First, let’s define prose.
Prose is used in various ways for various purposes. It's a concept you need to understand if your goal to master the literary form. Before we dive in, it’s important to understand the prose definition and how it is distinguished from other styles of writing.
What is prose.
In writing, prose is a style used that does not follow a structure of rhyming or meter. Rather, prose follows a grammatical structure using words to compose phrases that are arranged into sentences and paragraphs. It is used to directly communicate concepts, ideas, and stories to a reader. Prose follows an almost naturally verbal flow of writing that is most common among fictional and non-fictional literature such as novels, magazines, and journals.
Four types of prose:
Nonfictional prose, fictional prose, prose poetry, heroic prose, prose meaning , prose vs poetry.
To better understand prose, it’s important to understand what structures it does not follow which would be the structure of poetry. Let’s analyze the difference between prose vs poetry.
Poetry follows a specific rhyme and metric structure. These are often lines and stanzas within a poem. Poetry also utilizes more figurative and often ambiguous language that purposefully leaves room for the readers’ analysis and interpretation.
Finally, poetry plays with space on a page. Intentional line breaks, negative space, and varying line lengths make poetry a more aesthetic form of writing than prose.
Take, for example, the structure of this [Why] by E.E. Cummings. Observe his use of space and aesthetics as well as metric structure in the poem.
E.E. Cummings Poem
E.E. Cummings may be one of the more stylish poets when it comes to use of page space. But poetry is difference in structure and practice than prose.
Prose follows a structure that makes use of sentences, phrases, and paragraphs. This type of writing follows a flow more similar to verbal speech and communication. This makes it the best style of writing to clearly articulate and communicate concepts, events, stories, and ideas as opposed to the figurative style of poetry.
What is Prose in Literature?
Take, for example, the opening paragraph of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye . We can tell immediately the prose is written in a direct, literal way that also gives voice to our protagonist .
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
From this example, you can see how the words flow more conversationally than poetry and is more direct with what information or meaning is being communicated. Now that you understand the difference between poetry, let’s look at the four types of prose.
- What is Litotes — Definition and Examples →
- Different Types of Poems and Poem Structures →
- What is Iambic Pentameter? Definition and Examples →
Types of prose.
While all four types of prose adhere to the definition we established, writers use the writing style for different purposes. These varying purposes can be categorized into four different types.
Nonfictional prose is a body of writing that is based on factual and true events. The information is not created from a writer’s imagination, but rather true accounts of real events.
This type can be found in newspapers, magazines, journals, biographies, and textbooks. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl , for example, is a work written in nonfictional style.
Unlike nonfictional, fictional prose is partly or wholly created from a writer’s imagination. The events, characters, and story are imagined such as Romeo and Juliet , The Adventures of Tom Sawyer , or Brave New World . This type is found as novels, short stories, or novellas .
Heroic prose is a work of writing that is meant to be recited and passed on through oral or written tradition. Legends, mythology, fables, and parables are examples of heroic prose that have been passed on over time in preservation.
Finally, prose poetry is poetry that is expressed and written in prose form. This can be thought of almost as a hybrid of the two that can sometimes utilize rhythmic measures. This type of poetry often utilizes more figurative language but is usually written in paragraph form.
An example of prose poetry is “Spring Day” by Amy Lowell. Lowell, an American poet, published this in 1916 and can be read almost as hyper short stories written in a prose poetry style.
The first section can be read below:
The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot, and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots.
The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air."
While these four types of prose are varying ways writers choose to use it, let’s look at the functions of them to identify the strengths of the writing style.
What Does Prose Mean in Writing
Function of prose in literature.
What is prose used for and when? Let’s say you want to tell a story, but you’re unsure if using prose or poetry would best tell your story.
To determine if the correct choice is prose, it’s important to understand the strengths of the writing style.
Prose, unlike poetry, is often less figurative and ambiguous. This means that a writer can be more direct with the information they are trying to communicate. This can be especially useful in storytelling, both fiction and nonfiction, to efficiently fulfill the points of a plot.
Curate a voice
Because prose is written in the flow of verbal conversation, it’s incredibly effective at curating a specific voice for a character. Dialogue within novels and short stories benefit from this style.
Think about someone you know and how they talk. Odds are, much of their character and personality can be found in their voice.
When creating characters, prose enables a writer to curate the voice of that character. For example, one of the most iconic opening lines in literature informs us of what type of character we will be following.
Albert Camus’ The Stranger utilizes prose in first person to establish the voice of the story’s protagonist.
“Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.”
Build rapport with the reader
Lastly, in addition to giving character’s a curated voice, prose builds rapport with the reader. The conversational tone allows readers to become familiar with a type of writing that connects them with the writer.
A great example of this is Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels . As a nonfiction work written in prose, Thompson’s voice and style in the writing is distinct and demands a relationship with the reader.
Whether it is one of contradiction or agreement, the connection exists through the prose. It is a connection that makes a reader want to meet or talk with the writer once they finish their work.
Prose is one of the most common writing styles for modern writers. But truly mastering it means understanding both its strengths and its shortcomings.
Different Types of Poems
Curious about learning about the counterpart to prose? In our next article we dive in different types of poems as well as different types of poem structures. Check out the complete writer’s guide to poetry types up next.
Up Next: Types of Poems →
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- When & How to Write a Prose
I. What is a Prose?
Prose is just non-verse writing. Pretty much anything other than poetry counts as prose: this article, that textbook in your backpack, the U.S. Constitution, Harry Potter – it’s all prose. The basic defining feature of prose is its lack of line breaks:
In verse, the line ends
when the writer wants it to, but in prose
you just write until you run out of room and then start a new line.
Unlike most other literary devices , prose has a negative definition : in other words, it’s defined by what it isn’t rather than by what it is . (It isn’t verse.) As a result, we have to look pretty closely at verse in order to understand what prose is.
II. Types of Prose
Prose usually appears in one of these three forms.
You’re probably familiar with essays . An essay makes some kind of argument about a specific question or topic. Essays are written in prose because it’s what modern readers are accustomed to.
b. Novels/short stories
When you set out to tell a story in prose, it’s called a novel or short story (depending on length). Stories can also be told through verse, but it’s less common nowadays. Books like Harry Potter and the Fault in Our Stars are written in prose.
c. Nonfiction books
If it’s true, it’s nonfiction. Essays are a kind of nonfiction, but not the only kind. Sometimes, a nonfiction book is just written for entertainment (e.g. David Sedaris’s nonfiction comedy books), or to inform (e.g. a textbook), but not to argue. Again, there’s plenty of nonfiction verse, too, but most nonfiction is written in prose.
III. Examples of Prose
The Bible is usually printed in prose form, unlike the Islamic Qur’an, which is printed in verse. This difference suggests one of the differences between the two ancient cultures that produced these texts: the classical Arabs who first wrote down the Qur’an were a community of poets, and their literature was much more focused on verse than on stories. The ancient Hebrews, by contrast, were more a community of storytellers than poets, so their holy book was written in a more narrative prose form.
Although poetry is almost always written in verse, there is such a thing as “prose poetry.” Prose poetry lacks line breaks, but still has the rhythms of verse poetry and focuses on the sound of the words as well as their meaning. It’s the same as other kinds of poetry except for its lack of line breaks.
IV. The Importance of Prose
Prose is ever-present in our lives, and we pretty much always take it for granted. It seems like the most obvious, natural way to write. But if you stop and think, it’s not totally obvious. After all, people often speak in short phrases with pauses in between – more like lines of poetry than the long, unbroken lines of prose. It’s also easier to read verse, since it’s easier for the eye to follow a short line than a long, unbroken one.
For all of these reasons, it might seem like verse is actually a more natural way of writing! And indeed, we know from archaeological digs that early cultures usually wrote in verse rather than prose. The dominance of prose is a relatively modern trend.
So why do we moderns prefer prose? The answer is probably just that it’s more efficient! Without line breaks, you can fill the entire page with words, meaning it takes less paper to write the same number of words. Before the industrial revolution, paper was very expensive, and early writers may have given up on poetry because it was cheaper to write prose.
V. Examples of Prose in Literature
Although Shakespeare was a poet, his plays are primarily written in prose. He loved to play around with the difference between prose and verse, and if you look closely you can see the purpose behind it: the “regular people” in his plays usually speak in prose – their words are “prosaic” and therefore don’t need to be elevated. Heroic and noble characters , by contrast, speak in verse to highlight the beauty and importance of what they have to say.
Flip open Moby-Dick to a random page, and you’ll probably find a lot of prose. But there are a few exceptions: short sections written in verse. There are many theories as to why Herman Melville chose to write his book this way, but it probably was due in large part to Shakespeare. Melville was very interested in Shakespeare and other classic authors who used verse more extensively, and he may have decided to imitate them by including a few verse sections in his prose novel.
VI. Examples of Prose in Pop Culture
Philosophy has been written in prose since the time of Plato and Aristotle. If you look at a standard philosophy book, you’ll find that it has a regular paragraph structure, but no creative line breaks like you’d see in poetry. No one is exactly sure why this should be true – after all, couldn’t you write a philosophical argument with line breaks in it? Some philosophers, like Nietzsche, have actually experimented with this. But it hasn’t really caught on, and the vast majority of philosophy is still written in prose form.
In the Internet age, we’re very familiar with prose – nearly all blogs and emails are written in prose form. In fact, it would look pretty strange if this were not the case!
Imagine if you had a professor
who wrote class emails
in verse form, with odd
line breaks in the middle
of the email.
VII. Related Terms
Verse is the opposite of prose: it’s the style of writing
that has line breaks.
Most commonly used in poetry, it tends to have rhythm and rhyme but doesn’t necessarily have these features. Anything with artistic line breaks counts as verse.
18 th -century authors saw poetry as a more elevated form of writing – it was a way of reaching for the mysterious and the heavenly. In contrast, prose was for writing about ordinary, everyday topics. As a result, the adjective “prosaic” (meaning prose-like) came to mean “ordinary, unremarkable.”
Prosody is the pleasing sound of words when they come together. Verse and prose can both benefit from having better prosody, since this makes the writing more enjoyable to a reader.
List of Terms
- APA Citation
- Comic Relief
- Deus ex machina
- Double Entendre
- Dramatic irony
- Extended Metaphor
- Figures of Speech
- Literary Device
- Pathetic Fallacy
- Point of View
- Red Herring
- Rhetorical Device
- Rhetorical Question
- Science Fiction
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
- Turning Point
- Urban Legend
- Essay Guide
- Cite This Website
What Is Prose?
Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms
- An Introduction to Punctuation
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
Prose is ordinary writing (both fiction and nonfiction ) as distinguished from verse. Most essays , compositions , reports , articles , research papers , short stories, and journal entries are types of prose writings.
In his book The Establishment of Modern English Prose (1998), Ian Robinson observed that the term prose is "surprisingly hard to define. . . . We shall return to the sense there may be in the old joke that prose is not verse."
In 1906, English philologist Henry Cecil Wyld suggested that the "best prose is never entirely remote in form from the best corresponding conversational style of the period" ( The Historical Study of the Mother Tongue ).
From the Latin, "forward" + "turn"
"I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry: that is, prose = words in their best order; poetry = the best words in the best order." (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk , July 12, 1827)
Philosophy Teacher: All that is not prose is verse; and all that is not verse is prose. M. Jourdain: What? When I say: "Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give me my night-cap," is that prose? Philosophy Teacher: Yes, sir. M. Jourdain: Good heavens! For more than 40 years I have been speaking prose without knowing it. (Molière, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme , 1671)
"For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain and the noise of battle. It has the power to give grief or universality that lends it a youthful beauty." (John Cheever, on accepting the National Medal for Literature, 1982)
" Prose is when all the lines except the last go on to the end. Poetry is when some of them fall short of it." (Jeremy Bentham, quoted by M. St. J. Packe in The Life of John Stuart Mill , 1954)
"You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose ." (Governor Mario Cuomo, New Republic , April 8, 1985)
Transparency in Prose
"[O]ne can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a window pane." (George Orwell, "Why I Write," 1946) "Our ideal prose , like our ideal typography, is transparent: if a reader doesn't notice it, if it provides a transparent window to the meaning, then the prose stylist has succeeded. But if your ideal prose is purely transparent, such transparency will be, by definition, hard to describe. You can't hit what you can't see. And what is transparent to you is often opaque to someone else. Such an ideal makes for a difficult pedagogy." (Richard Lanham, Analyzing Prose , 2nd ed. Continuum, 2003)
" Prose is the ordinary form of spoken or written language: it fulfills innumerable functions, and it can attain many different kinds of excellence. A well-argued legal judgment, a lucid scientific paper, a readily grasped set of technical instructions all represent triumphs of prose after their fashion. And quantity tells. Inspired prose may be as rare as great poetry--though I am inclined to doubt even that; but good prose is unquestionably far more common than good poetry. It is something you can come across every day: in a letter, in a newspaper, almost anywhere." (John Gross, Introduction to The New Oxford Book of English Prose . Oxford Univ. Press, 1998)
A Method of Prose Study
"Here is a method of prose study which I myself found the best critical practice I have ever had. A brilliant and courageous teacher whose lessons I enjoyed when I was a sixth-former trained me to study prose and verse critically not by setting down my comments but almost entirely by writing imitations of the style . Mere feeble imitation of the exact arrangement of words was not accepted; I had to produce passages that could be mistaken for the work of the author, that copied all the characteristics of the style but treated of some different subject. In order to do this at all it is necessary to make a very minute study of the style; I still think it was the best teaching I ever had. It has the added merit of giving an improved command of the English language and a greater variation in our own style." (Marjorie Boulton, The Anatomy of Prose . Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954)
- Genres in Literature
- AP English Exam: 101 Key Terms
- An Introduction to Prose in Shakespeare
- Defining Nonfiction Writing
- Figure of Sound in Prose and Poetry
- Overview of Baroque Style in English Prose and Poetry
- Everything You Need to Know About Shakespeare's Plays
- Interior Monologues
- 12 Classic Essays on English Prose Style
- style (rhetoric and composition)
- Overview of Imagism in Poetry
- What You Need to Know About the Epic Poem 'Beowulf'
- Examples of Iambic Pentameter in Shakespeare's Plays
- What You Should Know About Travel Writing
- An Interview With Ellen Hopkins
- Creative Nonfiction
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Definition of Prose
Prose is a form of language that has no formal metrical structure. It applies a natural flow of speech, and ordinary grammatical structure, rather than rhythmic structure, such as in the case of traditional poetry.
Normal everyday speech is spoken in prose, and most people think and write in prose form. Prose comprises of full grammatical sentences, which consist of paragraphs, and forgoes aesthetic appeal in favor of clear, straightforward language. It can be said to be the most reflective of conversational speech. Some works of prose do have versification, and a blend of the two formats that is called “prose poetry.”
Example of a Poetry Verse vs. the Prose Form
Following is a poetry verse from a popular work of Robert Frost:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”
( Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening , by Robert Frost)
Following is the same sentiment written in prose form:
“The woods look lovely against the setting darkness and as I gaze into the mysterious depths of the forest, I feel like lingering here longer. However, I have pending appointments to keep, and much distance to cover before I settle in for the night, or else I will be late for all of them.”
The above paragraph is conveying a similar message, but it is conveyed in ordinary language, without a formal metrical structure to bind it.
Some Common Types of Prose
- Nonfictional Prose: A literary work that is mainly based on fact, though it may contain fictional elements in certain cases. Examples include biographies and essays.
- Fictional Prose: A literary work that is wholly or partly imagined or theoretical. Examples are novels.
- Heroic Prose: A literary work that may be written down or recited, and which employs many of the formulaic expressions found in oral tradition. Examples are legends and tales.
- Prose Poetry: A literary work that exhibits poetic quality – using emotional effects and heightened imagery – but which are written in prose instead of verse .
Examples of Prose in Literature
Prose in novels.
This is usually written in the form of a narrative , and may be entirely a figment of the author’s imagination.
Example #1: 1984 (By George Orwell)
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Example #2: David Copperfield (By Charles Dickens)
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
Example #3: Anna Karenina (By Leo Tolstoy)
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
These examples of prose have been taken from novels, where the writers have employed their imaginations. They are examples of fictional prose.
Prose in Speeches
Prose used in speeches often expresses thoughts and ideas of the speaker .
Example #4: No Easy Walk to Freedom speech (By Nelson Mandela)
“You can see that there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow (of death) again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires.”
Example #5: Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (By Mother Teresa)
“The poor are very great people. They can teach us so many beautiful things.”
Example #6: Equal Rights for Women speech (By U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm)
“As for the marriage laws, they are due for a sweeping reform, and an excellent beginning would be to wipe the existing ones off the books.”
These prose examples have been taken from speeches where the writing is often crisp and persuasive, and suits the occasion to convey a specific message.
Prose in Plays
Prose written in plays aims to be dramatic and eventful.
Example #7: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (By Tennessee Williams)
“You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it.”
Example #8: As You Like It (By William Shakespeare)
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. “
Prose in plays is often in conversational mode and is delivered by a character . However, its style stays the same throughout the play according to the personality of the character .
Function of Prose
While there have been many critical debates over the correct and valid construction of prose, the reason for its adoption can be attributed to its loosely-defined structure, which most writers feel comfortable using when expressing or conveying their ideas and thoughts. It is the standard style of writing used for most spoken dialogues, fictional as well as topical and factual writing, and discourses. It is also the common language used in newspapers, magazines, literature, encyclopedias, broadcasting, philosophy, law, history, the sciences, and many other forms of communication.
adjective or adverb
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Definition of prose
(Entry 1 of 4)
Definition of prose (Entry 2 of 4)
Definition of prose (Entry 3 of 4)
Definition of pro se (Entry 4 of 4)
Examples of prose in a Sentence
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'prose.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Noun, Adjective, and Verb
Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin prosa , from feminine of prorsus, prosus , straightforward, being in prose, contraction of proversus , past participle of provertere to turn forward, from pro- forward + vertere to turn — more at pro- , worth
Adjective or adverb
14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a
14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1
15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1
Adjective Or Adverb
1861, in the meaning defined above
Phrases Containing prose
- polyphonic prose
Articles Related to prose
Poetic Forms: 13 Ways of Looking at a...
Poetic Forms: 13 Ways of Looking at a Poem
Dictionary Entries Near prose
Cite this Entry
“Prose.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prose. Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.
Kids definition of prose, legal definition, legal definition of pro se.
Adverb or adjective
More from Merriam-Webster on prose
Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for prose
Nglish: Translation of prose for Spanish Speakers
Britannica English: Translation of prose for Arabic Speakers
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How to Write a Great Summary
A summary is a shorter description of a longer work, covering all of the highlights but not many of the details. It’s used for an overview so that people can get an idea of what the longer work entails without reading or watching it first.
You see summaries everywhere, from book covers to product descriptions to online review sites. However, no matter how many summaries you’ve read, it can still be difficult to write your own when you need to.
In this quick guide, we explain how to write a summary like an expert. We share some summary examples and list out the steps. But first, let’s look at the big question:
What is a summary?
Really, a summary is a general term used to describe any writing that briefly explains, or “summarizes,” a larger work like a novel, academic paper, movie, or TV show. Summaries are usually short, from one or two sentences to a paragraph, but if you’re summarizing an enormous work, like all seven Harry Potter books, they can stretch out over pages.
Summary writing is like a highlight reel, showing only the best parts and ignoring what’s not strictly necessary. A summary example of Hamlet would mention the main plot points like the murder of Polonius, but wouldn’t mention details irrelevant to the plot, like Polonius’s “to thine own self be true” monologue.
The key to summary writing is to stick to the facts; do not include opinions, analysis, or bias. If it’s written for commercial purposes, such as the summaries on Netflix, it might be intentionally alluring and withhold spoilers. However, for academic papers and more formal writing, summary writing leans towards factual and clinical.
Summaries appear in many different shapes and forms, including book reports and other school papers. Academics use summaries all the time for research papers when they write an abstract , which is essentially a summary of an entire research paper.
Really, everyone needs to know how to write a summary at one point or another. Even finding a job requires you to summarize your own professional background and work experience. Learning how to write a good LinkedIn summary can help you land your dream job!
Summary examples: What makes a good summary
Let’s look at some summary examples of famous works to see what constitutes a strong summary.
On IMDb , the summary for the 2008 movie The Dark Knight is just a sentence long:
When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, Batman must accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.
Right away, you’ll notice that the specific events of the movie are omitted and replaced by a general explanation of what happens. The main characters are mentioned—at least the protagonist and antagonist—and there is some description given about the types of events, such as “psychological and physical tests.”
However, the details are absent. To summarize a two-hour movie in a single sentence requires broad strokes; there’s only room for the bare essentials.
Most summaries, though, are longer than a sentence, like this multi-paragraph summary example for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird from SparkNotes .
As you can see, this summary is about the length of a page. It’s far more detailed, too, mentioning secondary characters and adding more context to the plot events. Still, to condense 281 pages into one requires a lot of cutting, so each key event is given just a sentence or two, consisting of only the need-to-know information.
How to write a summary in 4 steps
Summary writing uses the same best tips for all good writing . If you want to know how to write a summary yourself, we break the process down into 4 basic steps.
1 Read or watch the source material
The first step is fairly obvious: Read or watch whatever it is you’re writing a summary about.
If you’re doing a book report or similar paper, there’s always a temptation to skip this step and just rely on other people’s summaries. We don’t recommend it, though. For starters, how can you trust the writer of that summary? What if they just wrote their summary based on another person’s summary, too? Moreover, you may miss some key points or events that the other summary overlooked.
The only risk-free way to write a summary is to read or watch the source material yourself. Otherwise you’re liable to miss something essential.
2 Make a list of the key points
Next comes the outlining phase , where you list out what points to include in your summary. How many items go on your list depends on the length of both the summary and the source material. If you’re running long, start cutting items that are less of a priority.
It always helps to use your memory at first. The most significant events will have left an impact on you, so using what you remember is a good filter for what’s vital. However, learn to separate what’s truly necessary and what’s just personal preference. Just because you fell in love with a secondary character doesn’t mean they’re worth mentioning in the summary.
To fill in the gaps of what you’ve missed, you may need to reread or rewatch your source material. Feel free to skim it to save time; you just need to map out the significant points, not reread every word.
Here’s a tip: For longer pieces, break the source into sections and make a separate list for each section. For example, if you’re summarizing a research paper, you might write different lists for the Methods, Results, and Conclusion sections respectively. This is optional but helps you organize everything for larger works.
3 Write the summary in your own words
Next, write the first draft of your summary following the lists you made in the previous outlining stage. If you’re summarizing a book, film, or other media, it’s best to use chronological order (even if the story is told out of order).
The key here is using your own words. While you’re free to copy the occasional direct quote in your summary writing, it’s best to use original language to make it your own. Also, keep in mind the perspective of someone who’s never read or seen the source material. Do you have all the relevant points they need to understand what’s going on?
Here’s a tip: Pay close attention to transitions. Summaries are naturally fast-paced, where sentences often jump from one event or point to another in rapid succession. For a reader, this can be very jarring.
To make your summary writing easier to comprehend, use plenty of transitional words and phrases, such as however , as a result , and meanwhile . You’ll find a more complete list in our guide to transition words and phrases .
4 Edit and cut what’s unnecessary
Last comes the proofreading phase, where you reread your summary and correct any mistakes or awkward wording. For summary writing, watch out for unnecessary information, too; every word is crucial, so removing unnecessary information gives you more room to elaborate on the main points.
Grammarly can save you a lot of time in this step. Grammarly marks any grammar and spelling mistakes you make while you write and provides quick recommendations on how to fix them. This frees you up to focus on more important aspects of summary writing, like the points you’re trying to make.
Grammarly even helps with conciseness , which is integral to summary writing. If you’re using five words to say what can be said in two, Grammarly points it out so you can fix it. That way, your summaries can be as short and compact as possible—the way summary writing is supposed to be!
The Ultimate Guide to Writing Good Prose
- May 25, 2020
This week, we're digging deep into wordcraft with an ultimate guide to writing good prose. As ever, our thanks to the Alliance of Independent Authors members who contribute to the creation of these guides. In particular this week, ALLi blog and conference manager Sacha Black , who has literally written the book on this topic. And particular thanks to Julie-Ann Corrigan, Julie Day, Richard Deakin, Chrissy Harrison, Dan Holloway, LK Hunsaker, H.B Lyne, Karen Myers, Patricia M Osborne, Kristina Proffitt, Jane Steen and Debbie Young ,
The Ultimate Guide to Writing Good Prose: How to Improve
ALLi conference and blog manager, Sacha Black
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
King is famed for the above quote but I think it's misleading. While reading a lot is important, it's an entirely passive form of learning. In my humble opinion, there's only so much you can learn passively. Of course, reading in whatever format it occurs in is essential as a writer, but there are two types of reading. Reading for escapism, and reading for knowledge.
I'm more of a fan of Malcom Gladwell's ethos: you need 10,000 hours of intentional practice to become world-class in a particular field. I think we learn a lot faster when we read with the intention to pick up new tools and techniques for our writer's tool belt.
When I read, I underline anything that stands out, for good reasons or bad. Next, “How” and “why” are my friends. As I gather sentences from the stories I read, I save them up for later analysis. When it comes to deconstructing the good stuff, I like to ask myself questions like:
- How did the author create this effect? (and what literary devices did they use to make it?)
- How did that juxtaposition create a secondary meaning?
- Why did the author choose this point of view? Why didn’t they choose another?
- Why did they use that exact word and not another?
- How does that repetitive use of alliteration impact the flow of the sentence?
And on and on the questions go.
This type of detailed deconstruction isn't for everyone but I'm a word nerd and I love going deep into analysis.
Of course, you may prefer to dive straight into professional feedback and learn from the things an editor picks up. If you're interested in learning more about the types of professional editing, there's a fab post on the ALLi blog here .
The Anatomy of Prose Textbook and Workbook
Writing Good Prose: Three Mistakes to Avoid
There are no rules in prose, you can get away with virtually anything. Including not using a full stop — you only have to look at Mike McCormack's 272 page Solar Bones to know that, the whole thing is one sentence! But there are some tactics that sharpen your descriptions and sentence level craft. So here are 3 things to avoid in your prose.
Mistake 1 – Repetition
Okay, sure, everyone knows their first draft will be riddled with repetition. But usually, writer's think of repetition as crutch words or phrases they unintentionally repeat multiple times. For example, just, but, so, that, look, hand, eye, glance, walk.
But what about the other, more subtle forms of repetition?
Different Words, Same Meaning — writers often unintentionally use different words to describe the same thing. For example, describing cold temperatures multiple times with words like chill, icy, cool.
Same Words, Different Meaning — the flip side of that repetition is using the same word in a different context. For example, the hum of a bee and the hum of a car's engine.
Duplicated Archetypes — duplicated character types. For example, do you have two mentors? Are there an unnecessary number of allies? Of course, sometimes these duplications are needed. But more often than not, you can condense the duplicated characters into one more effective and efficient character that readers can get to know better.
Duplicated Personality Traits — likewise, look for repetition in personality type. Have you got two sarcastic divas? Or two brooding gentlemen? Do you really need two? Or would it be more effective to have one?
Name, Name, Name — we all have biases. Which is why you should always check your character names. More often than not you'll have named characters with similar-sounding names or names all beginning with the same letter. If you have Natalie and Nancy or Tony and Tom, your readers are probably going to get confused.
Opening and Closing of Scenes — check the opening (and closing) lines of your scenes. If you have four scenes back to back all opening with a location description, or all starting with dialogue, or all starting with inner monologue, you need to edit out the repetition.
Mistake 2 – Filtering
Filtering is an easy one to add into your narration by accident. Essentially, filtering is when you, the author, add in unnecessary narration, causing the reader to be removed one step from the character. Your reader should ideally see the story though the eyes of your protagonist or narrator. But when you add in narration, the reader steps out from the hero's eyes and watches them from the side.
Filter words include things like:
Let's show this in practice.
I heard an owl hooting in the trees and a moment later I saw the canopy leaves rustle as if replying.
Your readers don’t need to read the word “heard” or “saw” because the action of hearing and seeing is implied in the description of the sound. Okay, so what does it look like when you remove the filtering?
An owl hooted in the trees and a moment later the canopy leaves rustled as if replying.
Of course, there are no rules with prose, and you don’t have to remove every instance of filtering, especially if removing it will impact the meaning of your sentence.
Mistake 3 – No Scene Anchoring
A lack of scene anchoring is one of the fastest ways to disengage a reader. But what is it? Scene anchoring is the process of grounding a reader in your story. Every time you open a new scene or chapter, your reader needs to know three things in order to stay grounded in your story.
- W ho is telling the story? If you write stories from multiple points of view (POV) it's even more important to be clear who is narrating this scene. If you write in first person, then this is a little more obvious.
- W here are the characters? Are they in space? Are they in a castle on another world? Are they in the local cafe? The reader needs to know. This is even more important if your characters have moved location between scenes. Your reader may have put your book down at the end of the last scene break, so they'll need a refresher.
- W hen are they? Whether time has passed or not since the last scene, don’t expect your readers to know. They aren’t mind-readers. Be clear. Let them know how much time has passed.
Writing Good Prose: Sentence Level Characterization
I often get asked how you create characterization at the sentence level, be it through description, dialogue or otherwise. The biggest factor in showing the differences in your character's personalities, is to show their personalities and let it influence your word choices.
For example, let's say we have two characters viewing a town parade as I do in my book 10 Steps to Hero: How to Craft a Kickass Protagonist.
Character 1 sees the parade like this:
“They move like a current, each person flowing past the next. Supposedly united in their cause, but as they chant and sing for solidarity, it sounds like the melody of mourners. I see the tiny fractures, the gaps they leave between each other, the scattered looks, the fear of isolation. Each of them is drowning in a swelling crowd, and yet, despite the mass of bodies, they’re all fighting alone.”
Character 2 sees the parade like this:
“The villagers weave through the street brandishing placards like rifles. They’re soldiers marching into their last battle. The war-drum beat of their feet grinds into my ears, rattling my teeth and making my blood boil.”
Character 1 is clearly melancholy. They use longer words and longer sentences with more punctuation than character 2. Character 1 chooses to use descriptive words like: fractures, isolation, scattered, mourners, drowning. All words that someone who was happy-go-lucky wouldn't choose to use.
Character 2 on the other hand, is completely different. They use words like: blood, boil, marching, drum, grind. These words are far shorter than character 1's choices. They're also more onomatopoeic, creating louder, more violent sounds. The sentences are shorter and choppier, all things that combine together to give you the impression of a much angrier character.
It's the same parade, just viewed through the eyes of two different characters. If you want to bring your characters alive at the sentence level, dig deep into their personalities and allow those traits to influence your sentence-level choices.
The same is very much true of dialogue.
If, for example, you have a pompous government official, or an equally pompous academic professor. They're likely to have a vocabulary that's drowning in superfluous words. They might use words in day to day conversation like: In addition, however, furthermore, therefore, I'll conditionally agree and on and on.
But if you have a character in a gang, the chances are they'd never use those words, but may have some gang-specific words, or even made up words that only have meaning to gang members.
Likewise, if you have a sarcastic character, they're likely to be witty and throwing verbal take downs at every available opportunity. So when you approach dialogue, in order to make sure your characters are differentiated, consider how their personality could impact the things they say and the words they choose to speak.
If you enjoyed these tips, then you can find stacks more in my latest book, The Anatomy of Prose: 12 Steps to Sensational Sentences.
Writing Good Prose: Member Tips
We asked the ALLi membership what their top tips were for improving their prose. Here's what they said:
“Practice by writing flash fiction. It forces you to be economical with your words and pick the words with the most punch!” H.B Lyne “Try to cut at least 10% from your word count, whatever it is. Even just doing this with a sample chapter will help you home in on superfluous words and retrain yourself to write more succinctly. It's amazing how many words you can cut without losing sense or clarity, while actually improving the power of the prose overall. Keep speech tags to a minimum. Try taking them all out and only put them back in if it's not clear who is saying what. It's amazing how many are completely unnecessary.” Debbie Young “Read out aloud. Always.” Julie-Ann Corrigan “Recognize words you know you use too much, especially verbs. E.g., I know that my characters often smile or raise their eyebrows.” Julie Day “Replicating natural speech in your prose is the fastest way to connect with your reader, so listen to how other people speak. Not just those you know, but those you come across on public transport, in shops, or in restaurants. Different classes and cultures use language differently. The best way to emulate that is to listen.” Kristina Proffitt “Find and highlight weak words and crutch words so you can work through and target them, or see how many you have on a page, for instance.” Chrissey Harrison “Vary sentence structure and length. Stop making all sentences short for “easy reading.” Readers are quite capable of processing more than ten words at a time.” LK Hunsaker “It's not just prose; it's rhetoric. It should have rhythm and movement. Look to vary your sentence length and structures accordingly. Then think of the simple rhetorical rules of folk tales — repetition for emphasis, letting the reader/auditor do some of the work (objective prose generating subjective emotions), restraint.” Karen Myers “Look for “throat-clearing” phrases at the beginning of sentences–you probably don't need them. See how often you can cut “that” out of your sentences. If there's an “and” in the middle of your sentence, can you chop it into two shorter sentences?” Jane Steen “Write in the immediate so it shows and not tells. Don’t be afraid to get feedback from other writers – it’s the editing and layering that brings the prose to life.” Patricia M Osborne “Use assonance and alliteration and rhythm as in poetry. See Hemingway's story opening: “In the fall the war was always there.” /or the opening of ULYSSES: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” Richard Deakin “For me, writing better prose is often about rhythm and cadence. The way we construct our sentences can convey as much and enliven our writing as much as the words we use. I use music analogies a lot, but this is somewhere it really applies. Think of the basic rhythm of prose like the classic Pixies song. Quiet-loud-quiet. Time to think, to anticipate – explosion – time to reflect. Not at the level of story (though that too) but sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph.” Dan Holloway
Thank you for your innovative articles . I wish l could keep in touch with you for more update!
Practice flash fiction? Lol
I’ve never had a problem.wjth writers block and I’ve been writing all different kinds of things upto 5000-8000 words a day for years before deciding, I’m gonna be a writer.
I cannot be succinct for the life of me.
I just know starting anything as flash fiction that it will expand and expand and there is no way to stop myself other than stab myself in both eyes with my pen, lol.
Even then I start recording audio notes, lmao.
I will try flash fiction again or stab myself in both eyes trying.
I really Enjoy this , I wish I could keep in touch with you always
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Literary devices, terms, and elements, definition of prose.
Prose is a communicative style that sounds natural and uses grammatical structure. Prose is the opposite of verse , or poetry, which employs a rhythmic structure that does not mimic ordinary speech. There is, however, some poetry called “prose poetry” that uses elements of prose while adding in poetic techniques such as heightened emotional content, high frequency of metaphors, and juxtaposition of contrasting images. Most forms of writing and speaking are done in prose, including short stories and novels, journalism, academic writing, and regular conversations.
The word “prose” comes from the Latin expression prosa oratio , which means straightforward or direct speech. Due to the definition of prose referring to straightforward communication, “prosaic” has come to mean dull and commonplace discourse . When used as a literary term, however, prose does not carry this connotation .
Common Examples of Prose
Everything that is not poetry is prose. Therefore, every utterance or written word that is not in the form of verse is an example of prose. Here are some different formats that prose comes in:
- Casual dialogue : “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” “Fine, thanks.”
- Oration : I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. –Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Dictionary definition : Prose (n)—the ordinary form of spoken or written language, without metrical structure, as distinguished from poetry or verse.
- Philosophical texts: Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. –Friedrich Nietzsche
- Journalism: State and local officials were heavily criticized for their response to the January 2014 storm that created a traffic nightmare and left some motorists stranded for 18 hours or more.
Significance of Prose in Literature
Much of the world’s literature is written in a prose style. However, this was not always the case. Ancient Greek dramas, religious texts, and old epic poetry were all usually written in verse. Verse is much more highly stylized than prose. In literature, prose became popular as a way to express more realistic dialogues and present narration in a more straightforward style. With very few exceptions, all novels and short stories are written in prose.
Examples of Prose in Literature
I shall never be fool enough to turn knight-errant. For I see quite well that it’s not the fashion now to do as they did in the olden days when they say those famous knights roamed the world.
( Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes)
Don Quixote is often considered the forerunner of the modern novel, and here we can see Cervantes’s prose style as being very direct with some sarcasm .
The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton. In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling over Catherine Earnshaw—Heathcliff—Linton, till my eyes closed; but they had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres—the air swarmed with Catherines; and rousing myself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle wick reclining on one of the antique volumes, and perfuming the place with an odour of roasted calf-skin.
( Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë)
In this prose example from Emily Brontë we hear from the narrator, who is focused on the character of Catherine and her fate. The prose style mimics his obsession in its long, winding sentences.
“I never know you was so brave, Jim,” she went on comfortingly. “You is just like big mans; you wait for him lift his head and then you go for him. Ain’t you feel scared a bit? Now we take that snake home and show everybody. Nobody ain’t seen in this kawn-tree so big snake like you kill.”
( My Antonia by Willa Cather)
In this excerpt from My Antonia , Willa Cather uses her prose to suggest the sound of Antonia’s English. She is a recent immigrant and as the book progresses her English improves, yet never loses the flavor of being a non-native speaker.
Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton.
( The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway)
Ernest Hemingway wrote his prose in a very direct and straightforward manner. This excerpt from The Sun Also Rises demonstrates the directness in which he wrote–there is no subtlety to the narrator’s remark “Do not think I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title.”
The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening. Now— James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it? No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too.
( To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf)
Virginia Woolf was noted for her stream-of-consciousness prose style. This excerpt from To the Lighthouse demonstrates her style of writing in the same way that thoughts occur to a normal person.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”
(“Be Drunk” by Charles Baudelaire)
Unlike the previous examples, this is an example of a prose poem. Note that it is written in a fluid way that uses regular grammar and rhythm , yet has an inarguably poetic sense to it.
Test Your Knowledge of Prose
1. Choose the best prose definition from the following statements: A. A form of communicating that uses ordinary grammar and flow. B. A piece of literature with a rhythmic structure. C. A synonym for verse.
2. Why is the following quote from William Shakespeare’s “ Sonnet 116” not an example of prose?
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove
A. It has a rhythmic structure. B. It contains rhymes. C. It does not use ordinary grammar. D. All of the above.
3. Which of the following excerpts from works by Margaret Atwood is a prose example? A.
You’re sad because you’re sad. It’s psychic. It’s the age. It’s chemical. Go see a shrink or take a pill, or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll you need to sleep.
“A Sad Child” B.
I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.
The Handmaid’s Tale C.
No, they whisper. You own nothing. You were a visitor, time after time climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming. We never belonged to you. You never found us. It was always the other way round.
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Any writer looking to master the art of storytelling will want to learn the literary devices in prose. Fiction and nonfiction writers rely on these devices to bring their stories to life, impact their readers, and uncover the core truths of life. You can, too, with mastery over the different literary devices!
If you’re not familiar with the common literary devices, start with this article for definitions and examples. You may also benefit from brushing up on the six elements of fiction , as most prose stories have them. Combined with the following literary devices in fiction and nonfiction, these framing elements can help you write a powerful story.
10 Important Literary Devices in Prose
We’ve included examples and explanations for each of these devices, pulling from both contemporary and classical literature. Whether you’re a writer, a student, or a literary connoisseur, familiarize yourself with the important literary devices in prose.
1. Parallelism (Parallel Plots)
Parallelism refers to the plotting of events that are similarly constructed but altogether separate.
Are you familiar with the phrase “history often repeats itself”? If so, then you’re already familiar with parallelism. Parallelism refers to the plotting of events that are similarly constructed but altogether separate. Sometimes these parallels develop on accident, but they are powerful tools for highlighting important events and themes.
A surprising example of parallelism comes in the form of the Harry Potter series. As an infant, Harry is almost killed by Voldemort but is protected by his mother’s love. Eighteen years later, Harry must die in order to defeat Voldemort, thus shouldering the burden of love himself.
What does this parallelism do for the story? Certainly, that’s open to interpretation. Perhaps it draws attention to the incompleteness of love without action: to defeat Voldemort (who personifies hatred), Harry can’t just be loved, he has to act on love—by sacrificing his own life, no less.
This is unrelated to grammatical parallelism , a different literary device.
2. Foil Characters
A foil refers to any two characters who are “opposites” of each other.
A foil refers to any two characters who are “opposites” of each other. These oppositions are often conceptual in nature: one character may be even-keeled and mild, like Benvolio in Romeo & Juliet, while another character may be quick-tempered and pugnacious, like Tybalt.
What do foil characters accomplish? In Romeo & Juliet , Benvolio and Tybalt are basically Romeo’s devil and angel. Benvolio discourages Romeo from fighting, as it would surely end in his own death and separation from Juliet, whereas Tybalt encourages fighting out of family loyalty.
Of course, foils can also be the protagonist and antagonist, especially if they are character opposites. A reader would be hard-pressed to find similarities between Harry Potter and Voldemort (except for their shared soul). If you can think of other embodiments of good versus evil, they are most assuredly foils as well.
Foil characters help establish important themes and binaries in your work.
Foil characters help establish important themes and binaries in your work. Because Shakespeare wrote Benvolio and Tybalt as foils, one of the themes in Romeo & Juliet is that of retribution: is it better to fight for honor or turn the other cheek for love?
When considering foil characters in your writing, consider which themes/morals you want to turn your attention towards. If you want to write about the theme of chaos versus order, and your protagonist is chaotic, you might want a foil character who’s orderly. If you want to write about this theme but it’s not central to the story, perhaps have two side characters represent chaos versus order.
Learn more about foil characters here:
What is a Foil Character? Exploring Contrast in Character Development
You’ll often hear that “diction” is just a fancy term for “word choice.” While this is true, it’s also reductive, and it doesn’t capture the full importance of select words in your story. Diction is one of the most important literary devices in prose, as every prose writer will use it.
Diction is best demonstrated through analyzing a passage of prose, so to see diction in action, let’s take apart the closing paragraphs of The Great Gatsby .
Take a look at the highlighted words, as well as the opposition between different highlights. F. Scott Fitzgerald juxtaposes many different emotions in this short, poignant passage, resulting in an ambivalent yet powerful musing on the passage of time. By focusing the diction of this passage on emotions both hopeful and hopeless, Fitzgerald masterfully closes one of the most important American novels.
For a further analysis of diction, as well as some great examples, check out our article expanding upon word choice in writing !
The mood of a story or passage refers to the overall emotional tone it invokes.
The mood of a story or passage refers to the overall emotional tone it invokes. When writers craft a mood in their work, they’re heightening the experience of their story by putting you in the characters’ shoes. Since mood requires using the right words throughout a scene, mood can be considered an extended form of diction.
The writer cultivates mood by making consistent language choices throughout a passage.
The writer cultivates mood by making consistent language choices throughout a passage of the story. Take, for example, the cliché “it was a dark and stormy night.” That phrase wasn’t clichéd when it was first written; in fact, it did a great job of opening Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford . The narrator’s dark, bleak description of the weather brings the reader into the bleary, tumultuous life of its protagonist, building a mood in both setting and story.
Or, consider this excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë:
Charlotte is quick to build the mood, keying in on Jane’s sombre beginnings before juxtaposing it against the ironic perfection of her siblings. Jane’s world is clear from the beginning: a cloudy house amidst a sunny street.
Learn more about this device at our article on mood in literature.
What is Mood in Literature? Creating Mood in Writing
A foreshadow refers to any time the writer hints towards later events in the story.
Foreshadowing is a powerful literary device in fiction, drawing readers ever-closer to the story’s climax. A foreshadow refers to any time the writer hints towards later events in the story, often underscoring the story’s suspense and conflict.
Sometimes foreshadowing is obvious, and sometimes you don’t notice it until rereading the story.
Sometimes foreshadowing is obvious, and sometimes you don’t notice it until rereading the story. For example, the foreshadowing in Harry Potter makes it fairly obvious that Harry will have to die. Once the idea of horcruxes, or “split souls,” was introduced in the books, it was only a matter of time before readers connected these horcruxes to the psychic connection Harry shared with Voldemort. His mission—to die and be reincarnated—becomes fairly obvious as the heptalogy comes to a close.
However, sometimes foreshadowing is much more discreet. In Jane Eyre , for example, it’s clear that many of the people in Jane’s life are keeping secrets from her. Rochester doesn’t let anyone know about his previous marriage but it gets alluded to several times, and St. John is reluctant to admit that he does not actually love Jane, foreshadowing Jane’s return to Rochester. All of this combines to reinforce Jane’s uncertain place in the world and the journey she must take to settle down.
6. In Media Res
In Media Res refers to writing a story starting from the middle
From the Latin “In the middle of things,” In Media Res is one of the literary devices in prose chiefly concerned with plot. In Media Res refers to writing a story starting from the middle; by throwing the reader into the center of events, the reader’s interest piques, and the storytelling bounces between flashback and present day.
Both fiction and nonfiction writers can use In Media Res, provided it makes sense to do so. For example, Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale begins in the middle of a dystopian society. Atwood leads us through the society’s establishment and the narrator’s capture, but all of this is in flashback, because the focus is on navigating the narrator’s escape from this evil world.
In Media Res applies well here, because the reader feels the full intensity of this dystopia from its start. Writers who are writing stories in either alternate worlds or very private worlds may benefit from this literary device in fiction, as it helps keep the reader interested and attentive.
7. Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony occurs when the audience understands more about the situation than the story’s characters do.
Dramatic irony is a literary device in prose in which the audience understands more about the situation than the story’s characters do. This is an especially important literary device in fiction, as it often motivates the reader to keep reading.
We often see dramatic irony in stories which involve multiple points-of-view.
We often see dramatic irony in stories which involve multiple points-of-view. For example, the audience knows that Juliet is still alive, but when Romeo discovers her seemingly dead body, he kills himself in grief. How ironic, then, for Juliet to wake up to her lover’s passing, only to kill herself in equal grief. By using dramatic irony in the story, Shakespeare points towards the haphazardness of young love.
A vignette is a passage of prose that’s primarily descriptive, rather than plot-driven.
A vignette (vin-yet) refers to a passage of prose that’s primarily descriptive, rather than plot-driven. Vignettes throw the reader into the scene and emotion, often building the mood of the story and developing the character’s lens. They are largely poetic passages with little plot advancement, but the flourishes of a well-written vignette can highlight your writing style and the story’s emotions.
The story snippets we’ve included are striking examples of vignettes. They don’t advance the plot, but they push the reader into the story’s mood. Additionally, the prose style itself is emotive and poetic, examining the nuances of life’s existential questions.
A flashback refers to any interruption in the story where the narration goes back in time.
A flashback refers to any interruption in the story where the narration goes back in time. The reader may need information from previous events in order to understand the present-day story, and flashbacks drop the reader into the scene itself.
Flashbacks are often used in stories that begin In Media Res, such as The Handmaid’s Tale. While the main plot of the story focuses on the narrator’s struggles against Gilead, this narration frequently alternates with explanations for how Gilead established itself. The reader gets to see the bombing of Congress, the forced immigration of POC, and the environmental/fertility crisis which gives context for Gilead’s fearmongering. We also experience the narrator’s separation from her daughter and husband, supplying readers with the story’s highly emotive world.
A soliloquy is a long speech with no audience in the story.
Soliloquy comes from the Latin for self (sol) and talking (loquy), and self-talking describes a soliloquy perfectly. A soliloquy is a long speech with no audience in the story. Soliloquies are synonymous with monologues, though a soliloquy is usually a brief passage in a chapter, and often much more poetic.
Shakespeare’s plays abound with soliloquies. Here’s an example, pulled from Scene II Act II of Romeo and Juliet .
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Romeo isn’t talking to anyone in particular, but no matter: his soliloquy is rife with emotion and metaphor, and one can’t help but blush when he expresses how his love for Juliet makes her like the sun to him.
As a literary device in prose, soliloquy offers insight into the characters’ emotions. Soliloquy doesn’t have to be in dialogue, it can also take the form of private thoughts, but a soliloquy must be an extended conversation with oneself that exposes the character’s own feelings and ideas.
Write Powerful Literary Devices in Prose with Writers.com
The literary devices in Jane Eyre , Romeo & Juliet, and The Great Gatsby help make these stories masterful works of fiction. By using these literary building blocks, your story will sparkle, too. Take a look at our upcoming courses in fiction and nonfiction , and take the next step in writing the great American novel. Happy writing!
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- The Prose Edda Summary
by Snorri Sturluson
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful for their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
Written by Alana Shaw and other people who wish to remain anonymous
Just as Geoffrey of Monmouth asserted, Sturluson's Edda begins with the battle of Troy, arguing that several soldiers from that war traveled north to Iceland and the Nordic states. He reframes the telling of the Lanfeogatal . His list of characters and gods leads to the character Skjöldr, a son of Odin , and his rise to kingdom in Denmark.
Sturluson retells the story of the creation of the world, the gods, and the heroes of ancient days. This story involves an ancient primordial king among the humans named Gylfi who is seduced by a goddess who tricks him out of his property, seizing permanent control of the island of Zealand. We learn about Norse gods.
Ægir is the god of storms and the sea, like Greek Poseidon. This section is the story of Ægir's conversation with Bragi, a neighboring god. The two discuss the cyclical, poetic order of reality, explaining synchronous parallels in their people's poetry. They discuss poetic devices by name, and they end by discussing the strange phenomena of homonyms.
This portion is poetry composed by Sturluson. He recaptures important poems from ages past, and he catalogs the common references of poetry from his part of the world. He gives the rules that poetry generally follows, but he elaborates that because of the game of poetry to give the reader what they do not expect, the reader should always understand that real poets break rules as well as following them.
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The Prose Edda Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Prose Edda is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Study Guide for The Prose Edda
The Prose Edda study guide contains a biography of Snorri Sturluson, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About The Prose Edda
- Character List
Essays for The Prose Edda
The Prose Edda literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson.
- Norse Influences on Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring
Wikipedia Entries for The Prose Edda
The Prose Edda: Summary and Facts
The etymology of the word Edda isn’t entirely clear, but many believe it translates to ‘great-grandparent,’ while others think it is derived from the old Latin word ‘edo’, or ‘I write.’
Despite its original intent, it’s a fascinating look into the accounts of Nordic gods such as Thor , Loki , Odin , Freyr , and Ymir The Giant.
Table of Contents
The Four Sections of the Prose Edda
The prologue of the Prose Edda remains the most controversial of the four books. It was written by Snorri Sturluson, who was a Christian. The prologue of the Prose Edda reduces the Norse gods to fictional stories rather than theological accounts.
In the prologue, Norse gods are referred to as Roman Trojan warriors that fled Troy and settled in Northern Europe.
Of the four sections, the second section, or Gylfaginning , is ripe with Norse mythologies. If you want a rich account of Norse mythology, many read the Gylfaginning first. It depicts everything from the creation of the world to Ragnarök .
The title of this chapter comes from Gylfi, a king of Sweden, who travels to a palace in Asgard, where he encounters three men named High, Just-As-High, and Third.
During his encounter with the three men, he asks about the many Norse gods, as well as the creation and destruction of the world.
When the stories are complete, Gylfi has immediately transported away from the palace to his land, where he lives, telling the tales of what he encountered to his people.
As a text designed to teach the reader how to write skaldic poetry, the Skáldskaparmál dives deep into the poetry-writing process.
This third section is a conversation between Ægir, the divine personification of the sea, and Bragi , the god of poetry. It takes a deep dive into the Icelandic poet’s language and ways to recreate poetry in this manner properly.
While it’s a lesson in poetry writing, Ægir and Bragi sample from many quotes and passages from old Icelandic prose. It isn’t as rich in Norse theology as Gylfaginning, but essential texts are peppered through this section.
While other sections of the Prose Edda are samples of restored Norse poetry, the Háttatal is written entirely by Snorri Sturluson.
Overall, it uses the things learned through the previous section of this book to recreate Scandinavian-style prose.
If you want to learn more about Norse myths, Vikings, Æsir , and other Eddic poems, this section is not the place. It’s more of a lesson on verse forms and poetic diction rather than a historical account.
Prose Edda Vs. Poetic Edda
The Prose Edda is a sampling of some poems from the Poetic Edda. Overall, the Prose Edda is a much more manageable and easily digestible book compared to the Poetic Edda.
The Poetic Edda is a collection of 31 poems of unknown origin, and it can be challenging to follow for those not steeped in Norse mythology.
Snorri Sturluson’s edition of the Prose Edda organizes the poems that make it easier for the reader to follow and samples from only a few of the more important and influential poems depicting stories from Odin, Thor, and other old Norse tales.
Translations of the Prose Edda
Not all English translations of the Prose Edda are created equal. In fact, there are six remaining manuscripts written between the 14th century to the 16th century, and they are all a little bit different.
While three remaining manuscripts are nothing but fragments of the original, four manuscripts remain entirely intact. They are called the Codex Regius, Codes Wormianus, Codes Trajectinus, and Codex Upsaliensis.
Of these four remaining manuscripts, the Codex Regius is the highest regarded. Compared to other remaining translations, the Regius is the most comprehensive.
When the Prose Edda is translated into English, it uses the Codex Regius as its template.
However, the Codex Upsaliensis, while not complete, contains some extra stories in the Gylfaginning that aren’t found in the Codex Regius.
About Prose Edda’s Author
To put it lightly, Snorri Sturluson wasn’t a very liked man. He was born in 1179 AD in Hvammr, Iceland. He was a notable chieftain, poet, and fierce historian, and the Prose Edda is one of the main sources of the preservation of Norse mythology. Snorri Sturluson lived until his ultimate assassination at his home in 1241 for betraying the king.
While his attribution to preserving the texts of North Germanic people and Norse mythology is essential, it wasn’t intentional. Sturluson’s Prose Edda is a collation from the Poetic Edda, which is the collection of 31 Norse poems of unknown origin and puts a Christian spin on classic Norse mythology.
In addition to the Prose Edda, Sturluson wrote other influential books, such as Heimskringla and the Viking Gods.
The Reason The Prose Edda is Sometimes Controversial
While rich in Norse mythology, the Prose Edda isn’t without controversy. Many reards have issues with this book because its author, Snorri Sturluson, was a Christian.
His intentions with the Prose Edda weren’t to preserve the records of the Norse gods (although he certainly did) but to create a scholarly text on writing Old Norse prose.
Despite its intention, the Prose Edda (especially the Gylfaginning) provides a great introduction to the origins and destruction of the Norse gods.
Tara is a freelance writer deeply involved with history in general, old mythology and Vikings in particular. She enjoys sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee reading books on Norse myths, deities and the fantastic stories behind each and every Norse god. Her fascination with mythology began as a child; spending afternoons at her grandma’s house going through the library in search of history and mythological books. She has since carried her love of mythological stories into adulthood also studying diverse aspects of the Viking culture in general.
+150 Popular Norse and Viking Names (Female & Male)
Looking for the perfect name? There are hundreds of unique names of the Norse gods, Viking warriors, elves, gnomes, and dwarfs in the books of Norse mythology. Gods like Thor, Loki, Odin, and Frida...
Jarnsaxa: The Giantess And Norse Goddess of the Sea
In Old Norse texts, such as Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, Jarnsaxa is described as a goddess of the sea, Thor's lover, and the mother of Magni and Modi. She is also listed as one of the nine mothers...
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Six Signs of Over-Summarized Prose
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Your choice to either summarize or flesh out story events can determine whether your story is impactful or dead on arrival. Summary is an essential tool for zooming past the boring parts, but if overused, it can zoom past important moments in the story.
Unfortunately, it takes practice to spot the difference between light summarizing and full detail. A common mistake for writers is to summarize when they mean to write an impactful event, and this can destroy the story’s tension and immersion. Unlike many other prose issues , a copy editor can’t fix it, because it requires rewriting those portions of the story.
The first step to fixing it is recognizing the problem. So let’s examine six signs that your prose is summary. Because this issue is much more common in unpublished works, my examples are adapted from client manuscripts with permission.
1. Actions Unfold Faster Than Real Time
I often use the phrase “real time” to distinguish what makes the prose in a scene unique. What is real time? It’s when it takes you five seconds to read a line and five seconds – or less – pass for the characters during that line. If it’s quicker to read the line than it is to realistically reenact the events that happen during it, that means story time is moving faster than reading time. The line is summary.
Obviously, some people read much faster than others, so this is always a rough and subjective measure. But you don’t need to use a stopwatch; you only need to note when the difference is obvious.
Have a look at the excerpt below.
He took a moment to catch his breath until he gathered the strength to walk up the hill. It was a daunting task. He arrived at the top and was astonished by what he found.
Which is faster: Catching your breath or reading that first sentence? Reading the sentence is. And that’s the least summarized portion of the above excerpt. Don’t get me wrong, if your character is walking up a hill, you’ll probably want to fast-forward a touch. But this is a scene where the character has just dodged a fantastical danger and is about to discover something astounding. It’s too important for the whole excerpt to be summarized like this.
I’ve rewritten this segment to demonstrate what it might look like when fleshed out.
He laid back in the grass, listening to his thumping heart slowly return to normal as he caught his breath. His palms stung, and one knee throbbed dully. Finally, he pushed himself to his feet, ignoring all the other cuts and scrapes that flared to life. He had to find out what that thing was.
He carefully walked up the hill, trying to make each footfall quiet. Once he was near the top, he tilted his head to peek through the brush.
My rework slows the narration down by covering the state of the character in more detail, adding a quick thought, and using more description.
Let’s look at another one that’s a little trickier.
Soldiers marched through the streets, and columns of smoke rose overhead. Distant gunfire echoed off buildings. A small crowd of civilians with hastily drawn signs met one patrol head-on. The soldiers struck out with rifle butts and fired into the air. A dozen civilians went down.
Potentially, a dozen people could go down very fast. However, this covers a messy encounter between whole groups of people. Since the soldiers are simply marching at the start of the paragraph, putting the protesters down happens remarkably fast. The protesters would either have to be a few feet away or have to run to meet the soldiers. Then, the soldiers would have to be disciplined enough to act in unison. All of this is pretty unlikely in such a chaotic situation.
Below, I’ve fleshed out these events.
Distant gunfire echoed off buildings as columns of smoke rose overhead. A dozen soldiers emerged onto the lane from a side street, walking two by two as they surveyed the carnage.
A ruckus arose down the block, where a small crowd of civilians held up hastily drawn signs. They pointed to the soldiers, and, after a moment, rushed to plant themselves in the soldiers’ path. An officer fired a warning shot, but it didn’t deter the protesters.
As the soldiers closed in on the civilians, they struck out with their rifle butts. A few civilians crumpled, and then more. The protesters parted, struggling to pull a dozen of their fallen fellows along with them.
Instead of saying “Soldiers marched through the streets,” which feels like a general description of the environment, I had the soldiers take a specific action: arriving on the scene. This makes them feel more concrete and real.
After fleshing it out, the sequence is three paragraphs long. If its purpose is only scene setting, that could be too much. However, the answer isn’t summary. Rather, the description should focus on what’s happening right now. Instead of narrating how the soldiers encounter the protesters, a fight could already be in progress. Then, the paragraph could highlight specific actions by a few soldiers and protesters in the larger fight.
2. Micro Problems Don’t Feel Tense
A good scene usually has small sources of tension that are resolved just a paragraph or two later. This helps readers stay engaged. But tension requires anticipation. In other words, it needs some time. When a scene is rushed, these micro problems are resolved before readers have a chance to feel them out. Add in the great distance summary adds, and tension in the scene falls flat.
Let’s look at an example excerpt.
A patrol of soldiers rounded the corner several blocks ahead. Indira pulled the president into an alley, but the motion was awkward and slow.
A patrol of soldiers that could spot the protagonists is a micro problem that should create tension. Instead, it is resolved before readers can anticipate anything bad happening.
You might also notice that this is obviously not real time. Pulling the president into an alley is supposed to be awkward and slow, but the time it takes is equivalent to reading “Indira pulled the president into an alley.” Indira is quick on her feet!
To show what this could look like, below is the rework I did for my article on bland prose .
Several blocks ahead, a squad of soldiers with green armbands strode onto the street and glanced around. It was one of the general’s patrols; Indira couldn’t let them spot the president. She twisted to shield the president from their gaze and searched for cover. An alley waited twenty paces away. The spattered blood near the opening wasn’t a good sign, but it would have to do.
In my rework, Indira first responds internally to seeing the soldiers, better establishing them as a threat. Then, she takes a temporary measure while she searches for a more permanent solution. That solution isn’t perfect. During all of this, the problem isn’t yet resolved. Even when Indira and the president get to the alley, they might find danger there.
Below is another excerpt that rushes through a moment that could be tense.
Silvia focused on the sounds of the empty town and the chill wind that tore through it. After a minute of stillness, she heard something, a sound so tiny and indescribable that she couldn’t be certain she hadn’t simply subconsciously invented it. Lerner glanced at her. “You heard that as well?” he asked, which was enough to convince her she hadn’t imagined it. It took them the better part of an hour to track the noise, but, as they stood outside of a ramshackle barn, it seemed likely they had succeeded.
The protagonists are investigating a spooky ghost town. The beginning paces the scene pretty well, though I don’t recommend the use of “indescribable,” as it simply lowers immersion. But as soon as Lerner acknowledges the noise, the narration summarizes the rest of their exchange and the following search, jumping to when they’ve already found the noise’s source.
Skipping forward doesn’t allow readers to fully anticipate the danger it represents. If the noise slowly grew louder as the protagonists closed in on its location, tension would build, giving the ramshackle barn a grand entrance.
Silvia focused on the sounds of the empty town and the chill wind that tore through it. After a minute of stillness, she heard something, a sound so tiny and indescribable that she couldn’t be certain she hadn’t simply subconsciously invented it.
Lerner glanced at her. “You heard that as well?”
“I think so. Do you know where it’s coming from?”
Of course it was. Silvia tightened her grip on her gun as they headed toward the center of town. The darkened buildings kept quiet for the next dozen or so steps. Then Silvia and Lerner paused their approach, and it came again. The faintest scrape followed by a tiny metallic chitter. Then silence.
With the extra time, I established that Silvia is afraid, made the location of the noise feel more dangerous, and further described the sound. For a little extra fun, I also specified that the noise is only present when they stop.
3. Description Is Sparse or Absent
Description inherently slows down the pace of prose by adding sensory details. Some writers go too far with this, boring readers with paragraph upon paragraph of description, but it inherently works against summarizing. Good description also increases immersion.
Altogether, while it’s still possible for a writer to have both strong description and a summary problem, sparse description is a warning sign that a scene has been summarized.
Below, the protagonists breeze past a moment in which description is generally called for.
Fenn climbed the wall first. He stopped once he was able to peek his green eyes over the wall. “I don’t see any guards on duty. A butler hurried by a window, but nothing to worry about.” Mara started climbing next, but Verdil shot past her with speed and grace. Kit was the last to reach the top. Verdil and Kit waited on top of the wall with their bows ready while Mara and Fenn jumped down. Fenn took the lead while Mara followed three steps behind.
The first paragraph above isn’t rushing too much. Fenn climbs the wall in a brief sentence, but summary is appropriate there. Then he stops and peeks, which wouldn’t take him very long. Finally, he speaks a line of dialogue with double quotes – which is always real time.
However, as the passage continues, description is notably absent. The protagonists have just climbed over a wall; what’s on the other side? The view could be described when the viewpoint character reaches the top or when they land on the other side. As written, it’s difficult to even tell who the viewpoint character is. There is no internalizing or description from their perspective.
Based on this excerpt, you might guess Fenn is the viewpoint character. It’s actually Mara. Below, I’ve fleshed out the sequence from her perspective.
Fenn climbed the wall first. He stopped near the top, peeking over. “I don’t see any guards on duty. A butler hurried by a window, but nothing to worry about.”
Mara found a handhold on the wall to climb up after him, but Verdil shot past her with speed and grace. Fine, Mara could accept third place. The mossy stones were a little slick, but she got to the top without much effort.
Past the wall, neat hedges covered the grounds in intricate patterns. The manor sat at the center, boasting an indecent number of marble columns and lofty windows.
I modified the first paragraph slightly just to eliminate the sense that Fenn might be narrating that passage. By simply saying he stopped and peeked, it comes off more like he’s being viewed from the outside.
Then, the focus changes to Mara. I fleshed out her actions a little by letting her grab her first handhold. Narrating each handhold would be beyond tedious, but I added a brief description of the stones to add immersion to her summarized climb. Once Mara got to the top, I described the view past the wall.
I also added a brief thought from Mara. Internalizing can also be missing in summarized passages, but more care needs to be used when putting it in. It’s a good way to set the tone and express character emotion, but it’s not as immersive as description.
Let’s look at another one. This is in a modern-day, real-world setting, and the protagonist has just discovered a crashed alien spaceship.
He mustered up the strength and headed for the entrance. Immediately upon entering, he noticed the inside didn’t strike him as all alien and strange.
Immediately after this passage, the writer starts to describe the interior of the spaceship. But this spaceship is so remarkable to him that this is too late. What is the door or doorway like? What is it like to cross the threshold? Even the speed with which this character gets to the entrance feels fast, considering how important this moment would be.
He took a breath and stepped toward what had to be the entrance. It was round and flush with the curving hull of the ship, but he could spot the circular seam. In the center was a dark rectangle. A handle? He brushed a finger on it and the door evaporated, making him jump.
I have an article on when description is necessary .
4. Dialogue Isn’t in Double Quotes
As I mentioned above, dialogue in double quotes is always in real time. That doesn’t stop writers from putting a brief line of dialogue in the middle of a paragraph of summary, but there’s no question about the text within the quotes. Conversely, whenever dialogue is paraphrased instead of written out word for word, it is in summary.
In the excerpt below, a protagonist faces off against some zombies for the first time.
They slowly lumbered toward Taisa at a snail’s pace. She raised her gun and ordered them to stay back, but they showed no sign of comprehension. Taisa shot into the ground between them, but still they came. The second bullet hit the lead one in the thigh. It didn’t scream. It didn’t stumble. It showed no sign of pain. It just kept lumbering toward her.
Taisa orders the zombies to stay back, but it isn’t written out, indicating summary. For the first half of the paragraph, the story is also clearly moving faster than real time. That’s because Taisa needs a few moments to observe that the zombies aren’t responding to her threats.
However, that improves as the paragraph continues. The second bullet hits a specific zombie, and the narration takes much longer in relating that the shot has no effect. It’s still not immersive, because it relates what the zombie isn’t showing instead of what it does show, but I wouldn’t say that the second half is over-summarized.
Because this excerpt involves a tense interaction between Taisa and the zombies, this is a good opportunity to space the narration out a bit with paragraph breaks. That slows the narration down a touch, though you don’t want to overuse it. More description also helps by providing visceral details and drawing the moment out.
The figures slowly lumbered toward Taisa. As they cleared the fog, the blood covering them became clearer, as did their gaping wounds. It wasn’t the blood of a recent enemy; these people were injured. That’s why they moved so slowly. But still they came.
Taisa raised her gun. “Stay back. I don’t want to hurt you!”
Nothing changed in their vacant eyes and slack jaws as they shuffled forward. She could see the whites of their eyes now, though they were actually red, yellow, or dark sockets.
“I will shoot you.” Taisa fired a bullet into the ground.
Let’s look at another one. It starts off in real time but then transitions to summary.
“May I join you?” John asked. I hadn’t known he was interested in such things. “Of course.” John drifted to the floor and leaned against a shelf of cleaning supplies. After Heather said a prayer and I read from the Book of Job, John asked his questions. What was it like for the recon team when they found themselves trapped in the crumbling building? When they arrived in Heaven, were they happy among the angels and saints, or did they despair over their separation from the living part of humanity?
Some of the above should stay in summary. The Bible reading would be impractical to include word for word. The initial prayer could be written out if it’s short. If it’s not, the first few words could be written out before it transitions to summary. However, John’s questions are the emotionally impactful part of the scene. They shouldn’t be glossed over with summary.
I’ve revised it to transition into summary and back out again.
“May I join you?” John asked.
I hadn’t known he was interested in such things. “Of course.”
John drifted to the floor and leaned against a shelf of cleaning supplies. Once we were all settled, Heather and I began our prayers.
“Dear Lord,” I said, “Thank you for giving us hope in this time of trial…” I continued, thanking the Lord for everything I could think of. It helped me focus on the positive, on what we still had.
Heather said her prayer next, focused on everyone else’s safety, as always. Then I read several passages from the Book of Job.
Through the prayers and the reading, John was quiet. After it was all done, he finally spoke. “What do you think it was like for the recon team? When they knew they wouldn’t make it, I mean.”
While I kept the summary, I still expanded it so it’s less summarized than before. This makes the transition easier and better maintains the immersion of the scene.
5. Critical Actions Are Grouped Together
It takes some practice to get the right balance when it comes to narrating actions. You don’t need to detail the exact mechanics of how your protagonist bends their knee, lifts their leg, and tilts their ankle to take a single step forward. However, when a character is in a high-tension sequence where every movement could make a difference, you don’t want to zoom past those movements by summarizing too much.
This is particularly likely in fight scenes or other action sequences. Writers often extend the canonical length of the fight by summarizing a bunch of sword slashes or punches at once. But usually, there’s no reason this is needed, and it reduces immersion. Instead, depict a shorter fight where every second is riveting. You should only need summary if you are depicting something like a battle or another story situation where it’s unrealistic for the action to be over so fast. Even then, pick which moments of the battle are critical, and avoid summary during those moments.
Let’s look at a piece of an excerpt I used for my makeover article on action and immediacy . In it, a fantasy party is fighting a horde of creatures called strikers. Notice that it’s narrating multiple attacks at once.
Launis moved among the abhorrent creatures, slashing quickly with her broadsword. Onara fired arrows at the strikers as they drew close.
This is a big fight against multiple creatures, so it’s understandable that the writer felt the need to summarize. Even so, it wasn’t necessary. Below, I’ve expanded this section to make the slashing and loosing of arrows into individual actions.
Launis raised her broadsword and rushed forward to meet the abhorrent creatures. The first swiped at her with its long claws, but she ducked and spun, slicing through its midsection. Another leapt for her, and she cleaved it in midair. As she did, a third striker rushed at her back and then toppled over, Onara’s arrow poking through its neck.
Actions still unfold at a pretty fast clip but slow enough to be real time. A fight like this would happen fast.
Let’s look at another excerpt, but a chase this time. It’s actually from I Am Number Four .
[The boy] pushes himself harder, sprinting at a speed somewhere around sixty miles per hour. He dodges trees, rips through snarled vines, and leaps small streams with a single step.
This doesn’t mention any specific actions, so it’s clearly summary. Since it features a chase, should it narrate every footfall instead? No, that would be a bit much. Individual steps are monotonous and not particularly critical to the boy’s success in escaping his pursuer. However, what if he fails to dodge a tree or rip through a vine? He could easily lose enough time to get caught.
Given that, the narration should focus on the specific actions he takes to get past obstacles, letting the basic mechanics of running fade into the background.
The boy pushes himself harder, and the forest blurs. Fallen trees block his way, so he jumps over a log, only to dive under low branches. He runs into a draping vine; it briefly ensnares his midriff before he manages to break free. The ground gives way to a creek, but he leaps over it with a single step.
All of these obstacles go by too fast to feel tense on their own, but now readers can really watch the action as it unfolds. With some micro problems added to the scene, this chase could be as riveting as any fight.
6. Actions Are Vague or Abstract
Another hallmark of summary is when important actions or changes are told rather than shown. In other words, the narrator declares that something has happened but doesn’t offer any sensory detail to illustrate it. In many cases, the viewpoint character has come to some conclusion, but readers don’t know how they were able to make that judgment.
Since that explanation is itself very abstract, let’s look at several different excerpts.
She ran as fast as her feet would carry her, but she could hear the heavy footfalls of the monster behind her, and they were growing closer.
Above, readers are told footfalls are growing closer, but how does the viewpoint character know that? Are they getting louder? Since this creature is very big, is the ground shaking harder? This could be replaced with: “She could feel the ground shake now. The troll was closing in.”
He yanked the weapon out, and the fiendish creature fell, only to be replaced by several more of its kind.
The creature is replaced by several more. How? Did they step in from behind it? Did they emerge from the soil? Drop down from the sky? Instead, this might be: “Five more emerged from the brush, tromping on their fellow’s wriggling corpse.”
She noticed with growing dread that there were far more of the creatures than the five they’d seen before. The other rangers noticed too, and they faltered briefly.
What does faltering look like? Did they pause to look toward the horde of creatures? Did they take a step back in retreat? Instead, consider: “With her gaze locked on the approaching strikers, Launis didn’t raise her sword in time.”
To a large degree, showing instead of telling is about getting specific. Readers would rather observe specifics and come to their own conclusions than hear those conclusions secondhand.
Even if your mind draws a blank when it comes time to fill in detail, don’t despair. You can absolutely learn to fill out your prose. If you’re having trouble, try reviewing similar scenes in your favorite books, practicing your description, imagining yourself in your character’s shoes, or even physically acting out the scene. In the end, however, narrating in detail is something you get used to with time.
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Comments on Six Signs of Over-Summarized Prose
Interesting article. I tend to do the over-summarizing at a much larger scale, but maybe it’ll help looking at the little moments will make it easier to spot on the large scale.
“However, John’s questions are the emotionally impactful part of the scene. They shouldn’t be glossed over with summary.”
Your rewrite also makes John’s questions much clearer. In the original version, I got the impression that John was asking the recon team themselves, like the prayers and reading were meant to be a ritual that allowed people to speak to the dead. Of course if I had read it in context, I may have known better, but it highlights another danger of over summarizing – you are assuming that your reader is going to paint in the details themselves, in the way that you intend them to.
Well, I do have good hearing, I guess…
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THROWING LIGHT ON LITERATURE
Of Studies by Sir Francis Bacon | Complete Summary and Analysis
“Of Studies” is one of the most quoted essays of Sir Francis Bacon. He has analyzed the importance of studies; therefore, in this essay, he convinces his readers to know its vitality. He does not only talk about bookish knowledge but also demonstrates the importance of experience; without experience, the studies cannot help a person, means Sir Francis Bacon. Moreover, in his eyes, studies and education are two separate things. However, he agrees that education is the name of studying books and experiences of life. He answers some common questions that arise in every common mind. For instance, he answers why we should read books; what are the impacts of studies in one’s life; why study without experience is useless; and many other such like questions.
He elaborates each assertion through either reference or example. Style of the author is simple but his arguments are much effective. Further, he uses concise sentences, similes , and Latin phrases to strengthen his stance.
Three Types of studies in the Eyes of Sir Francis Bacon:
From the very beginning of the essay, Sir Francis Bacon divides studies into three categories; in fact, these three types are benefits of studies. Studies serve three purposes, says Sir Francis Bacon, “delight”, “ornament” and “ability”. In Bacon’s times, the drama was banned; drama may have a moral purpose but it is certainly a source of entertainment. It was forbidden in that era; therefore, people had no other option except to rely upon books; thus, books replaced stage. From that point of view, if we think, then books are the source of entertainment. It may be the reason that Bacon has used the word “delight”. From modern views, there are still people in the world, who find delight in books instead of movies and plays.
However, in next lines, he has explained the word “delight” while saying, “their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring”. Hence, only words are different but the purpose is same i.e. entertainment.
The second purpose that studies serve is “ornaments”. A person, after learning from books, can present himself in a good manner. Studies also help a person learn etiquettes. His societal impression is improved and he becomes wise in the eyes of people. However, Bacon has used only one word to explain, “ornament” i.e. “discourse”. Thereby, studies increase the speaking power of a person but the word “discourse” also needs explanation. It has many meanings; discourse has different types; romantic, professional, religious, motivational, debate etc. Nevertheless, considering in view the worldly approach of the author, he may have used it as a professional speaking power or perhaps, he is talking about impressive discourse in every field of life whether it is profession, religion or romance.
Elaboration of the third purpose of studies, according to Sir Francis Bacon is “judgment and disposition of business”. It is somewhat professional. Studies can help a person in dealing with business matters. Thereby, studies support a person in professional life. Sir Francis Bacon has also used the word “judgment” to infer that studies enhance mental eyesight of a person. His vision becomes strong and he takes quick as well as accurate decisions in business matters.
Experience is the Key Factor:
All three purposes are useless without experience, says Bacon. Too much study for “delight” makes a person lazy; ornamentation makes him showcase; similarly, cramming bundle of rules from books does not increase his ability nor does it help him enhancing his thinking capacity. Everyone has natural abilities and studies make them perfect but along with studies, the experience is also required to gain perfection. It actually improves the mentality of a person. In order to elaborate it further, Bacon uses similes , which are worth mentioning:-
“the natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience.” Sir Francis Bacon
Hence, studies show a person thousands of paths to walk but experience helps choosing the right one. Additionally, different types of men see studies differently; some people do not give studies any value; some appreciate them; but wise are those, who perfectly use them.
Why and What Kind of Books should We Study?
After describing the importance of study, Francis Bacon gives his own opinions, “read….to weigh and consider”. A person should not read books to win over a debate or to oppose arguments of others; nor should he read to believe on each and everything written in the book; rather he should study books to know the difference between right and wrong. Moreover, not every book is worth reading. He divides books, too, into three categories; “tasted”, “swallowed”, and “chewed and digested”. “Tasted” books are those, which require no special attention. A reader just needs to go through them; books that come in the category of “swallowed” need a little attention. Category, “Chewed and digested” is self-explanatory. These kinds of books need the full concentration of the readers. Each word and every line should be chewed completely and then digested.
Some Subjects and Their Purposes:
If a person has a habit of reading books then Bacon guarantees improvement in his temperament. If he is used to exchanging dialogues then his wit is going to be enhanced. Above all, if he reads books and then writes down every important suggestion or advice then this method will definitely increase his intellectuality. Francis Bacon, at the end of the essay, creates a list of different subjects and sorts them by their benefits. Here is the list of books and their benefits:-
- History increases wisdom.
- Poetry enhances imagination.
- Mathematics makes a person subtle.
- Philosophy deepens thinking.
- Logic and rhetoric help to contend.
Thus, a person needs to study the relevant subject as per his choice or requirement. If he wants wisdom, history can help him. If he wants imaginative powers, his concern should be poetry. Similarly, mathematics, philosophy, and logic serve their specific purposes. In Bacon’s eyes, a person can improve himself as much as he can; he just needs to focus. He actually wants to say that, “reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body”. With body, the mind also needs exercise; therefore, every person needs to do an exercise of the mind; he can do it by studying books.
Conclusion of “Of Studies” by Sir Francis Bacon:
The whole essay proves the intellectuality of Sir Francis Bacon. It is full of wisdom. Every line, written by the author, is philosophically rich. His philosophy is definitely praiseworthy. Moreover, he is called the father of English prose not only because of his deep philosophy but also because of his writing style. He uses exact words to summarize his viewpoint. He tries to demonstrate his thinking in concise words. This essay is well knitted. There is no denying the fact that “Of Studies” is the pure creation of Sir Francis Bacon . In short, this essay is enough to regard him as the father of English prose.
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By Anwaar Ahmed
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SUMMARY Of The Mystery Guest: A Maid Novel (Molly the Maid Book 2) By Nita Prose
24 pages, Paperback
Expected publication December 11, 2023
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