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.

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How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay + Example

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What is the ap lit prose essay, how will ap scores affect my college chances.

AP Literature and Composition (AP Lit), not to be confused with AP English Language and Composition (AP Lang), teaches students how to develop the ability to critically read and analyze literary texts. These texts include poetry, prose, and drama. Analysis is an essential component of this course and critical for the educational development of all students when it comes to college preparation. In this course, you can expect to see an added difficulty of texts and concepts, similar to the material one would see in a college literature course.

While not as popular as AP Lang, over 380,136 students took the class in 2019. However, the course is significantly more challenging, with only 49.7% of students receiving a score of three or higher on the exam. A staggeringly low 6.2% of students received a five on the exam. 

The AP Lit exam is similar to the AP Lang exam in format, but covers different subject areas. The first section is multiple-choice questions based on five short passages. There are 55 questions to be answered in 1 hour. The passages will include at least two prose fiction passages and two poetry passages and will account for 45% of your total score. All possible answer choices can be found within the text, so you don’t need to come into the exam with prior knowledge of the passages to understand the work. 

The second section contains three free-response essays to be finished in under two hours. This section accounts for 55% of the final score and includes three essay questions: the poetry analysis essay, the prose analysis essay, and the thematic analysis essay. Typically, a five-paragraph format will suffice for this type of writing. These essays are scored holistically from one to six points.

Today we will take a look at the AP Lit prose essay and discuss tips and tricks to master this section of the exam. We will also provide an example of a well-written essay for review.  

The AP Lit prose essay is the second of the three essays included in the free-response section of the AP Lit exam, lasting around 40 minutes in total. A prose passage of approximately 500 to 700 words and a prompt will be given to guide your analytical essay. Worth about 18% of your total grade, the essay will be graded out of six points depending on the quality of your thesis (0-1 points), evidence and commentary (0-4 points), and sophistication (0-1 points). 

While this exam seems extremely overwhelming, considering there are a total of three free-response essays to complete, with proper time management and practiced skills, this essay is manageable and straightforward. In order to enhance the time management aspect of the test to the best of your ability, it is essential to understand the following six key concepts.

1. Have a Clear Understanding of the Prompt and the Passage

Since the prose essay is testing your ability to analyze literature and construct an evidence-based argument, the most important thing you can do is make sure you understand the passage. That being said, you only have about 40 minutes for the whole essay so you can’t spend too much time reading the passage. Allot yourself 5-7 minutes to read the prompt and the passage and then another 3-5 minutes to plan your response.

As you read through the prompt and text, highlight, circle, and markup anything that stands out to you. Specifically, try to find lines in the passage that could bolster your argument since you will need to include in-text citations from the passage in your essay. Even if you don’t know exactly what your argument might be, it’s still helpful to have a variety of quotes to use depending on what direction you take your essay, so take note of whatever strikes you as important. Taking the time to annotate as you read will save you a lot of time later on because you won’t need to reread the passage to find examples when you are in the middle of writing. 

Once you have a good grasp on the passage and a solid array of quotes to choose from, you should develop a rough outline of your essay. The prompt will provide 4-5 bullets that remind you of what to include in your essay, so you can use these to structure your outline. Start with a thesis, come up with 2-3 concrete claims to support your thesis, back up each claim with 1-2 pieces of evidence from the text, and write a brief explanation of how the evidence supports the claim.

2. Start with a Brief Introduction that Includes a Clear Thesis Statement

Having a strong thesis can help you stay focused and avoid tangents while writing. By deciding the relevant information you want to hit upon in your essay up front, you can prevent wasting precious time later on. Clear theses are also important for the reader because they direct their focus to your essential arguments. 

In other words, it’s important to make the introduction brief and compact so your thesis statement shines through. The introduction should include details from the passage, like the author and title, but don’t waste too much time with extraneous details. Get to the heart of your essay as quick as possible. 

3. Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument 

One of the requirements AP Lit readers are looking for is your use of evidence. In order to satisfy this aspect of the rubric, you should make sure each body paragraph has at least 1-2 pieces of evidence, directly from the text, that relate to the claim that paragraph is making. Since the prose essay tests your ability to recognize and analyze literary elements and techniques, it’s often better to include smaller quotes. For example, when writing about the author’s use of imagery or diction you might pick out specific words and quote each word separately rather than quoting a large block of text. Smaller quotes clarify exactly what stood out to you so your reader can better understand what are you saying.

Including smaller quotes also allows you to include more evidence in your essay. Be careful though—having more quotes is not necessarily better! You will showcase your strength as a writer not by the number of quotes you manage to jam into a paragraph, but by the relevance of the quotes to your argument and explanation you provide.  If the details don’t connect, they are merely just strings of details.

4. Discussion is Crucial to Connect Your Evidence to Your Argument 

As the previous tip explained, citing phrases and words from the passage won’t get you anywhere if you don’t provide an explanation as to how your examples support the claim you are making. After each new piece of evidence is introduced, you should have a sentence or two that explains the significance of this quote to the piece as a whole.

This part of the paragraph is the “So what?” You’ve already stated the point you are trying to get across in the topic sentence and shared the examples from the text, so now show the reader why or how this quote demonstrates an effective use of a literary technique by the author. Sometimes students can get bogged down by the discussion and lose sight of the point they are trying to make. If this happens to you while writing, take a step back and ask yourself “Why did I include this quote? What does it contribute to the piece as a whole?” Write down your answer and you will be good to go. 

5. Write a Brief Conclusion

While the critical part of the essay is to provide a substantive, organized, and clear argument throughout the body paragraphs, a conclusion provides a satisfying ending to the essay and the last opportunity to drive home your argument. If you run out of time for a conclusion because of extra time spent in the preceding paragraphs, do not worry, as that is not fatal to your score. 

Without repeating your thesis statement word for word, find a way to return to the thesis statement by summing up your main points. This recap reinforces the arguments stated in the previous paragraphs, while all of the preceding paragraphs successfully proved the thesis statement.

6. Don’t Forget About Your Grammar

Though you will undoubtedly be pressed for time, it’s still important your essay is well-written with correct punctuating and spelling. Many students are able to write a strong thesis and include good evidence and commentary, but the final point on the rubric is for sophistication. This criteria is more holistic than the former ones which means you should have elevated thoughts and writing—no grammatical errors. While a lack of grammatical mistakes alone won’t earn you the sophistication point, it will leave the reader with a more favorable impression of you. 

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Here are Nine Must-have Tips and Tricks to Get a Good Score on the Prose Essay:

  • Carefully read, review, and underline key instruction s in the prompt.
  • Briefly outlin e what you want to cover in your essay.
  • Be sure to have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, and meaning.
  • Include the author’s name and title  in your introduction. Refer to characters by name.
  • Quality over quantity when it comes to picking quotes! Better to have a smaller number of more detailed quotes than a large amount of vague ones.
  • Fully explain how each piece of evidence supports your thesis .  
  • Focus on the literary techniques in the passage and avoid summarizing the plot. 
  • Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
  • Keep your introduction and conclusion short, and don’t repeat your thesis verbatim in your conclusion.

Here is an example essay from 2020 that received a perfect 6:

[1] In this passage from a 1912 novel, the narrator wistfully details his childhood crush on a girl violinist. Through a motif of the allure of musical instruments, and abundant sensory details that summon a vivid image of the event of their meeting, the reader can infer that the narrator was utterly enraptured by his obsession in the moment, and upon later reflection cannot help but feel a combination of amusement and a resummoning of the moment’s passion. 

[2] The overwhelming abundance of hyper-specific sensory details reveals to the reader that meeting his crush must have been an intensely powerful experience to create such a vivid memory. The narrator can picture the “half-dim church”, can hear the “clear wail” of the girl’s violin, can see “her eyes almost closing”, can smell a “faint but distinct fragrance.” Clearly, this moment of discovery was very impactful on the boy, because even later he can remember the experience in minute detail. However, these details may also not be entirely faithful to the original experience; they all possess a somewhat mysterious quality that shows how the narrator may be employing hyperbole to accentuate the girl’s allure. The church is “half-dim”, the eyes “almost closing” – all the details are held within an ethereal state of halfway, which also serves to emphasize that this is all told through memory. The first paragraph also introduces the central conciet of music. The narrator was drawn to the “tones she called forth” from her violin and wanted desperately to play her “accompaniment.” This serves the double role of sensory imagery (with the added effect of music being a powerful aural image) and metaphor, as the accompaniment stands in for the narrator’s true desire to be coupled with his newfound crush. The musical juxtaposition between the “heaving tremor of the organ” and the “clear wail” of her violin serves to further accentuate how the narrator percieved the girl as above all other things, as high as an angel. Clearly, the memory of his meeting his crush is a powerful one that left an indelible impact on the narrator. 

[3] Upon reflecting on this memory and the period of obsession that followed, the narrator cannot help but feel amused at the lengths to which his younger self would go; this is communicated to the reader with some playful irony and bemused yet earnest tone. The narrator claims to have made his “first and last attempts at poetry” in devotion to his crush, and jokes that he did not know to be “ashamed” at the quality of his poetry. This playful tone pokes fun at his childhood self for being an inexperienced poet, yet also acknowledges the very real passion that the poetry stemmed from. The narrator goes on to mention his “successful” endeavor to conceal his crush from his friends and the girl; this holds an ironic tone because the narrator immediately admits that his attempts to hide it were ill-fated and all parties were very aware of his feelings. The narrator also recalls his younger self jumping to hyperbolic extremes when imagining what he would do if betrayed by his love, calling her a “heartless jade” to ironically play along with the memory. Despite all this irony, the narrator does also truly comprehend the depths of his past self’s infatuation and finds it moving. The narrator begins the second paragraph with a sentence that moves urgently, emphasizing the myriad ways the boy was obsessed. He also remarks, somewhat wistfully, that the experience of having this crush “moved [him] to a degree which now [he] can hardly think of as possible.” Clearly, upon reflection the narrator feels a combination of amusement at the silliness of his former self and wistful respect for the emotion that the crush stirred within him. 

[4] In this passage, the narrator has a multifaceted emotional response while remembering an experience that was very impactful on him. The meaning of the work is that when we look back on our memories (especially those of intense passion), added perspective can modify or augment how those experiences make us feel

More essay examples, score sheets, and commentaries can be found at College Board .

While AP Scores help to boost your weighted GPA, or give you the option to get college credit, AP Scores don’t have a strong effect on your admissions chances . However, colleges can still see your self-reported scores, so you might not want to automatically send scores to colleges if they are lower than a 3. That being said, admissions officers care far more about your grade in an AP class than your score on the exam.

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define prose essay

What Is Prose? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples

Prose definition.

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.

Related Terms

  • Blank Verse

define prose essay

Literary Devices

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.

“The Moment”

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, writing a prose essay.

I've got an assignment to write a prose essay, but I'm not exactly sure what that means. Can any of you help me understand the definition of a prose essay and maybe some tips on how to write one?

A prose essay is a type of essay written in prose, which is a natural, flowing form of language, as opposed to verse or poetry. Essentially, when you're asked to write a prose essay, you're being asked to write an essay in complete sentences, organized into paragraphs, that clearly communicates your thoughts and ideas.

To write a prose essay, follow these steps:

1. Understand the prompt: Read the essay prompt or question carefully and make sure you fully comprehend what is being asked of you. Ask your teacher if you're unclear about what the point of the question is.

2. Brainstorm and outline: Jot down your thoughts and ideas related to the prompt and begin organizing them into a logical structure. Create an outline to serve as the framework for your essay, with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion.

3. Introduction: Start with an engaging opening line that grabs the reader's attention and introduces the topic. Provide some background information and outline the main points you plan to cover in the essay.

4. Body paragraphs: Each paragraph should focus on a single main point that supports your overall argument. Use evidence, examples, and analysis to back up your claims and explain how they connect to the essay's central theme.

5. Transitions: Smoothly transition between paragraphs and ideas with appropriate phrases and sentences. This will help improve the readability and flow of your essay.

6. Conclusion: Summarize the most important points made in the body paragraphs and restate the thesis or main argument. Offer some insight or thoughts about the implications of your analysis.

7. Edit and revise: Carefully review your essay for clarity, coherence, grammar, and spelling errors—even small typos may give your reader the impression that you don't care all that much about what you're writing about. Make necessary changes to improve readability and ensure that your essay effectively addresses the prompt. Reading your essay out loud can sometimes be a good way of identifying snag points.

Finally, remember to keep your language clear and concise, while still using a variety of sentence structures and vocabulary to make your essay more engaging. Good luck with your prose essay assignment!

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Humanities LibreTexts

1.7: The Prose Genre

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Prose is a form of language that possesses ordinary syntax and natural speech rather than rhythmic structure; in which regard, along with its measurement in sentences rather than lines, it differs from poetry. Compared to poetry, prose sounds more like natural, every day speech.

While prose can certainly include some figurative language and connotative meanings, the messages are usually more direct. Prose often includes the voice of a primary narrator who either is (first person) or is not (third person) involved directly with the characters and plot of the work and who often explains context, action, and character descriptions to the reader.

Examples of prose include (but are not limited to) novels, short stories, essays, letters, speeches, diary entries, research articles, webpages, textbooks, newspaper stories, etc. What you are reading right now is considered a form of prose. Additionally, works such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, an article on the Cincinnati Bengals football team in ESPN magazine, the letter you may have written to Santa as a kid, and my creative non-fiction essay on apartment life that I wrote in college are also all examples of prose.

Writing Style and Language

You can use the prose author’s writing style to help you analyze and understand the work as well as to help you make delivery decisions. Writing style reflects the author’s attitudes toward the subject matter, and it should influence your performance. Your goal as an oral interp performer is to match the style of performance with the style of writing. The style of prose is determined by things like diction, imagery, figurative language, and syntax. Below are clues to identifying the style of a piece that can help you make decisions on how to convey meaning through your voice and body when you perform prose.

Connotative vs. Denotative Words

Some words contain richer meaning than what one may glean from simply a dictionary definition. For example, a general word such as "home" is more likely to have connotative value conjuring more feeling than specific language such as "house," which describes a type of building. These feelings will also vary among different people depending upon one’s culture, past experiences, etc.

Genre of Discourse

Prose performers must decide how words are used that indicate the kind of style the writer is trying to convey. For example, "commit homicide," "blow away," and "murder" all mean to kill someone. They come from legal discourse, vocal slang, and everyday usage. However, "blow away" and "murder" each carry a distinct connotative and emotive value. Also, "happen," "occur," "manifest," and "go down" are similar in meaning but come from distinct genres of discourse: everyday usage (happen), formal usage (occur), philosophical discourse (manifest), and slang (go down). "Happen" and "go down" could be used in everyday speech; "occur" and "manifest," being more formal, would not ordinarily be used in speech.

Allusions, Similes, and Metaphors

A writer’s use of these is an important aspect of literary style. All three can be used to convey connotative meaning.

  • Allusions refer to shared experiences many would understand. Example: “I hope tonight won’t be another Thanksgiving dinner.”
  • Similes describe things using a comparison that employs the words “like” or “as.” Example: “I feel like a million dollars now!”
  • Metaphors draw a comparison by equating two or more things that are generally unrelated as the same. For example, “He has a heart of stone” or “She’s a real piece of work.”

This includes punctuation and how words are grouped together demonstrating their relationship and importance. Your discoveries here will dictate your use of vocal elements such as pauses, rate, emphasis, volume, and inflection.

Short, simple sentences indicate a direct approach and suggest immediacy of experience. Long, complicated sentences suggest a more sophisticated and evaluative approach. Examples of punctuation may include:

  • Semicolon – marks a turn of thought or definite separation between two aspects of the same thought; and usually requires a slight pause.
  • Parentheses and double dash – mark off distinct speech phrases.
  • Single dash or colon – often marks the pause that occurs just before a summary and implies a reference to some previous portion.

All of this being said, use punctuation as a guide but not a rule. It is more for the eye than for the ear. A comma in a text does not always demand a pause. Keep in mind that how you perform punctuation might change as you begin practicing a piece for presentation.

Poetic diction

Poetic language, generally connotative, would stand out in casual conversation, so an author’s choice to include it in a prose piece would be very intentional. Unusual connotations also carry with them double meanings. For instance, the word "terrific" can be used for its connotation of terrifying;" the word "taxation" for its connotation of "taxing" or stress-inducing. Consider words such as “escape” vs. “flee,” “girl” vs. “maiden,” and “invisible” vs. “unseen.” In each of these pairings, the first usage is essentially descriptive; the latter more poetic or emotive.

The sounds of words an author has chosen are especially important for the interpreter. The sounds of the words carry meaning as well as the word itself. Pace and vocal quality are influenced by the connotative meaning of words.

Performance of Prose

Since prose is written in a style most like our natural speech, it is often the first genre you may tackle in your adventure through the world of oral interpretation.

Sometimes, a work of prose is more expository in nature rather than narrative (telling a story), focused on providing information or developing an argument as opposed to developing a plot. A narrative prose piece, on the other hand, tells a story from a first- or third-person narrator’s point of view. A performer of prose should understand the author’s intention behind the style of the work. The performer should thoroughly analyze the narrator or primary voice of the work to choose a performance approach that honors that voice’s point of view, personality, biases, feelings, etc.

Particularly in narrative prose, you will sometimes see more than one persona represented in the work. These may exist in the form of character dialogue throughout the piece. As a prose performer, you must examine these characters and determine how to perform them in a way that makes them distinct from the primary voice (narrator). You can do this using the various vocal and body language elements discussed in chapters 3 and 4. All characters should have some sort of body and/or vocal change that works with the interpretation given to that character. It can be your stance, how you hold your shoulders/head/posture, specific gestures to that character, or an accent or higher vocal tone. Do not go overboard, this should be subtle. Most importantly, be consistent with these choices, doing them each time the character speaks so as not to confuse your audience. Consider the following to add depth to your characterizations:

  • Feel free to commit to an emotion that the character experiences.
  • Consider adding reaction moments even when characters do not have anything to say. Characters can react whether they speak or not.
  • Control your body. Avoid nervous rocking back and forth or nervous twitches such as wiggling your foot or playing with your pant leg.
  • Use facial expressions. Your face should be “alive” at all times. Every narrator’s/character's facial expressions should be appropriate for that character. Practicing in front of a mirror can help.
  • Use appropriate focal points (see chapter 4 in Body Language). If you determine through analysis that the narrator or primary voice is speaking to a group of people, engage the audience with eye contact using an audience focal point. Use the layout of classroom to your advantage, scanning and picking individuals to look at for an extended time during specified intense moments add to the performance. Though, if you determine whether the primary voice is speaking to no one in particular, perhaps rather to his or herself, you may need to use the inner-expressed focal point, looking into space as one may do while talking on the phone. When interpreting character dialogue, use different off-stage focal points to indicate characters looking at one another while speaking.
  • Use appropriate vocal characteristics for the various personae. Play with tone, rhythm, volume, and all forms of dynamics. The secret with vocals is variation, and this can help make your various personae in a piece more distinct.
  • Get to know the personae of the piece beyond the words in the literature. For deeper characterization, consider the possible history, backstories, and the relationships that exist between the characters and voices of the prose. Most of the time, these conclusions will be drawn simply from your own understanding and assumptions. That is fine. You can use those to help you make performance and delivery decisions for characterization.

Often, a prose piece may be too long for you to perform it in its entirety, and you will have to make a “cutting.” This involves selecting a chunk(s) from the entire work that still fit within the theme or message the performer is aiming to convey to the audience to include within a performance. Later, this chapter addresses cutting literature for performance, but in short, it works best to select large chunks for performance rather than piecing small lines and segments together to preserve as much of the rhythm and flow of an author’s words as possible. One key exception to this might be in the cutting of “tag lines,” or the short bits of narration after a line of dialogue. These are phrases such as “he said,” “she shouted angrily,” or “they paused.” Since performers are using character vocalizations to bring literature to life for audiences, they will likely be DOING the actions indicated in these tag lines (e.g. shouting angrily or pausing). Including them when performing often seems unnecessary, and many interpers choose to omit them in performance.

Any fiction or non-fiction novel, essay, journal, or short story can be selected to be cut for a prose performance. The use of diction, facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, intonation, pace and other elements of delivery will offer a rewarding experience for both interpreter and audience. Every delivery choice made for prose should benefit the piece, help tell the story or convey the information, and aid interpretation. Performing prose effectively, particularly a narrative piece with several characters, takes lots of practice, devotion, and creativity. The more work you have done analyzing the work and understanding it, the better you can bring the piece to light for your audience. Strive to convey the crisp mental imagery you had when you read it when you perform for your audience.


Adapted from , .

  • Literary Terms
  • When & How to Write a Prose
  • Definition & Examples

How to Write Prose

There’s just one rule for writing prose: don’t write verse by mistake. If you grew up in the modern world, chances are you’ve been writing prose since the day you started stringing sentences together on a page. So all you have to do now is keep it up!

  • In general, prose does not have line breaks; rather, it has complete sentences with periods or other punctuation marks.
  • There’s another very important kind of line break that makes your prose easier to understand: paragraph breaks. Paragraphs break up your writing into manageable chunks that the reader can digest one at a time as they read. This is especially important in essays , where each paragraph contains a single “step” in the argument. Without paragraph breaks, prose becomes pretty ugly: just a huge block of words without any breaks or structure at all!

When to Use Prose

Unless you’re writing poetry, you’re writing prose. (Remember that prose has a negative definition.) As we saw in §2, essays use prose. This is mainly just a convention – it’s what readers are used to, so it’s what writers use. In the modern world, we generally find prose easier to read, so readers prefer to have essays written that way. The same thing is true for stories – we have an easier time following the story when it’s written in prose simply because it’s what we’re accustomed to.

So you can use prose pretty much anywhere – poetry is the only kind of writing that frequently uses verse, meaning prose covers everything else . And even poetry, as we’ve seen, can be written in prose. So when should you use prose? The answer is: all over the place.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • 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)

Pronunciation: PROZ

  • 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
  • Interior Monologues
  • Everything You Need to Know About Shakespeare's Plays
  • 12 Classic Essays on English Prose Style
  • style (rhetoric and composition)
  • Overview of Imagism in Poetry
  • What You Should Know About Travel Writing
  • Examples of Iambic Pentameter in Shakespeare's Plays
  • What You Need to Know About the Epic Poem 'Beowulf'
  • An Interview With Ellen Hopkins
  • Creative Nonfiction

What is Prose? Definition, Examples of Literary Prose

Prose is a form of written language that does not have a formal meter structure. Prose more closely mimics normal patterns of speech.

What is Prose?

Prose is a style of writing that does not follow a strict structure of rhyming and/or meter. Prose uses normal grammatical structures. Elements of prose writing include regular grammar and paragraph structures that organize ideas, forgoing more stylistic and aesthetic forms of writing found in poetry and lyrics.

Prose can include normal dialogue, speeches, novels, news reports, etc. Prose is distinguished from poetry which uses line breaks and has meter that tends to defy normal grammar rules.

In today’s literature, most stories are told in prose. There is no longer much emphasis on the oral tradition of storytelling, to which verse was very well suited. Since print came to be commonplace, storytellers tend to rely on prose to tell their stories because of the freedom it allows.

Different Types of Prose

There are different genres of writing that use prose style. Here are a few:

Nonfiction Prose

Nonfiction is a work of writing that is based on fact. Examples of nonfiction include memoirs, essays, instructions, biographies, etc.

Fiction Prose

Fiction is a genre of writing that is imagined or untrue. Novels use prose in order to tell stories. Subgenres of fiction can include fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, etc.

Heroic Prose

Heroic prose uses the hero archetype in order to tell stories of bravery and travel in which good triumphs over evil. These stories are meant to be recited orally. Heroic prose may use tricks such as rhyme and a slight rhythmic structure in order to enhance the effects of being read out loud but are not the same as the ancient hero tales which were written in strict poetic verse.

Prose Poetry

Prose poetry uses certain poetic qualities in order to add a lyrical or aesthetic value to the writing. However, it stops short of any regular or strict metered form. This style of writing creates bolder emotional effects and often relies on metaphors and imagery in order to create similar reactions in readers that poetry would, while still maintaining the prose style.

The Function of Prose

Prose provides a loose structure for writers which offers freedom and creativity in expression. With prose, a writer can be as imaginative and creative as they want—or they can write very dryly in order to convey a specific point. It all comes down to the writer’s purpose and intended effect. With prose, the sky is the limit.

Ultimately, prose is an efficient way to write and convey ideas. There is a reason why news reporters and journalists write in prose—they can clearly express details, key facts, and updates in a way that is accessible to all. If everything was written in poetry/verse, there might be some conflicts in how news and important messages were spread.

Examples of Prose in Literature

In fiction, prose can be manipulated in order to create very specific stylistic effects. For example, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights tends to use long, winding sentence structures in order to convey the tendency to become obsessive, which is a trait found in several characters.

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 obtrustive name, I discovered my candle wick reclining on one of the antique volumes, and perfuming the place with an odour of roasted calf-skin.

Speeches are another place where prose is used to convey ideas. Consider the “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 again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires.

Essays are also written in prose. The philosopher Sir Francis Bacon , who influenced founders of the American colonies, wrote the essay “On Nobility” in which he speaks on nobility in government.

For nobility attempers sovereignty, and draws the eyes of the people, somewhat aside from the line royal. But for democracies, they need it not; and they are commonly more quiet, and less subject to sedition, than where there are stirps of nobles. For men’s eyes are upon the business, and not upon the persons; or if upon the persons, it is for the business’ sake, as fittest, and not for flags and pedigree.

Recap: What is Prose in Literature?

Prose is the style of writing that does not use a metered format like poetry does. It more closely resembles normal patterns of speech, with normal grammatical structures such as full sentences and paragraphs.

Prose: Understanding, Examples & Writing Tips

What is prose.

  • Prose classifications
  • Examples of prose
  • How to write prose
  • Tips for writing effective prose

Ever wondered what makes a piece of writing engaging, readable, and relatable? A lot of it has to do with its structure and form. One such form of writing is prose. In this blog, we'll unravel the definition of prose, its various classifications, examples, and even some handy tips for writing effective prose. So, let's jump right in!

At its simplest, the definition of prose refers to any form of writing that doesn't have a strict metrical structure. Unlike poetry, which often relies on rhythm and rhyme, prose follows the natural patterns of everyday speech. Now, let's explore some key characteristics and types of prose.

The Characteristics of Prose

Prose is a versatile form of writing with several distinct characteristics:

  • Ordinary Language: Prose uses everyday language, the kind you use when chatting with friends or writing an email. It's easy to understand, without any fancy or poetic elements.
  • Structured Sentences: Sentences in prose follow grammatical rules and have a clear beginning, middle, and end. This structure makes prose easy to read and comprehend.
  • No Rhyme or Rhythm: Unlike poetry, prose doesn’t have to rhyme or follow a specific rhythm. It flows naturally, just like spoken language.

Types of Prose

Prose can take on many forms, depending on its purpose. Here are a few you may recognize:

  • Narrative Prose: This type of prose tells a story. It's what you'll find in novels, short stories, and biographies.
  • Nonfiction Prose: This form of prose shares real-life experiences, facts, or ideas. Think newspaper articles, essays, and textbooks.
  • Dramatic Prose: Dramatic prose is used in plays and scripts. It's written to be performed, rather than read silently.

Now that we've covered the definition of prose and its types, you're well on your way to understanding this versatile form of writing. Next, we'll look at some examples of prose to solidify your understanding. But we'll save that for our next section. Stay tuned!

Prose Classifications

Having grasped the basic definition of prose, let's move on to the various ways prose can be classified. Understanding these classifications can help you better appreciate the depth and diversity of prose in literature.

Literary Prose

Literary prose is a term often used to describe works of fiction and certain types of creative nonfiction. This classification includes:

  • Novels: Long works of fiction with complex plots, subplots, and well-developed characters.
  • Short Stories: Brief works of fiction, typically focusing on a single event or character.
  • Essays: Short pieces of nonfiction that explore a particular topic from the author's perspective.

Functional Prose

Functional prose refers to writing that serves a practical purpose. This includes:

  • Instruction Manuals: Guides that provide step-by-step instructions on how to use a product or perform a task.
  • Reports: Formal documents that relay information or results in a structured format.
  • Business Letters: Professional correspondence often used in the corporate world.

Conversational Prose

Conversational prose emulates the style and tone of everyday speech. Some examples include:

  • Dialogues: Conversations between characters in novels, short stories, or plays.
  • Personal Letters: Informal written communication between friends, family, or acquaintances.
  • Blog Posts: Informal articles written in a conversational tone, such as this one!

With these classifications in mind, you'll start to see the breadth of prose in everyday life—from the books on your shelf to the instruction manual for your coffee maker. But how do these different types of prose come to life? Let's delve deeper into some examples in our next section. Stay tuned!

Examples of Prose

Now that you've got a solid understanding of the different types of prose, let's dive into some examples. This should help cement your understanding and give you a more tangible sense of what the definition of prose really entails.

Examples of Literary Prose

When it comes to literary prose, one can't help but think of classic novels. Take, for example, Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." In this novel, Austen's prose is elegant, witty, and deeply revealing of her characters' inner lives. Another example is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, where the prose is simple yet powerful, and carries a heavy emotional impact.

Examples of Functional Prose

An example of functional prose could be the instruction manual included with your microwave. It's direct, clear, and serves a practical purpose—helping you figure out how to heat up your leftovers! Another example is a business report, such as a quarterly earnings report for a company, which provides structured and factual information about the company's financial performance.

Examples of Conversational Prose

In conversation, we use prose all the time without even realizing it. Think about the last text message you sent—it's likely a great example of conversational prose. Or consider the dialogue in your favorite sitcom. The characters' conversations are examples of prose that are designed to sound natural and spontaneous.

Hopefully, these examples have brought the definition of prose to life for you. Now, onto the fun part: how to write your own prose.

How to Write Prose

Writing prose isn't about fancy words or complex sentences. It's about clarity, rhythm, and meaning. If you've been wondering how to apply the definition of prose to your own writing, here are some steps to get you started.

Choose Your Purpose

First, decide why you're writing. Are you trying to entertain readers with a gripping story? Convey information in a clear and concise way? Or engage in a casual conversation? Your purpose will help shape the style and tone of your prose.

Plan Your Message

Next, consider your message. What do you want your readers to understand, feel or do after reading your prose? Keep this message in mind as you're writing—it will guide your choice of words and sentence structures.

Write with Clarity

When you write prose, strive for clarity. Use simple, everyday words. Make your sentences short and to the point. And remember, it's not about how complicated you can make the sentence, but how easily your reader can understand it.

Revise and Refine

Finally, always take the time to revise and refine your prose. Look for ways to make your writing more clear, concise, and engaging. Remember, the more you practice, the better you'll get at writing prose.

Now, you're ready to take your understanding of the definition of prose and put it into practice. But before you do, let's look at a few tips to make your prose even more effective.

Tips for Writing Effective Prose

Now that you've got a handle on the definition of prose and how to write it, let's delve a little deeper. Here are a few tips that can help make your writing more engaging and effective.

Use Active Voice

Active voice makes your writing more direct and engaging. So, instead of writing "The cake was eaten by the dog," write "The dog ate the cake." It's a simple change, but it can make a big difference in how your writing is received.

Keep Sentences and Paragraphs Short

Long sentences and paragraphs can be hard to follow. So, try to keep your sentences short and sweet. And break up your paragraphs into smaller chunks. This makes your writing easier to read and understand.

Choose the Right Word

Every word matters when you're writing prose. So, choose your words carefully. Use words that are precise and clear. And avoid jargon or overly complicated terms. Remember, your goal is to communicate, not to confuse.

Add Variety to Your Sentence Structures

Varied sentence structures can make your writing more interesting. So, don't be afraid to mix things up. Use short sentences. Use long sentences. Use sentences that start with "And" or "But." The key is to keep your reader engaged and interested.

By applying these tips, you'll be able to write prose that is clear, engaging, and effective. And remember, the best way to improve your prose is to write, write, and write some more. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start writing!

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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)

intransitive verb

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.

Word History

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

phillis wheatley

Poetic Forms: 13 Ways of Looking at a...

Poetic Forms: 13 Ways of Looking at a Poem

Sestina, anyone?

Dictionary Entries Near prose


Cite this Entry

“Prose.” Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of prose, legal definition, legal definition of pro se.

Adverb or adjective

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Nglish: Translation of prose for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of prose for Arabic Speakers

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Definition of prose noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

  • the author’s clear elegant prose (= style of writing)
  • I plan out an essay in note form before writing it up in continuous prose.
  • a passage in prose

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define prose essay

Prose Vs Poetry: Exploring the Heart of Literary Beauty

Prose is written in ordinary language without structured meter, while poetry uses rhythmic patterns, stylistic devices, and oftentimes rhymes. Understanding their nuances is key to appreciating different literary forms.

Prose and poetry are fundamental methods of expressing thoughts, stories, and emotions through the written word. Prose unfolds in grammatical sentences and is organized into paragraphs, flowing much like everyday conversation. On the other hand, poetry leans heavily on aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language, often employing meter, rhyme, and symbolism to evoke emotions and imagery.

Both prose and poetry play pivotal roles in literature, with prose typically used for novels, essays, and articles, while poetry remains a bastion of personal expression and cultural storytelling. While prose tells a narrative in a straightforward manner, poetry reveals its layers through compact, evocative language and line breaks that prompt readers to unearth deeper meanings. Distinguishing between these two forms enhances our appreciation and expands our literary palate.

The Essence Of Prose

When exploring the tapestry of written expression, prose stands out with its unassuming grace and practical beauty. Unlike its lyrical cousin, poetry, which often revels in rhythm and verse, prose carries the essence of storytelling and exposition in a form that mirrors everyday speech. It’s the workhorse of literature, delivering narrative and ideas with clarity and precision, and its impact is as profound as it is subtle.

Definition Of Prose

Prose is a form of language that exhibits a grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than a rhythmic structure, as in the case of traditional poetry. It is the most common medium for expressing ideas in writing, taking shape in novels, essays, articles, and more. It is straightforward, unadorned, and the direct cousin of everyday communication. In prose, writers convey their message without the constraints of meter and rhyme that typify poetry.

Characteristics Of Prose

The defining traits of prose differentiate it from other forms of writing:

  • Structured in sentences and paragraphs: Unlike poetry, which may feature enjambments and broken lines, prose adheres to the conventional sentence structure and paragraph form.
  • Natural flow: Prose follows the natural patterns of speech, making it accessible and relatable to a wide audience.
  • Lacks metrical structure: Instead of following a strict metric pattern or rhyme scheme, prose is free-form, focusing on content and meaning.
  • Versatility in themes and concepts: Prose can cover any topic or idea, from the mundane to the extraordinary.
  • Narrative style: Prose is often used to tell stories, whether factual or fictional, in a clear and logical manner.

Examples Of Prose In Literature

Throughout literary history, numerous works of prose have left indelible marks on culture and society:

Each of these works encapsulates the power of prose to reflect human experiences and social realities, offering readers a lens into different worlds and perspectives.

The Allure Of Poetry

The allure of poetry transcends time and culture, captivating hearts and uplifting spirits with its unique blend of rhythm, language, and emotion. Unlike prose, with its straight-forward narrative structure, poetry offers a melodic escape into the world of metaphor and meaning that’s both personal and universal. The beauty of poetry lies in its power to condense complex feelings and abstract thoughts into a tapestry of words that resonate on a deeper level. It invites readers to interpret and experience the world through a different lens – one that is rich with imagery, symbolism, and cadence.

Definition Of Poetry

Poetry is an art form that uses linguistic elements to evoke emotions and thoughts. Unlike prose, it’s less about relaying facts and more about conjuring a particular mood or feeling. It’s akin to painting with words – each stroke aims to create a profound sensory experience . Poets often employ rhyme, meter, and various poetic devices to enhance the impact of their verse, allowing the reader to not simply ‘read’ but to ‘feel’ the work.

Characteristics Of Poetry

  • Rhythm and meter: The beat and structure underlying the words.
  • Rhyme schemes: Patterns of rhymes that bolster memorability and aesthetic pleasure.
  • Figurative language: Use of metaphors, similes, and personification to depict concepts artistically.
  • Imagery: Vivid descriptions that appeal to the senses and conjure vivid pictures in the mind.
  • Emotional depth: The ability to convey profound feelings and evoke reactions in the reader.
  • Economy of language: Precise word choice that packs meaning into every syllable.

Examples Of Poetic Masterpieces

The world of poetry is vast and diverse, with countless works that have stood the test of time. Here are a few renowned pieces that continue to stir the souls of many:

Each of these masterpieces showcases the distinct elements of poetry , from the haunting rhythm of Poe’s “The Raven” to the timeless beauty encapsulated in Shakespeare’s sonnets. They demonstrate that poetry remains an influential art form capable of touching the depths of the human heart and mind.

Contrasting Prose And Poetry

The worlds of prose and poetry each resonate with unique enchantments and intricacies. While prose unfolds in logical clarity and practicality, poetry blossoms through rhythm, symbolism, and brevity. Grasping the contrasts between these two literary forms not only enriches our appreciation for writing but also enhances our understanding of their distinctive roles in communication and art. Let’s delve into the differences in language and structure, the variances in emotional impact, and the aesthetic and artistic contrasts that define prose and poetry.

Language And Structure Differences

Prose and poetry distinguish themselves through their language and structural frameworks. Prose operates with conventional grammar and a straightforward structure that prioritizes clear, practical expression. Poetry, on the other hand, often employs meter, rhyme, and other stylistic devices that breach standard prose conventions.

  • Prose: Written in sentences and paragraphs with a focus on literal meaning.
  • Poetry: Composed of verses, stanzas, with potential use of metaphor and ambiguity.

Emotional Impact And Communication Variances

The methods by which prose and poetry touch our emotions and convey messages vary significantly. Prose is typically aimed at intellect, reasoning, and telling a story or presenting an argument , while poetry cuts to the core of experience, often invoking emotion and thought in a more condensed and impactful way.

Aesthetic And Artistic Contrasts

Poetry and prose also diverge in their aesthetic and artistic objectives. The beauty of prose lies in its clarity and narrative composure, creating art from arcs and character development. Poetry is akin to a painting made with words, where each element contributes to an overarching impact beyond the straightforward use of language.

  • Prose: A clear window into story and character.
  • Poetry: A canvas for emotional and abstract expression.

Prose Vs Poetry: Exploring the Heart of Literary Beauty


Analyzing The Impact

As we delve into the realm of written expression, the distinction between prose and poetry emerges, each with its profound impact on literature and the human experience. Analyzing the impact of these two forms helps us understand not just the intricacies of their structure, but also the depth of emotion and imagination they incite within us. Prose, with its straightforward narrative form, connects with us on a conversational level, while poetry transcends the ordinary, crafting images that linger in the mind long after the words have been read.

Engaging Emotions Through Prose

The unadorned and structure of prose makes it a powerful vessel for storytelling. Authors harness this form to build worlds that are as nuanced and complex as our own, exploring themes that resonate with the reader’s personal experiences. Whether in novels, essays, or biographies, prose appeals to our emotions through character development and plot, creating a mirror to our own realities. It’s the emotional journey, rather than the poetic meter, that captures the heart of the reader.

Evoking Imagery And Sensory Perception Through Poetry

Poetry takes the essence of human experience and distills it into a symphony of rhythm and rhyme. The beauty of poetry lies in its conciseness and the ability to paint pictures in the mind’s eye with minimal words . A single stanza can evoke a cascade of imagery and stir the senses. Metaphors and similes are the brushstrokes of poetry, providing glimpses of the world through a kaleidoscope of emotion and perception, often leaving the reader awash in newfound insights and reflections.

Literary Beauty In Prose And Poetry

Both prose and poetry are celebrated for their literary beauty , though they exhibit this beauty in distinct ways. Prose offers a narrative flow, a familiar route that readers navigate with ease, while poetry breaks free from these conventions, offering a rhythm that beats to a different drum. The beauty within these forms emerges from their differences—the plainness and clarity of prose versus the metaphorical elegance of poetry. Whether through the steady build-up of a novel’s plot or the intense brevity of a poem, both forms succeed in etching their impact on the canvas of the human soul. They are not rivals but rather complementary elements of a broader literary landscape, each enriching our understanding of language and emotion.

The Art Of Expression

Expression, the heartbeat of human creativity, comes alive through the written word. In the realm of literature, two distinct forms stand out for their unique ways of portraying thoughts and emotions: prose and poetry . These styles serve as vital conduits for writers to connect with their readers, each offering a special cadence and depth to the exploration of life’s intricacies.

Personal Connection To Prose

Prose , with its straightforward structure and natural flow, mirrors everyday conversation. It’s the narrative that wakes us up with a morning news article or tucks us in with a gripping novel. The accessibility of prose allows for complex ideas to be dissected and absorbed effortlessly, making personal connections with readers through relatable scenarios and comprehensive analyses.

  • Reflects natural speech patterns, making it relatable.
  • Offers narrative and descriptive elements that captivate.
  • Explores themes and concepts in depth, forming a bond with the reader.

The Power Of Poetic Expression

In contrast, poetry holds a rhythm that can shake the soul and a brevity that leaves a lasting impact. This form bends language, breaking free from prose’s linear constraints to evoke sensations and ignite imagination. Through metaphor, alliteration, and meter, poetry paints with a vivid palette of linguistic devices.

Impact On Readers And Society

Both prose and poetry create ripples in the cultural fabric, influencing readers and, by extension, society. Prose, often the medium for storytelling, imparts wisdom and shared experiences , shaping perspectives and sparking conversations. Poetry, with its layers of meaning and economy of words, often becomes a catalyst for emotional resilience and social change.

  • Prose enlightens through narratives and informative discourse .
  • Poetry inspires through suggestive imagery and potent symbols .
  • Both forms instigate reflection and provide solace in times of need.

Whether through the extended journey of prose or the piercing insight of poetry, readers find their consciousness expanded and their hearts touched, underscoring the profound art of literary expression.

Frequently Asked Questions On Prose Vs Poetry

What defines prose and poetry.

Prose is structured in grammatical sentences, forming paragraphs. It resembles everyday speech. Poetry is artistic, with verses and stanzas, often using rhyme and meter.

How Do Prose And Poetry Differ?

Prose follows the natural flow of language, whereas poetry employs a structured approach with rhythm, meter, and sometimes rhyme, focusing on expression and emotion.

Why Might A Writer Choose Poetry Over Prose?

A writer may choose poetry to convey deep emotions or ideas through a rhythmic and symbolic style, which can offer a more impactful or aesthetic reading experience.

Can Prose Contain Poetic Elements?

Yes, prose can incorporate poetic elements like metaphor, simile, and imagery, adding beauty and depth, creating a style known as poetic or lyrical prose.

Embarking on a literary journey reveals the distinct beauty of prose and poetry. Each form offers unique ways to convey emotion and story. Whether you prefer the straightforward elegance of prose or the rhythmic depth of poetry, both enrich our lives.

Embrace your favored style or explore both—each chapter and verse awaits.

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What Is Narrative Prose?

Narrative prose is a form of writing in which the work is written in prose, rather than in poetry, and tells a definite story through actions. Many written works are written in this form, including a great deal of literary work and most modern pieces of fiction . The narrative aspect of this style comes from the fact that events occur and are narrated within the work, rather than having events occur outside of the framework of the story. Narrative prose also means that the story is told in a prose format, which is basic language, rather than a poetic format that may deal with meter and rhyme .

Perhaps one of the simplest types of writing to understand, narrative prose typically consists of a narrative story written in a fairly clear prose format. This does not mean that these stories are inherently simplistic, however, as very complex and detailed stories are crafted using this format. It simply means that these works are written as action-driven stories in which events occur and characters are seen taking part in them. Stories written as narratives can still have compelling and rich characters, but these characters are part of the action and are not merely witnesses or storytellers.

Narrative prose is typically written in the moment of the action and tells a story through a series of events. This means that a story written in this format is not likely to consist of a character sitting in a dark room, thinking about the things that have happened in his or her life. Of course, this type of story could be told through narrative, but the major events of the story would consist of flashbacks the reader would experience as those events play out. In this way, the events become the action that moves the story forward and eventually reveals various pieces of information about the character.

A work written as narrative prose is also written in a prose style, rather than as poetry. Poetic works have a number of different rules and facets to them, such as rhyme, rhythm, meter, and other poetic devices. Even blank verse poetry is typically written in a way that is meant to take advantage of the poetic format and create a piece of writing outside of standard communication. Prose, including narrative, is written in the voice of common speech and relays events through basic language that can be symbolic and powerful, but remains straightforward and accessible.



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Discussion Comments

Post your comments.

  • By: Rick Henzel Narrative prose is a form of writing in which the work is written in prose, not poetry, and tells a definite story.
  • By: philip kinsey Books written in narrative prose tell the story in basic language.


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