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I. The Elements Of Prose (Who, What, Where, When, How)

I.1. Who (That Is, Character)


I.2. What (Plot)


I.3. Where And When (Setting)


I.4. How (Style)


II. Historical Developments Affecting Literature

III. Prose Genres

III.1. The Short Story

1. Definition

2. Economy

3. Unity

III.2. The Novella

III.3. The Novel

1. History And Development

2. Sub-Genres of the Novel


IV. Exercises

I. The Elements Of Prose (Who, What, Where, When, How)

The best fiction does not just reveal life, it criticises it. Different critics have different ideas, categories, and definitions of fiction; but most agree on two basic types of prose: non-fiction and fiction.

Non-fiction is exactly what the name declares: true, not fictional. The American Heritage Dictionary defines non-fiction as literary works that are not fictional, which is to say, they are factual. The category includes essays, autobiography, biography, letters, some history, the anecdote (a short statement of some interesting or humorous incident). Not all history is non-fiction, nor is, necessarily, all journalism.

Some of the more famous essays are those by the Frenchman Montaigne, who in fact gave it its name: essai: "to test, to try." To test an idea. Before the beginning of the development of fiction, non-fiction prose writers developed the essay in England at the start of the 16th century through to the present; these writers include some fairly well-known politicians and philosophers. Some famous writers in other disciplines also wrote essays both as literary works and as pieces of religious or political dogma. These include Milton, Sidney, Johnson, Browne, Coleridge, Eliot, George Orwell, etc.

Before the advent of the telephone and the computer (e-mail), letters were forms of literature, as well. As early as the Middle Ages, nobility especially perceived letters as means of communicating more than family gossip. They are often like essays: lengthy discussions of ideas carefully crafted for structural and lexical appeal.

Even autobiography and biography conform—if they are well-written—to many of the criteria of literature. The authors select and arrange the details of the subject (even the self) for a particular purpose.

More often when we speak of prose literature we mean fiction. Defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, fiction is

  1. an imaginative creation or a pretence that does not represent actuality but has been
  2. invented;
  3. the act of inventing an imaginative creation or pretence;
  4. a lie;
  5. a literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact;
  6. the category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels, short stories, and plays.

Again—different critics may have different sub-categories, but the traditional subcategories of prose fiction are: short story, novella, and novel. This category may also include prose poetry and drama not in verse, but these will not be covered in this module.

In terms of analysis, a consideration of the elements of prose can be approached through a series of questions not unlike those asked by a journalist: who, what, when, where, how, why.