NOWADAYS analytical prose passages are a common part of the English exams: GCSE and IGCSE; SAT, ACT, or AP English.  But what are they? What do students have to know and master? How do students tackle questions on prose passages?

I have compiled a dossier for you here . . .  so, please get yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy the cruise . . .

PROSE is simply writing or speech that is not poetry. Prose is the most common form of writing. It is not restricted by rhythm or dialogue, and it most closely resembles everyday speech. It is usually straightforward, and may utilize figurative language, dialogue, characters, and imagery.

quote-chalk-think-words.jpgProse writing is often divided into two primary categories: Fiction and Non-Fiction

  1. Fictional Prose is narrative writing that originates from the author’s imagination. It is designed to entertain, but it can also inspire, inform, or persuade.

Primary sub-genres of fiction include a novel, novella (a short novel or long short story), and short story.

  1. Nonfictional Prose is writing that is based on true events, people, places, and facts. It is designed to inform, and sometimes to entertain.

Primary sub-genres of nonfiction include autobiography and biography; essays, diaries and journals as well as narrative non-fiction.

  1. Heroic Prose is writing based on the formulaic expressions found in oral traditions, eg: myths and legends as well as fables.

ADDITIONALLY, prose can be . . . .

  • Narrative writing which has a storyline and characters. It is often told chronologically.
  • Expository writing denotes writing that explains or explores particular topics and themes. Expository writing differs from narrative writing because it does not necessarily tell a story.
  • Descriptive writing uses detail, such as the five senses, to discuss a topic in depth. This form of writing is often used in conjunction with narrative, expository, or persuasive writing.
  • Persuasive writing attempts to convince the audience of the merits or disadvantages of the topic.

Something inherent in prose is a sense of style, or how speakers and writers communicate their meanings. Prose style is specific to a particular work, author, or genre. Thus, for any analysis done on a piece of prose there are some literary works to be engaged in.

STRUCTURE is also key to prose writing and commonly asked in questions. Structure, or form, is the arrangement of story elements according to purpose, style and genre. While the plot is the events in the story itself, which are heavily affected by character, setting and theme, the structure, on the other hand, is how these elements are presented to the reader.


Commonly, the term Literary Devices refers to the typical structures used by writers in their works to convey their message(s) in a simple manner to their readers.  When employed properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, interpret and analyze a literary work.

Literary Devices have two aspects. They can be treated as either Literary Elements or Literary Techniques. It will be convenient to define them separately.


Literary Elements have an inherent existence in literary piece and are extensively employed by writers to develop a literary piece e.g. plot, setting, narrative structure, characters, mood, theme, moral etc. Writers simply cannot create his desired work without including Literary Elements in a thoroughly professional manner.


  • PLOT: It is the logical sequence of events that develops a story. There are five basic elements to the plot:
    • Exposition – Often before the plot begins, a section of exposition is provided, which is the introduction that presents the background information to help readers understand the situation of the story.
    • Rising action – This is the series of struggles (conflicts and complications) that builds a story toward its climax. The conflicts and complications within a story are what creates the rising action.
    • Climax – This is the point of greatest intensity, interest, or suspense in a narrative which will somehow determine the outcome of the story. In drama, the climax is also identified with the terms crisis and/or turning point. It’s the point of the story that “changes everything.”
    • Falling action – This is the part of the story that shows the “working out” of the action that occurred during the story’s climax.   (Certain issues/ happenings must be resolved (worked out) to reach a resolution).
    • Resolution – The resolution is also called the denouement. This is the portion of the story where the problem is somehow resolved. It follows after the climax and falling action and is intended to bring the story to a satisfactory end/close.
  • SETTING: It refers to the time and place in which a story takes place. This is the time and place of the action of a story. Setting can be of great importance in establishing not only the physical background, but also in creating the atmosphere/mood of the story (tension, suspense, peacefulness, etc.) Setting can include time (minute/hour, year, month, decade, etc.), weather (season, literal weather, etc.), places (planets, countries, cities, buildings, homes, stores, etc.) or any other thing that helps set the background.
  • CHARACTERIZATION This is the personality a character displays as well as the means by which an author reveals that personality. Characters in a story can be one of two types. They can be…
    • Static: they remain the same throughout the entire story.
    • Dynamic: they change in some important way during the                    course of the story.

Also…        Rounded = a developed character (we get to know them)

    • Flat = an undeveloped character (we never get to know them)

Stories often include a protagonist and an antagonist.

    • Protagonist:  This is the chief character in a work on whom our interest centers. This term is preferable over the terms hero or heroine because a protagonist can sometimes include characters who might be, for example, villainous or weak (but characters whom we are still interested in or concerned about regardless of their flaws in character).
    • Foil: This is a character that has characteristics that oppose another character, usually the protagonist. The foil character may be completely opposite to the protagonist, or very similar with one key difference. The foil character is used to highlight some particular quality or qualities of the main character.
    • Antagonist: This is the character or force which opposes (literally “wrestles”) the main character; therefore, if the protagonist is pitted against an important opponent, that opponent is called the antagonist.
  • POINT OF VIEW: This is the angle or position from which the story is told the narrative view. There are two basic points of view for storytelling: the first-person point of view and the third-person point of view.
    • First-person: Through this view, the story is told by one of the characters in his or her own words by using “I.” First-person point of view is always considered to be a limited point of view since the reader is told only what one specific character knows and observes.
    • Second -person: Even less common is a story narrated with “you.” This is a very difficult point of view to sustain, as the reader must identify with the “you”, or it must be clear that the “you” character is, in fact, a way for the narrator to reflect back on his or her own actions.
    • Third person: Through this view, the story is told by someone outside of the story itself by using “he” or “she.” The third-person narrator may be working from an omniscient view or a limited omniscient view.
    • Omniscient: This narrator is an all-knowing observer who can describe all the characters’ actions, thoughts, and feelings.
    • Limited omniscient: This is a storyteller who shares the thoughts and feelings of only one particular character or a select group of characters (clearly lacking or failing to share information about other characters).

SPEECH PATTERNS – These forms include:

    • Dialogue – where characters of a narrative speak to one another.
    • Monologue – delivered by one character to other characters, or at least overheard by other characters if delivered to the audience.
    • Interior monologue – a character’s thoughts that addresses the character itself.
    • Soliloquy – A speech delivered alone by one character without any other characters overhearing.
    • Aside – A speech delivered directly to the audience without any other characters overhearing, the aside is a very short observation, whereas a soliloquy is a longer explanation of the character’s thoughts.
    • Stream Of Consciousness – A method of narration that describes in words the flow of thoughts in the mind of a character. The technique aspires to give readers the impression of being inside the mind of the character. Therefore, the internal view of the mind of the character sheds light on plot and motivation in the novel.
    • Apostrophe – A character breaks off from addressing one character to address a third party who may either be present or absent in the scene, or even to an inanimate object or intangible concept.

CONFLICT: It is an issue in a narrative around which the whole story revolves. It is also the struggle between two opposing forces or characters in a story that triggers action. Conflict can be internal or external.

    • Internal Conflict =   Man vs. Self: This is the conflict that takes place within an individual (an inner battle of conscience).
    • External Conflict = This is an individual’s struggle against something outside of themselves. There are five basic types of external
  • man vs. man (or group of people)
  • man vs. society
  • man vs. nature/animal
  • man vs. supernatural
  • man vs. fate or destiny conflict…

Conflicts are also known as complications. When you read, keep in mind that there may be a single conflict that is uncomplicated or  easy to recognize in the story or there may be several, more subtle conflicts involved.

MOOD AND TONE: A general atmosphere of a narrative. Mood is the feeling a text arouses and creates in the reader/ audience (such as happiness, anger, sadness, depression, joy, etc.). It is the attitude of the audience/reader toward the subject matter he or she is reading. Tone is the overall feeling, or effect, created by a writer’s use of words. Tone reveals the author’s attitude toward his own subject matter and the audience.

So . . . mood is the attitude of the audience/reader toward the particular subject matter he or she is reading AND tone is the author’s apparent attitude toward his own subject matter and/or the audience

THEME: It is central idea or concept of a story – the basic meaning of a literary work. It is a statement about life…specifically “the human condition”. Themes are UNIVERSAL truths about life.

Because they are universal, they stand the test of time, and themes are repeated over-and-over in books, movies, songs, etc (and then they become what’s called a motif). Theme is rarely a moral/lesson (it is usually just a statement about life that we know/accept to be true).

MOTIF: a narrative element with symbolic meaning that repeats throughout, eg: Martin Luther King Jr. used the motif of “I have a dream” to tie together different ideas such as the historic language of the United States of America’s “Declaration of Independence” with the more concrete images of people who once were at odds sitting down together.


Literary Techniques, on the contrary, are structures usually a word or phrases in literary texts that writers employ to achieve not merely artistic ends but also for readers to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of their literary works. Examples are:  metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, allegory etc. In contrast to Literary Elements, Literary Techniques are not unavoidable aspect of literary works.

To have a better understanding of Literary Devices, it is useful to look at their definition and examples: Techniques, by their nature, are used by writers as an attempt to make the reader think in a certain way. These techniques can be used to intrigue, inspire, persuade or simply convey information to the reader.


IMAGERY: It is the use of figurative language to create visual representations of actions, objects and ideas in our mind in such a way that they appeal to our physical senses. For example: The room was dark and gloomy. -The words “dark” and “gloomy” are visual images. The river was roaring in the mountains. – The word “roaring” appeals to our sense of hearing.

SIMILE AND METAPHOR: Both compare two distinct objects and draws similarity between them. The difference is that Simile uses “as” or “like” and Metaphor does not. For example: My love is like a red red rose” (Simile); He is an old fox very cunning. (Metaphor)

HYPERBOLE: It is deliberate exaggeration of actions and ideas for the sake of emphasis, eg: I have got a million issues to look after!

PERSONIFICATION: It gives a thing, an idea or an animal human qualities, eg: Have you see my new car? She is a real beauty!

ALLITERATION: It refers to the same consonant sounds in words coming together. For example: Better butter always makes the batter better.

ONOMATOPOEIA: words that sound a little like they mean, eg: The autumn leaves and twigs cracked and crunched underfoot.

ALLEGORY: It is a literary technique in which an abstract idea is given a form of characters, actions or events. For example: “Animal Farm”, written by George Orwell, is an example of allegory using the actions of animals on a farm to represent the overthrow of the last of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II In addition, the actions of the animals on the farm are used to expose the greed and corruption of the Revolution.

IRONY: It is use of the words in such a way in which the intended meaning is completely opposite to their literal meaning. For example: So nice of you to break my new PSP!

  • Situational Irony: A situation in which the outcome is very different than what was expected.
  • Dramatic Irony: Part of a piece of literature in which the reader or audience member has more information than the character(s) and there is thus incongruity between what the characters expect and what the audience knows to be true.
  • Verbal Irony: It occurs when a speaker means or feels something very different from what he or she says, often involving sarcasm.

METAPHOR – a descriptive technique that names a person, thing or action as something else, eg: The circus was a magnet for the children.

EMOTIVE LANGUAGE – language intended to create an emotional response, eg: A heart-breaking aroma of death filled the air as he surveyed the devastation and destruction that had befallen them all

OXYMORON – a phrase combining two or more contradictory terms, eg: There was a deafening silence

ANECDOTE – a very short story that is usually interesting or amusing, and concerns real people and real incidents. Anecdotes are often humorous, but also often impart a deeper truth.

PATHETIC FALLACY – a type of personification where emotions are given to a setting, an object or the weather, eg: The clouds crowded together suspiciously overhead as the sky darkened.

STATISTICS and FIGURES – factual data used in a persuasive way, eg: About 80% of people agreed that this would change their community for the better.

RHETORICAL – A question asked just for effect with no answer expected.

HYPOPHORA – a figure of speech in which the speaker both asks a question and immediately answers it.

FLASHBACK – an occurrence in which a character remembers an earlier event that happened before the current point of the story.

FORESHADOWING – the author gives clues about events that will happen later in the story. Often these clues are fairly subtle so that they can only be noticed or fully understood upon a second reading.

ARCHETYPE – also known as universal symbol maybe a character, a theme, a symbol or even a setting or a situation that seems to represent such universal patterns of human nature.

BILDUNGSROMAN is a coming-of-age story, which focuses on a narrative of a young adult growing morally and psychologically into an adult. Thus, a bildungsroman is also sometimes called a novel of formation or novel of education. The most important element of a bildungsroman is the character development that the young adult undergoes through the course of the narrative.

SATIRE is a genre of literature that uses wit for the purpose of social criticism poking fun at some failing of human behavior. Satire ridicules problems in society, government, businesses, and individuals in order to bring attention to certain follies, vices, and abuses, as well as to lead to improvements. It can either be gentle, amusing, and light-hearted or be biting, bitter, and even savage.

ANTICLIMAX – a conclusion that is unsatisfying because is does not meet the expectations that the narrative has been building toward.

HUBRIS – extreme pride and arrogance shown by a character that ultimately brings about his downfall. A character suffering from Hubris tries to cross normal human limits and violates moral codes.

JUXTAPOSITION – to place two concepts, characters, ideas, or places near or next to each other so that the reader will compare and contrast them.

ANTITHESIS – the use of contrasting concepts, words, or sentences within parallel grammatical structures.

Antithesis is very similar to juxtaposition, as juxtaposition also sets two different things close to each other to emphasize the difference between them. However, juxtaposition does not necessarily deal with completely opposite ideas

PARALLELISM – the usage of repeating words and forms to give pattern and rhythm to a passage in literature.

SYMBOLISM – the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities, by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense. Generally, it is an object representing another, to give an entirely different meaning that is much deeper and more significant.

TAUTOLOGY – states the same thing twice in slightly different wording, or adds redundant and unnecessary words.

UTOPIA – an illusionary place that projects the notion of a perfect society to the reader.

DYSTOPIA – a community or society that is undesirable or frightening.

POETIC JUSTICE – an ideal form of justice in which the good characters are rewarded and the bad characters are punished by an ironic twist of their fate.

CARICATURE – an exaggerated description used to create a silly or comic effect.

TRIPLES – three points to support an argument. Safer streets means comfort, reassurance and peace of mind for you, your family and your friends.

Function of Literary Devices

In general, the literary devices are a collection of universal artistic structures that are so typical of all works of literature frequently employed by the writers to give meanings and a logical framework to their works through language.  When such works are read by readers, they ultimately recognize and appreciate them -this is the ANALYSIS part required of High School students.

They not only beautify the piece of literature but also give deeper meanings to it, testing the very understanding of the readers along with providing them enjoyment of reading. Besides, they help motivating readers’ imagination to visualize the characters and scenes more clearly.

Only through practice will you get things right.


Good luck in your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!


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