The Unseen Prose as the name implies, is the one the students have never seen before in the course of their studies. In your English Literature examination, you will be asked to analyse and evaluate an unseen prose extract.

What is Prose?

Prose is a form of language that has no formal metrical structure, in other words, no rhyme or rhythm. It applies a natural flow of speech, and ordinary grammatical structure rather than rhythmic structure, such as in the case of traditional poetry.

It is the opposite of poetry.

Normal every day speech is spoken in prose and most people think and write in prose form.  The novel you are studying as part of your literature exam is also prose.

Remember also that: most human conversation, textbooks, lectures, novels, short stories, fairy tales, newspaper articles, and essays are all written in prose. 

Responding To Prose Text

  • read and understand a prose extract
  • use details from the prose extract to illustrate interpretations
  • explain and evaluate the ways in which the author expresses meaning and achieves effects.

Elements Of Prose Text

To analyse a prose text, one has to address the following:

Reading for Meaning – Subject Matter: The first thing we need to do when we read an unseen passage is to read for meaning, in other words read to understand what is happening in the passage. Consider the structure of the text – beginnings, climax, sequential/chronological ordering, flashback, conclusion. Also note the disjunctive elements eg: cliffhanger endings, flashbacks.

Form: It means type of story or genre.  What type of story is it? Pick out the elements of the story that define it as belonging to that particular form. Is it autobiographical? Establish the point of view

Narrative Voice: When reading unseen prose, it is important to identify who is telling the story? First person or third person are the most commonly used in fiction. You may also consider the omniscient narrator, multiple narrators’ use of persona, autobiography

Setting: One of the things it is worth paying particular attention to in the passage is where the story is set. This can give you a sense of location and time, in other words where and when the story is set.  What we are told about the setting can often help us understand what is happening in the passage.

Characters: One of the most important aspects of the passage you will be expected to write about is how the characters in it have been created.

When discussing character, make sure to comment on:

  • How they are described;
  • What they think;
  • What they say (dialogue);
  • What they do;
  • How they interact with others;
  • What other characters say about them.

Setting and Atmosphere: Often the description of a particular setting can be used to create a certain atmosphere or mood.

  1. What mood or atmosphere is created in the passage above?
  2. Pick out two examples of how the writer uses language to create this mood or atmosphere.
  3. Explain the effect of the examples you have chosen on the reader.
  4. How does the writer build suspense and create an atmosphere of tension and unease?
  5. Any words or phrases which make us feel in a certain way. Consider the connotations of the words and phrases in the passage.

Language and Imagery: Writing effectively about literature means engaging in close language analysis and thinking carefully about why the writer chose the words and phrases they did.

When reading an unseen text, you need to be able to comment on how the author uses language. To achieve this, think of this 15-word mnemonic. Each of the letters stand for an important idea:


  • F – FACTS
  • E- Exciting Adjectives/Verbs And Adverbs
  • E – Effective Openings/ Endings
  • P – Personification

This means you should be able to comment on:

  • Individual words and phrases – what are their connotations?
  • How the writer uses figurative language (metaphors, similes, personification etc.)
  • Sentence types and punctuation
  • Word types – verbs, adverbs, adjectives etc.

Structure: One of the things the examiner will expect you to write about is structure.  What does this mean?

  • How the story is told – from start to finish – chronological, cyclical, flashbacks etc.
  • Repetition – are any words or ideas repeated in the passage?
  • Openings – how does the passage open and how does it end?
  • Connections – how are the paragraphs linked together?
  • Paragraph lengths – is there a range of different sizes?
  • Sentences – are there long sentences, short sentences, or a mixture of both? Consider the use of punctuation and other typographical effects eg: italics, capitalisation, suspension points.
  • Narrative perspective – does the narrator stay the same throughout?

Tone: If you engage in close reading you can often get a sense of how the author wants to make their audience feel about a certain character or situation. This is sometimes conveyed through their TONE. Read the following extract and by the end of it hopefully the author’s intention and tone will become clear!

Diction: It can be defined as style of speaking or writing, determined by the choice of words by a speaker or a writer. Diction, or choice of words, often separates good writing from bad writing. It depends on a number of factors. Firstly, the word has to be right and accurate. Secondly, words should be appropriate to the context in which they are used. Lastly, the choice of words should be such that the listener or reader understands easily.

Proper diction, or proper choice of words, is important to get the message across. On the other hand, the wrong choice of words can easily divert listeners or readers, which results in misinterpretation of the message intended to be conveyed.

Types of Diction

Individuals vary their diction depending on different contexts and settings. Therefore, we come across various types of diction.

  • Formal diction – formal words are used in formal situations, such as press conferences and presentations.
  • Informal diction – uses informal words and conversation, such as writing or talking to friends.
  • Colloquial diction – uses words common in everyday speech, which may be different in different regions or communities.
  • Slang diction – is the use of words that are newly coined, or even impolite.

Depending on the topics at hand, writers tend to vary their diction. Let us see some examples of diction in literature:

 A Tale of Two Cities (By Charles Dickens)

Sometimes writers repeat their chosen words or phrases to achieve an artistic effect, such as in the following example from A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

By repeating the phrase “It was the …” throughout the passage, the writer ensures that the readers will give more consideration to the characteristic of the era they are going to read about in the novel.

Function of Diction

In literature, writers choose words to create and convey a typical mood, tone, and atmosphere to their readers. A writer’s choice of words, and his selection of graphic words, not only affect the reader’s attitude, but also conveys the writer’s feelings toward the literary work. Moreover, poetry is known for its unique diction, which separates it from prose. Usually, a poetic diction is marked by the use of figures of speech, rhyming words, and other devices.


When writing about the writer’s use of language it is useful to make it clear which specific language device they have used. A useful way to remember this is to P-L-E-A, which is a variation on the PEA paragraphs you have been used to writing.

  • P        -Point
  • L        – Language device
  • E        – Evidence
  • A        – Analysis

For example . . . .

  • Point – The writer create a tense and gloomy atmosphere
  • Language Device – personification / pathetic fallacy
  • Evidence- the wind howling in the grove behind the hall

Analysis – the writer’s use of personification makes the outside world appear just as threatening as the internal one; the room in which Jane is imprisoned. The wind is compared to a wild animal and she appears to be the vulnerable prey. The use of pathetic fallacy adds an atmosphere of tension and unease to the experience.

In the Unseen Prose section, you will be asked to analyse and evaluate an unseen prose extract. In most cases, the question’s comes as .  .

You may wish to consider:

  • the character’s feelings and reactions
  • how other characters react toward them
  • the writer’s use of language, structure and form

DEAR Reader, this is not an easy undertaking. It requires practice.


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