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What are Elements of Prose Fiction Story/Subject Matter

Every work of art, which is classified as prose, must have a story that it tells or a subject matter that it revolves around, which is the kernel of the work that is presented to the reader to interpret or decipher. The story consists of those major events/or incidents in the work which help in facilitating a concise summary of the work of art. The subject matter s also the nucleus or premise of the strory.


The plot of a work of prose refers to the way and manner in which the events or incidents narrated in the work are arranged. There are two types of plot structures which a writer can use in the presentation of the story. The first type of plot structure is called the linear or chronological or organic plot structure. Thus, the plot of a story the ‘what’ of the story. It is the storyline; the rendering of events in a story from beginning to end. A writer can choose to maximize the ordering of his storyline to achieve some special emotional or historical effect as the case may be. The plot consists basically of actions/stimulus and reactions/responses to actions. Starting out with the initiating event, it progresses to the rising action, the conflict, climax, and then the resolution. In common parlance, we will say that a story has a beginning, middle and an ending.

WHAT IS Linear/Chronological/Organic Plot?

In a narration with a linear, chronological or organic plot structure, the story commences from the beginning and there is a gradual movement in chronological order to the end of the story being narrated. Thus, every work of art with a linear plot structure will have a beginning, middle and an end, which give it form. At the beginning, the reader gets to know some of the principal characters and the problems which need to be resolved. In the middle, the storyline becomes both interesting and complicated, and an attempt is made to sustain the reader’s interest with only the relevant facts while the ending provides the resolution of the problem. The ending may not satisfy the reader. However, it would be such that it would be able to make the reader ruminate about life in its different facets.

WHAT IS Inorganic or Episodic Plot

In writing a work of art, the writer may decide to write in a non-chronological order. For instance, in many detective novels, or short stories, the narration often starts when a crime has been committed, which thereafter necessitates the involvement of a detective to solve. In such novels, the order of narration does not follow a chronological order or pattern. An illustration of what we mean by a chronological or non-chronological order of narration is appropriate at this stage. A story could revolve around a young man doing his National Youth Service in Abeokuta, Ogun State. One fateful day, his father sends a driver from Ibadan to pick him up from Abeokuta. Instead of taking the normal Abeokuta-Ibadan route that culminates in an entrance into Ibadan at Omi-Adio, the young man persuades the driver to join the Lagos-Ibadan expressway from the wrong side and about forty-five minutes later, the duo find themselves in Lagos. What we have above the storyline – follows the chronological or linear sequence of narration. However, the writer can alter the narrative sequence and begin the story from the point where the driver and the young man find themselves in Lagos and then move the story through the use of flashback technique, as one of the characters recounts his experiences on that fateful day. This is an example of non-chronological plot structure, which is not usually tightly knitted together. In this kind of scenario, parts of the story can be removed completely and the story being recounted would still be understood by the reader.

Plot development involves the use of conflict and characters to move the story forward. A novel like Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a good example.

Plot Organization


Exposition: This is the introductory stage when the major characters and events are exposed or presented to the reader. The reader is acquainted with specific characteristics and information such as names, quirks, and characters’ peculiarities.

Complication: This is the stage when the events, situations and occurrences in the work become more complicated. New characters and incidents are introduced, which help in making the storyline more complex. It is the beginning of rising action. Climax: This the stage when the greatest crisis or problem in the work occurs. It is also usually the most exciting point.


Anti-Climax : At this point in the narration of a story, the issues which have engendered a crisis are not as potent as before and there is a lessening of the heightened action. It is also regarded as point of falling action.

Resolution: This is the stage when the different issues raised in the course of the narration are resolved. It is also called denouement or unraveling/unknotting.

Tools for Plot Development


Suspense: This entails the deliberate withholding of information by the writer in an attempt to heighten and sustain the reader’s interest in the story. Information which is germane to the resolution of the conflict is not revealed, or is suspended, by the writer and this helps in making the plot structure more complex and mysterious. Chika Unigwe’s Night Dancer uses this device a great deal.

Foreshadowing or Prefiguration: Prefiguration occurs in a work of art when the writer presents certain events which predict other events that would occur as the story develops. Usually, the first event is very minor and might not even be noticed by a reader. However, the minor event would serve as a clue that provides some inkling as to the reasons why a more major event occurs. Prefiguration in a work of art might be through a character having a premonition of an event that would happen later. The character might have a dream and the dream would, in the course of the development of the story, turn out to be a forewarning of a later event. There are times when the writer will use an ominous symbol or sign as a means of foreshadowing an event that would occur in future. The rat scene in Richard Wight’s Native Son where Bigger Thomas uses a skillet to kill the rat is an example of this. This is a foreshadowing of his eventual death at the hands of bigger forces that consider him a pest, like the rat.

Digression: In developing the plot of a work of art, the writer might digress from the main storyline by creating a story within a story, which is known as digression. In such an instance, the flashback technique, through which the characters bring to the present events from the past, becomes very effective. We see a lot of this in Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta.


Every work of prose must have a character or characters whose actions, inactions and interactions help in facilitating the development of the storyline. They act out the events recounted by the author, and characters can represent human beings, inanimate objects, animals, etc.

Types of Characters



What is Hero, Heroine or protagonist??

The protagonist of the story is also the central or major character. He is the person around whom the storyline revolves. His or her interactions with other characters help the reader to have an understanding of what the story entails geared towards undermining


What is Anti-hero/Anti-heroine or Antagonist: 

This is the character whose actions are the protagonist of the story. The antagonist does the exact opposite of what the protagonist does. Most of the time, he or she embodies evil qualities

Eponymous Character:


This is a major character whose name is also the source of the title of the narrative, eg. Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy or Efuru by Flora Nwapa. Flat Character: The flat character is unreceptive to radical personality change and it is relatively easy for the reader to predict his or her action. Throughout the narrative there are no perceptible changes in him or her.

Round Character:


The round character, who is also called the dynamic character, possesses the quality of unpredictability or an ability to change, to turn from evil to good and vice-versa. The description of a round character is usually very detailed and in-depth in an attempt by the writer to present a full picture of his or her personality.




In creating characters, writers are expected to have an in-depth knowledge of their creation. Some authorities in the literary sphere have described the creative writer as a god who possesses the power to kill, maim or bestow happiness, wealth and long life on the characters, provided he or she is logical in the way this is done. When a writer has created a character, there are different methods through which the writer has presented the characters, and which assist the reader to have a good understanding of the personality of each figure. One of the methods of making characters come to life in the mind of the reader is through the provision of a physical description of the character. A writer provide information about the character through his or her way of speaking, walking mannerism and character. A writer may also how he interacts with people. With this dramatic method of providing information, the reader decides the kind of personality the character has. A writer can also use one character to provide information about another character. Therefore, characterization can be defined as the reader’s understanding of the personality of each character as gleaned from character’s physical description and actions, as well as from comments provided by other characters and by the narrator of the events being recounted.


Techniques of Characterization


There are different techniques which can be employed by the writer to facilitate characterization. The three basic approaches are naming, showing or telling.


What is Naming: this is a simple method by which the name of the character gives the reader an inkling of his or her personality, physique, qualities, etc. The name, which might be allegorical or descriptive, serves as a basis for a graphic re-creation of who the character is in the mind f the reader. The names can also be allusions to names of prominent historical persons, through whom the reader is expected to have an ‘idea’ of the personality of the character.

What is Showing: This technique of characterization involves the use of action. It is dramatic and the things that the character talks about or the way he or she talks, walks or acts, the reader is able to decipher his or her personality

What is Telling : This method comes to the fore when the author, narrator or a character, provides information about a particular character. Most often, this information that is provided through this means can serve as a concise account or summary of the personality of the character and what he or she embodies. Information can also be provided by the third person or omniscient narrator on a character through at portrayal of the character’s thoughts and the things which go through his or her mind.

Point of View


This refers to the position or perspective from which the story being narrated is presented to the reader. There are two major methods of doing this. They are the first person narrative technique and the Omniscient narrative technique. It should be noted that there is also a third person objective point of view.

First Person Narrative Technique

What is first person narrative technique ??

This technique is employed when the story is narrated through one of the characters. This character narrates the story through the first person point of view and he goes by the designation ‘I’. The voice of the author disappears. The reader, because he believes that the narrator is telling a story of which he already has an in-depth knowledge, sees the narrator as credible. There is also an element of intimacy associated with a first person narration.

Third Person Objective Point of View :

What is third person /objective point of view

With this narrative technique, the narrator’s or author’s personal comments about events, situations and personality are deliberately excluded. The narrator does not present information or material sourced from the thought or mind of the character. The reader has the opportunity to form his own independent opinion about each character. It often involves a lot of dialogue and it is difficult for the reader to know the thoughts of the character since the reader is only limited to external information drawn from one character’s interaction with other characters. It is also called third person limited point of view.



Setting can be defined as the physical or social environment within which the characters in a work of prose operate. There are different methods which a writer can use to provide information about the setting of a story.

The first method is through pictorial representation. This entails an almost lifelike description of events, situations and characters in a way that enables the reader to have a graphic idea of the spectacle being described. Another approach is called the impressionistic approach. Here, the writer attempts to evoke feelings in the reader about the setting or character being described in order to pass a message across. At times, with this kind of approach, figures of speech, otherwise called figurative or metaphorical language, become very useful. In analyzing the setting of a story, there are many things which the reader as the interpreter of the text has to put into consideration. They include the physical environment of the story, the social environment and the period within which the story lasts. The physical setting or environment of the story encompasses the town, neigbourhood or geographical location within which or around which the story is situated. In respect of social setting. this revolves around the language, culture and the social conditions within which the characters operate and how they interact with one another.

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Setting is important in the creation of a work of art because of the interrelationship which exists between it and the writer’s thematic preoccupations, as well as the characters whose actions give life to the writer’s ideas or fancies.



A theme can be described as an issue of life, which a writer discusses or highlights in a work of art. In a prose work, it is possible to have several issues of life which form the bedrock of the writer’s focus These issues of life might revolve around corruption, power, love, death, etc. The theme of a story is the ‘why’ of the story. When any writer picks up his pen to write, he has a message in his mind he intends to pass across. That very message the theme of the story.

It is also referred to as the moral of the story. We must state, however, that there could also be underlying themes beyond the writer’s intention. While the author sets out to pass across a particular message, some other times he does not successfully pass that message across. On the contrary, he implicitly passes another message across that he is not aware of at the point of writing. Now, it is not in the jurisdiction of a lay reader to determine what the author’s original intention is. An in-depth analysis of the work by a literary critic or specialist may, however, help identify the original intention of the author and also tell whether he succeeded in passing the message across effectively or not.



In passing across his or her messages in a work of art, the writer makes use of diction, which encompasses the words, phrases and sentences that are strung together to make a cohesive and understandable whole Diction in a work of art may possess the quality of being formal, informal, figurative or allusive. There are times when in the course of narration, the writer uses diction to establish differences between characters, to highlight their social or economic status, their level of literacy, as well as their personalities.



A symbol is a narrative technique used by a writer to pass information to readers at different stages of the narration. A symbol can represent itself and something else. For example, red and black denotatively represent these colours while, at the symbolic level, they represent love/danger or death. Writers usually place symbols in strategic locations in the narration, including the title.

In prose literature, many writers make use of traditional or archetypal symbols to enhance the quality of their work. Traditional symbols are symbols to which particular meanings have been associated over time, such as the colour “white” representing peace and purity and the rose flower symbolizing love. Archetypal symbols are derived from myths, legends, folk tales and religion. For example, a description or a passage through a sea or river in a work of prose fiction can symbolize an impending transition of the character from the earthly realm into the supersensible realm.



It is a literary convention in prose literature through which a writer, critical of certain aspects of society. highlights issues through the depiction of the flaws, faults and mistakes of the characters.

A work of prose fiction that is satirical makes use of humour, which is intended to make the reader laugh at the mistakes of the character but at the same time think of constructive methods that can be employed to correct such mistakes. In highlighting such mistakes, the writer makes use of exaggeration. The exaggerated portrayal of the weaknesses of the characters helps to foreground the message of the writer.


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