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Important Literary Terms Made Easy: Prose

written by: Haley Drucker • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Analyzing a novel or short story is challenging, but a knowledge of basic literary terms and structures can simplify the job. What follows are the most important fiction terms late middle school and early high school students need to know to understand and discuss works of prose.

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    The Basics

    Prose: Just about any type of writing that isn’t poetry. Generally a work of prose is written in complete sentences and is longer than a poem. Novels, short stories, essays and news articles are all examples of prose.

    Point of view: This describes who is telling the story. There are several possible points of view, two of which are first person and third person.

    • First Person: The story is told by a narrator who uses “I" as if he were talking directly to the reader. For example, a sentence in first person might read, "After the dog bit me, I ran all the way to my house without stopping."

    • Third Person: The story is told through an invisible narrator who uses words like “he" and “they." A sentence in third person might read, "After the dog bit Peter, he ran all the way to his house without stopping."

    Dialogue: Whenever characters talk to each other, they are using dialogue. Words spoken aloud always have quotation marks around them. One example of a sentence of dialogue is: “I told you, I don’t want to go to the mall," Mary said.

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    Plot: The plot of a work of prose is its main storyline. It includes the important events of the story, and provides a structure for beginning, middle, and end. For example, a basic romantic plot might be: boy meets girl, boy and girl start to like each other, something happens to make them angry with each other, and finally they resolve their problems and live happily ever after.

    Exposition: This is the introduction of a story, which can be of any length. It sets up the plot and gives the important information you need before you can understand the rest of the narrative. In general, the exposition will explain what the main characters, setting, and background of the story are, and will set the mood and tone.

    Conflict: This is the main struggle or problem in the story. It might be a clash between two characters, good and evil, a person and their society, society and nature, etc. Or it could be an internal conflict, such as a child who doesn't want to grow up or someone struggling with depression or an eating disorder.

    Climax: The climax is the high point of the story, generally the part where the emotions are strongest and the danger is greatest. This might be when the hero confronts the villain, where the boy and girl reveal their feelings for each other, or when the detective finally finds the last clue she needs to solve the mystery.

    Resolution/Denouement: This is the end of the story, including everything after the climax. It deals with the aftermath of the climax, wraps up any final questions or secondary storylines, and brings the plot to its conclusion.

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    Protagonist: The main character, who has the most important part in the plot. Usually we see the story through the protagonist’s eyes, and root for him or her to come through victorious.

    Antagonist: The force opposing the protagonist. This is usually a person—the ‘bad guy’—but can be a natural disaster or an oppressive society or a boring math class, or just about anything else.

    Static/Dynamic Characters

    • Static Character: A character who remains the same throughout the story, who doesn't show development or change. This character will act the same way at the end of the story as he or she did at the beginning.

    • Dynamic Character: A character who changes dramatically throughout the story. At the end their personality and actions are different than they were at the beginning, because of what they have learned and lived through. For example, Ebenezer Scrooge is a very different person at the end of A Christmas Carol than he is at the beginning.

    Round/Flat Characters

    • Flat Character: A simple character with only one or a few personality traits. The hero’s best friend, who is only in the story to crack jokes and never does anything else, would be a flat character. These characters are usually also static.

    • Round Character: A character who is well rounded and fleshed out, who has a complex personality. He or she seems more like a real person, who wants and doesn’t want, and likes and doesn’t like, many different things. These characters are often also dynamic, but not always.

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    Literary Techniques

    Foreshadowing: This is when the author provides clues early in a story that suggest what will happen later on. These clues are often subtle, and both increase tension and make the plot more realistic. For example, the author might have one character mention in passing that the pipes in the house are leaky, and later in the story the pipes burst and flood the house, endangering the family.

    Foil: A foil is a character who is in the story to provide a contrast to the protagonist. The foil will have some things in common with the protagonist, but will be different in one or a few important ways. If the protagonist has a temper, but her sister is very calm and laid back, the sister might be a foil for the protagonist. The sister makes it more obvious that the protagonist's temper is a problem that needs to be resolved.

    Monologue: A character is using monologue when he or she speaks for an extended amount of time without being interrupted. The character may be speaking to another person or to the reader, and is usually discussing an important plot point or conflict. Often characters use monologues to work through their problems or reveal new information. The villain who describes his evil plan in great detail to the helpless hero is monologuing. If a character gives a monologue alone, talking to him or herself, that is called a soliloquy.

    Flashback: A flashback is a scene in the middle of a story, but that actually takes place in the past. Usually these scenes are short and focus on an important part of a character’s background. For example, after the protagonist encounters her long-lost best friend the author might include a scene that takes place years ago, when the protagonist and the best friend first met. This scene would be a flashback.

Important Eighth Grade Literary Terms Made Easy

English class is full of fancy words that even the best students often find confusing. This series explains the most important literary terms late middle school and early high school students should know, covering general terms and terms related to both prose and poetry.
  1. Important Eighth Grade Literary Terms Made Easy: General Terms
  2. Important Literary Terms Made Easy: Prose
  3. Poetry Terms Made Easy