What is Prose? Varieties of Prose and Prose foms in Detail

Prose, Varieties of Prose and Prose Forms

The following section provides an explanation of prose, varieties of prose and forms of prose in detail.
what is prose
What is Prose?

For answering the question what is prose,  let us take an example, from a great French comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by the writer Moliere (1622-73). This is the story of a man who suddenly made a lot of money but does not have social status. In short, he would like to be a 'gentleman'. So, he employs several teachers in order to learn how to move in polite society.

One day, during the course of a conversation, his elocution teacher tells him that what he speaks is prose. His surprised response is: 'To think I have been speaking prose these last forty years without knowing it!' Isn't that the case with many of us? But the prose of every day conversation the same as "literary" prose? Or is it different? Is "literary prose more elaborate, artificial and stylized? we shall look at various literary prose and try to understand what constitutes its "literariness".

The prose is written words structured the same as spoken words. The word 'prose' is taken from the Latin 'prosa' which means 'direct' or 'straight'. Broadly speaking, the prose is direct or straightforward writing. A book, short story, newspaper, article, factual book, dialogue, novels, essays, works of criticism are examples of prose. The prose is a type of literature that is written expression without a formal pattern verse or meter (as opposed to poetry). When a poem, especially an epic poem such as the Iliad is translated from one language to another, the poem is often converted to prose.

Why do we study literature? The study of literature involves not only enjoyment but also awareness. This stems from our participation in the human experience which is highlighted in particular uses of language and various literary devices. We must understand what these devices are if we are to enjoy the full range of aesthetic experience that literature has to offer.

We can divide the prose into literary and non-literary. The literary writing contains metaphors, symbols, allegories etc. while non-literary writing is something people read for entertainment purpose. Literary texts tend to teach the reader some kind of life lesson through the main character involving and changing ad the novel or short story progresses. It utilizes metaphors and symbols to show and enhance protagonist's adventure throughout the novels. These texts are usually read to teach rather than for entertainment because literary texts range from easy to understand to something that has to be read more than once and analyzed. The literary prose is well constructed and takes time to compose creatively and meaningfully.

Non-literary prose tends to allow the reader to simply enjoy the texts. Rather than having an intention to teach a person something, its sole purpose is for entertainment. There is no need to reread any of the text because there are no layers of complication rather it means what it says. These could be a lesson in the text, most likely a life lesson that is simple and easy to identify.

In non-literary prose, the aim is to communicate one's thoughts and feelings. What is important then is 
(a) what one wants to say, and
(b) how one chooses to say it.

What is said is the topic or subject of the composition.
How it is said is the style or manner in which the topic is expressed.

Pandit Nehru's speech on the death of Mahatma Gandhi is a good example of literary prose. Let us look at one or two sentences from the opening section of the speech.

"Friends and Comrades, the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the Nation, is no more."

If we rewrite this as non-literary prose we can rewrite it like this:
"My countrymen, Mahatma Gandhi is dead and there is darkness everywhere."

This version, even though it says the same things, does not perform the function that Pandit Nehru's speech does. It fails to move us in the way Nehru's speech does. Nor does it give an idea of Gandhi's greatness.

Varieties of Prose and Prose Forms

The prose style greatly depends on who we are writing for and what sort of personality we have. There are different topics and different styles. Whatever the number of topics, they all come under one or another variety of prose and each variety may have a distinct style of its own. Let us look at the details of varieties of prose and prose forms more closely. 

Varieties of Prose

The different varieties of prose are descriptive prose, narrative prose, and expository prose. Follow the links below to get the detailed lessons you need.

Descriptive Prose

Descriptive prose describes things as they are or as they appear to be. It can be the description of a person or a landscape or an event. In descriptive prose, we are able to see things as they are or were seen or heard or imagined by the describer. A good description translates the writer's observation into vivid details and creates an atmosphere of its own. Through his/her description, the author tries to recreate what she has seen or imagined. A fine description is a painting in words. 

 Narrative Prose

A narrative tells us what happens or happened. It deals mainly with events. In other words, a narrative is a description of events. It may deal with external or internal events. By internal events, we mean the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of individuals. The narrative writing tries to recreate an actual experience or an imaginary one in a way that we are able to experience it mentally. We lose ourselves in the characters and events of the narrative temporarily. Narratives can deal with the facts or fiction. 

Autobiographies, biographies, letters, travelogues, diaries, and speeches are narratives of fact. The short story and novel come under the category of narrative fiction.

 Expository Prose
Expository writing deals with definition, explanation or interpretation. It includes writing on science, law, philosophy, technology, political science, history and literary criticism. An exposition is a form of logical presentation. Its primary object is to explain and clarify. It presents details concretely and exactly. Expository writing is writing that explains.

Prose forms

The different prose forms are the short story, novel, essay, letter, travelogue, biography, autobiography, diary, and speeches. Let us look at one by one in detail. 

Short story

A short story is a piece of prose fiction complete in itself and of a moderate length. It is different from a tale, an anecdote, and a parable. A short story as a literary form only dates back to the early nineteenth century. We read a short story not only for pure enjoyment but also because they deepen our awareness of life. By illuminating some aspect of human life or behaviour, a short story presents an insight into the nature and conditions of our existence.
Short Story 'Misery' by Anton Chekhov  Novel

A novel can be defined in broad terms as a piece of prose fiction, which dramatizes life with the help of characters and situations. It presents some aspect of human experiences and creates a real-life atmosphere that is often gripping. The test of a great novel lies in its universal appeal. A novel is written in prose form, but novelists often handle the prose so delicately that the language acquires lyrical beauty. That is the reason why many novels are called "poetics".


An essay is a piece of prose composition usually of moderate length. The word 'essay' is derived from the French word essai or attempt. It 'attempts' to throw some light on the subject under discussion. There are two kinds of essays. One is informal or personal and the other is formal. We can say anything we like in an informal essay so long as it is interesting and pleasing to the reader. It is written in a light style. Its purpose is to delight and entertain the reader. The style of the essay is generally familiar and conversational. A formal essay is a serious one and it weighs, evaluates and judges. It discusses the merits and the demerits of the topic in question. The style is objective and serious. A good essay is, however, is balanced, thoughtful and biased. The judgment is based on facts.


Another form of the non-fictional prose is the letter. On a personal level, a letter is a spontaneous expression of one's self and on a social level, letters hold up a mirror to the age in which they are written. Letter writing came to be recognized as a literary form in England during Renaissance.


A travelogue is a piece of writing about travel. It is written in a style that is both interesting and informative. The passion for knowledge and about other countries has always driven the man to embark upon land travels and sea-voyages to distant lands, the accounts of which have been left by them for posterity. Hence the history of the travelogue is as old as the history of man's travels. These accounts serve as important documents about the life, culture, and history of the places they are written about.


A biography is the story of the life of an individual. A good biography usually tries to project an objective picture of the life of a particular person. It avoids the temptation either to praise too much or to be too severe and critical. In this kind of writing, the writer selects the salient features of a particular life and gives them a shape. It tries to make the reader share the hopes, the fears, the interests and aspiration of that person.


In an autobiography, the writer attempts to reveal selected experiences of his/her own life in retrospect. Here the picture presented is necessarily subjective. It presents the events and impressions of the past as recollected by the writer at the time s/he is writing the autobiography. It cannot be a complete account of one's life, as the future has still to be lived. 


A diary belongs to the autobiographical genre of writing. It is a literary form in which the writer maintains a regularly kept record of his/her own life and thoughts. As a genre, it has been practiced for over five hundred years. The diary is also a valuable historical document of an individual life and gives us written evidence of the historical, social and political circumstances of a particular period.


A speech is a spoken communication or expression of thought in prose addressed to an audience. It presents the personal viewpoint of the speaker in a convincing manner, on a subject that is of universal importance. A good speech is not delivered with the aim to excite or arouse the audience. Rather it is made to inspire and persuade the hearers to think along the lines the speaker wishes them to. A power-packed speech is one that is charged with the sturdy conviction the speaker has in his/her beliefs.


The prose is direct or straightforward writing. Here the writer communicates his/her thoughts or feelings as clearly and precisely as possible. Literary prose use language in aesthetic, imaginative and engaging ways whereas non-literary prose use everyday language. The different varieties of prose are descriptive prose, narrative prose, and expository prose. The different prose forms are the short story, novel, essay, letter, travelogue, biography, autobiography, diary, and speeches. 

See Also 

Figures of speech

Difference between prose and poetry