Key aspects of prose are the basic elements on which the story is built upon. Those key aspects of prose include plot, setting, characters, point of view, subject, themes, messages, audience, atmosphere and purpose.
Plot is how a novella, short story or novel progresses. It is also the succession/order/sequence or arrangement of events in a story. Plot is a literary term used to describe the events that make up a story, or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence. The structure of a novel depends on the organization of events in the plot of the story.
Plot is known as the foundation of a novel or story, around which the characters and settings are built. It is meant to organize information and events in a logical manner. While writing the plot of a piece of literature, the author has to be careful that it does not dominate the other parts of the story.
Plot refers to the way events or actions of a story are arranged, especially the way they relate to each other in a cause and effect manner. In short, plot is the cause and effect arrangement of the actions or events in a story. The plot is a planned, logical series of events having a beginning, middle, and an end.
The parts/elements of a plot
The elements of a plot are also referred to as the plot development/progression. There are five parts of a plot: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
Exposition/introduction: It is the opening/beginning of a story where the characters and setting are revealed; and sometimes the main conflict or problem is also introduced.
Rising action: This is where the events in the story become complex. The conflict is revealed at this stage. Rising action occurs when a series of events build up to the conflict. The main characters are established by the time the rising action of a plot occurs, and at the same time, events begin to get complicated. It is during this part of a story that excitement, tension, or crisis is encountered.
Climax: It is the highest point of interest, emotion, tension and suspense and also; the turning point of the story where the reader wonders what is going to happen next. It is at the peak of the story, where a major event occurs: either the main character faces a major enemy, fear, challenge, or other source of conflict.
Falling action: Falling action, or the winding up of the story, occurs when the events and conflicts/complications begin to resolve. Events show the results of how the characters begin to resolve the conflict. The result of the actions of the main characters are put forward.
Resolution/ denouement: It is the part of the plot that concludes the falling action by revealing or suggesting the outcome of the conflict. Simply, it is the end of the story which may occur with either a happy or a tragic ending.
Plots, also known as storylines, include the most significant events of the story and how the characters and their problems change over the time.
Ex1: Marry wants to buy a puppy. She goes to the pound and begins looking through the cages for her future pet. At the end of the hallway, she sees a small, sweet brown dog with a white spot on its nose. At that instant, she knows she wants to adopt it. After he receives shots and a medical check, she and the dog, go home together.
In this example, the exposition introduces us to Marry and her conflict. She wants a puppy but does not have one. The rising action occurs as she enters the pound and begins looking. The climax is when she sees the dog of her dreams and decides to adopt it. The falling action consists of a quick medical check before the resolution, or ending, when Marry and dog happily head home.
Ex2: Jack wants to be on the football team, but he’s worried he won’t make the team. He spends weeks working out as hard as possible, preparing for try outs. At try outs, he amazes coaches with his skill as a quarterback. They ask him to be their starting quarterback that year and give him a jersey. Jack leaves the field, ecstatic!
The exposition introduces Jack and his conflict: he wants to be on the team but he doubts his ability to make it. The rising action consists of his training and tryout; the climax occurs when the coaches tell him he’s been chosen to be quarterback. The falling action is when Jack takes a jersey and the resolution is him leaving the try-outs as a new, happy quarterback.
The types of plot
a. Linear/chronological plot: It is a plot which starts from a certain point and ends at another point. The events in the story flow a chronological/sequential order, from the beginning, to the middle and then to the end. At the end of a linear plot, the main character finds a solution to his problems or not.
b. Circular plot: It is the plot which ends at the same place where it began. It is the unfolding of events that begin and end in the same place. It is when the story starts with the end and then jumps back in time, to the beginning. Although the starting and the ending points are the same, the character(s) undergo a transformation, affected by the story’s events. In a circular plot the solution to a conflict/problem is never reached
c. Non-linear plot: At this time the events do not flow a chronological order. Nonlinear plot uses flashbacks or flashforward.
Flashback (analepsis) is an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point. It is the interruption of the normal flow of events to the events that happened earlier. Flashbacks are often used to recount events that happened before the story’s primary sequence of events to fill in crucial backstory. In literature, internal analepsis is a flashback to an earlier point in the narrative while external analepsis is a flashback to a time before the narrative started.
Flashback is used when:
- The narrator tells another character about past events
- The narrator has a dream about past events
- The narrator thinks back to past events, revealing the information only to the reader
- The narrator reads a letter that prompts back to an earlier time
- The difference between a memory and a flashback is that a memory is brief and does not interrupt the normal flow of a story.
Flash-forward (or prolepsis), on the other hand reveals events that will occur in the future. This means that it is an insertion of a later event into the chronological structure of a story. It is a sudden jump forward in time; which involves the scene that interrupts the present action of plot to shift into the future. Flash-forward is also a scene that takes the narrative forward in time from current point of the story in literature.
Both flashback and flash-forward are used to cohere a story, develop a character, or add structure to the narrative.
The difference between flash-forward and foreshadowing is that foreshadowing uses clues or hints of the possible outcome in the future, without any interruption. Flash-forward, on the other hand, is an interjected/inserted scene in a narrative, which takes the narrative forward in time. The events presented in a flash-forward are bound/likely/obliged to happen in the story. Foreshadowing predicts the future events, but those events do not necessarily take place in the future.
Setting refers to the place, time and the social environment at which a novel, novella or short story is represented as happening. It is the historical period, geographical place and social-cultural context in which the events of a story occur. Setting is simply the place and time of a story. It answers the questions of where and when. The time and place can be real or fictional, or a combination of both real and fictional elements.
The setting may include the environment of the story which can be made up of physical location, climate, weather, or social and cultural surroundings.
Place: – the geographical place where the events of a story take place like inside the house, in the valley, on the mountain, in a garden, in the village, in a sea, in Kigali city, in Rwanda, in Nyungwe Forest, at school, in a prison, in Africa, …
Time: –the actual time in which the events of a story occur, like at 5h00’ A.M, during the night, on Monday, in August, in 2019….
–the historical period in which the events of a story occur, as Before Christ, in Middle Ages, precolonial period, colonial period, post-colonial period, post-independence era, genocide period…
Weather conditions: In the story, the weather can be rainy, sunny or stormy.
The social-cultural environment: This refers to the immediate physical and social setting in which characters live or in which something happens or develops. It includes the characters’ social interactions, culture, beliefs, among others. Therefore, the story can be set in a traditional society, in urban or rural environment.
The setting can be identified through the names of places, people or items. Some events are also historical and can guide in identifying the time setting of the story. For example, chiefdom was practiced in traditional African communities. This can be used to analyze the setting of the story.
The types of setting
a. The social setting: It refers to the physical environment in which the events of a story happen. Ex: In a town, a slum, a suburb, upcountry…
b. The historical setting: It is the specific time in which the events in a story happen. Ex: Before Christ, pre/post-colonial era, colonial period, during WW II,…
c. Cultural setting: It includes the patterns of behaviours and beliefs that dominate the society in which the characters live. It includes the family relations, moral values, gender roles, customs, beliefs…
Political setting: It refers to the prevailing political situation around which a story revolves. A story could condemn bad governance or unequal distribution of national resources.
Context refers to the whole situation, background or environment relevant to a particular event. It also refers to the social, cultural, and historical circumstances and setting at which the author is writing. Therefore, context refers to the background information surrounding a subject.
Context can also be referred to the circumstances forming the background of an event, idea or statement, in a such a way as to enable the audience (readers, listeners, spectators) understand the narrative or a literary piece. Generally, context refers to the whole situation, background or environment relevant to a literary work.
The types of context include:
a. Social context
It refers to the immediate physical and social setting in which people live or in which something happens or develops. It is also the reflection of how the characters’ actions and attitudes are affected by events occurring around the time and place where they live. It involves the characters’ interactions in all levels of life.
b. Historical context
It refers to the moods, attitudes and conditions that existed in a certain time. Historical context is also the time period in which a story occurs. Both historical events (like wars) can influence the story.
It is an aspect of setting that pertains to when events and when characters live and interact.
c. Cultural context
It can be described as the sustained conditions, collective expectations and prevailing norms among a group of people or a social network. It includes the values of a society, their beliefs social and moral norms as well as the meanings people give to the human actions and behaviours. It looks at the society in which characters live in and how their culture can affect their behaviours and their opportunities.
d. Political context
This deals with the leadership characteristics and dynamics of a society. It includes the types of leadership (like democracy, monarchy, kingdom, chiefdom), the role of people in determining their leadership, freedoms and rights. It is also referred to the disposition of decision makers surrounding an event or idea.
A character refers to the person, animal or an object that the writer of a story or a play uses to advance the plot or theme. He/she is a fictional human being, animal or thing in a story. The character is any person, animal or figure represented in a literary work. Characters are central figures on which the action of the plot happens.
The types of characters are:
a. Main/major/central characters: They are the leading characters in the story. This means that they play a big role in the story. They form the core of the story and the theme is based on them. Most of the actions in the story happen around these characters. They are central figures in the story and the plot and resolution of the conflict revolves around them.
- Protagonist: A protagonist is a main character who is faced with problem/conflict he/she must resolve. All action revolves around him/her and he/she is the one that resolves the conflict or problem in the story. The protagonist is also a main character who has good behaviours. He/she is considered as a hero.
- Antagonist: An antagonist is a main character who usually challenges, opposes or tests the protagonist. He/she is a main character who has bad behaviours. He/she is also considered as a villain.
Main characters are well developed which makes us to know more about them and we can relate to them.
b. Minor characters: They are characters that do not play a big role in the story. They are characters that support/help or serve to complement the main ones and help move the plot events forward.
Characters can also be categorized as:
Positive characters: They are characters that show positive /good qualities or behaviours. They can be brave, hardworking, caring, humble, peaceful, …
Negative characters: They are characters that show negative/bad qualities/behaviours. They can be wicked, cruel, brutal, lazy, revengeful….
Dynamic character is a character who changes over time. He/she portrays different emotions and traits. He/she/it grows or changes his/her/its personality, attitudes, behaviours as the story continues. He/she/it changes according to circumstances; and these changes in character are permanent.
Static character is a character that remains the same throughout the story. He/she doesn’t show changes in the story. The events in the story do not change his/her outlook, perceptions, habits, personality, or motivations.
Round/complex character is a character that has a complex personality. He /she is the one that has a mixture of traits (good and bad) that come from both nature and experience. This character is fully developed and described than a flat one. He/she is viewed as a conflicted and a contradictory character. A round character is a major character in a story and we may relate to this kind of character as a human being since we come to know so much about him or her.
Flat/simple character is a character that shows one or two main personality traits in a story. He/she can’t be a main character. That character is neither conflicted nor contradictory. He/she doesn’t change and the story doesn’t reveal much about him.
Stock characters is a type of flat character that appears so often in fiction and is recognized by more readers. This one doesn’t undergo any development in the story; and he/she represents specific stereotypes. He/she is the type and not individual.
Characterization refers to the author’s representation and development of characters in the story. It is also the act of creating and describing characters in literature. It includes descriptions of a character’s physical attributes, personality, actions and thoughts.
How to identify characters
In studying a short story, novel or novella, we need to identify and know the characters very well. In order to identify them we look at:
- The physical description of a character in terms of size, colour, and general appearance.
- What the character says about him/herself and about other issues affecting the society.
- The character’s actions in his/her interactions with other characters in the society.
- What other characters in the story say about him/her.
- The character’s thoughts, desires, dreams and wishes.
How to identify characters and explain their behaviours
In order to describe characters, we use adjectives. A character may be described in many ways such as: intelligent, loving, naïve, courageous, hardworking, lazy, humorous, good, bad, funny, ugly, rude, polite, beautiful, kind, careless, honest, humble, brave, serious, stubborn, loyal, gullible, selfish, generous, self-confident, cruel, respectful, brilliant, considerate, mischievous, daring, patriotic, successful, mysterious, hopeful, lucky, ambitious, curious, witty, determined, calm, foolish, miserable, wise, timid, faithful,…
The author creates different characters and has to show what makes a character behave the way he/she does or why he/she behaves in that way and how his/her behaviours affect others.
D. POINT OF VIEW
Point of view is the narrator’s position in relation to the story being told. It refers to the angle an author uses to tell the reader about the happenings in a literary text. It is also the method the author uses to narrate the story. Simply, it is who is telling the story.
There are three kinds of point of view:
The first-person narrator
The author tells the story from the I, me, we, us perspective. The narrator is one of the characters in the story. In this instance, the author narrates the story as one of the characters and in this case, he/she takes part in the actions that take place in the story.
Ex: I sat down on the cold floor – lost in thought but very alert to my surrounding – if you could call the small hole of a prison a surrounding. This was going to be my home for the next five years. Every day I regretted disobeying my parents’ warnings. My mother had been especially adamant that she did not like Harriet – the girl I was hanging out with and who I thought was an angel.
The second-person narrator
It is a type of narration that is told from the you, your perspective. It is not a common way of narration but when it is used, the author wants to draw the attention of the reader to the story by bringing him/her closer to the text and make him/her feel he/she is part of the events happening in the story.
Ex: You are quietly working on your assignments. Your classmates are chatting and shouting. You are trying really hard to concentrate and you wish something would happen to shut the noise out. Then suddenly the class is quiet. You look around to find out why the class is quiet but you see nothing unusual. You notice everybody is seated at their desk pretending to be busy. You are perturbed and scan the class – your eyes meet with Mr Ndayikunda’s – the disciplinary master. He is watching the class from the back window. You hurriedly go back to your assignment and do it by yourself.
The third person narrator
The story is narrated from a he/she, they or it perspective. The author refers to the characters in third person using the pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’, or by their names.
We have two types:
*Objective narrator is a third-person narrator that describes characters from the outside only, never revealing their thoughts. The narrator is an observer who describes the character’s appearance, speech and actions in a way that enables us to infer their thoughts. He/she does not know more about the character than what they choose to show. He is also called “a dramatic character”.
*Omniscient narrator is also a third-person narrator who knows what the character thinks and what is happening everywhere. This narrator is like the super hero or eye of God because he/she knows everything. He/she knows every move made by characters, their motives, thoughts and feelings; and he/she is not restricted by time or space. Omniscient narrator can jump from a character’s head to another’s, from a character to another, from scene to scene, from one place to another because he is all knowing.
A subject or subject matter is a topic which acts as a foundation for a literary work. It is the subject which makes a writer writes something, or what something is about. Subject is also the inspiration that makes you write anything, or something that is being written about, discussed, or shown. Simply, it is what a work refers to.
This is the central idea in a literary work. It refers to the suggestions the story makes about the life that it depicts. A theme is what the author intends to reveal in relation to the subject of the story. In other words, themes are insights of life that the story exposes to the reader.
In few words, a theme can be explained as:
- a central/ main idea of the story.
- an opinion expressed on the subject.
- what a writer is saying about a certain subject.
- a writer’s opinion or perspective about a certain issue in society.
- a controlling idea which is continuously developed throughout the story.
- a central and unifying concept of a story.
- a main or an underlying meaning of a literary work.
Minor theme: It is an idea that appears in a story briefly or an idea that appears once in a while in a story. It is less important and may appear for a part of the narrative to be replaced by another. It doesn’t cover the whole story.
Major theme: It refers to an idea that a writer repeats in his/her work making it the most significant idea in a literary work. The whole literary work revolves around it.
Examples of themes may include compassion, courage, friendship, love, good vs bad, honesty, loyalty, loneliness, grief, perseverance, benefits of hardworking, importance of family…
This is the lesson that the author hopes the reader will get after reading a literary work.
In few words, a message can be explained as:
- a lesson the writer wishes to convey to the society through his/her story.
- what an author wants the society to learn from his/her literary work.
- a kind of a lesson that the reader learns after reading the story.
- a moral in the story.
- something the story aims to teach the reader.
- a lesson the writer wishes the society to learn from his/her poem.
Messages can be about respecting elders, not fighting, caring for your loved ones, cooperating …
TYPES OF THEMES AND MESSAGES
The two types of themes and messages are: – Implicit/implied
Implicit themes or messages are the ones which are hidden. They are implied or communicated indirectly or suggested. To get them, the reader has to use his/her intelligence and analysis. They are also called hidden messages/ themes.
These are the themes or messages which are stated or communicated directly or clearly. The reader does not have to analyze the story to find them. They are fully and clearly expressed leaving nothing implied. They are also called fully stated messages/themes.
Audience is the number of people or particular group of people who watch, read or listen to the same thing. This could be the group of people who have gathered to watch or listen to something (a play, a concert, somebody speaking…). For books, audience refers to people who read that book.
In literature, audience refers to the person for whom a writer writes, or a composer composes. We modify what we say and how we say it depending on who our audience is. Our content, tone and language changes according to what we know about our audience. In writing, audience is whom you are writing for.
In few words, audience refers to the spectators, listeners and intended readers of a writing, performance or speech.
Target audience refers to the person or group of people a piece of writing is meant for. It is whom the writer is writing to, or the person whom the author expects will read the book. The audience targeted influences the tone, theme, style, language, and the choice of characters to be used in a story. Therefore, before an author writes a story, he or she considers the age, education level and culture, expectations among other factors of that audience. A target audience could be children, the youth, adults, women or men.
Intended audience of a literary work refers to anyone who will be reached by that work. Intended audience of a book are all categories of people who will read that book. They can be of different ages, regions, culture, sex, races among others.
It is the attitude or feelings of a writer towards the subject matter or the audience. It is also the manner of writing about the subject, characters and theme by careful choice of words. Tone is expressed by diction, sentence structure, point of view, figurative language and the level of formality in your writing. Therefore, it is the way the author expresses his attitude through his writing.
Tone in writing is not really different from the tone of your voice. Sometimes, it is not what you say but how you say it. This means that the tone can change very quickly or may remain the same throughout the story.
Tone may be described as being formal, informal, cheerful, sentimental, approving, appreciative, sad, comic, abusive, mocking, condescending, sarcastic, critical, happy, romantic, sorrowful, lamenting, ridiculous, serious, sympathetic, bitter, melancholic, ironic, humorous, arrogant, solemn, optimistic, pessimistic, threatening among others.
Some types of tone
Formal tone: It is the tone which is factual and objective. The words are written as you would find in textbooks and academic writing. This tone shows the writer’s respect for the audience; and it is the one that is used by educated people while communicating.
Informal tone: It is the casual/familiar/occasional/irregular/accidental tone. This is more personal as if you are talking directly to your audience. It is characterized by the use of slang, pidgin, proverbs, abbreviations, contracted words, short sentences, ellipsis, …
Comic tone involves the use of a funny or humorous voice in a literary text.
Sad tone: This involves the use of words that trigger feelings of sadness in the reader.
It is the feeling that a story evokes. This is how you feel after reading a story. Atmosphere refers to the emotions invoked/applied in the readers as he/she reads a piece of writing. It is also the feeling, emotion or mood a writer conveys to a reader through the description of setting and objects. Though the atmosphere is established very quickly but, it can change throughout the whole text.
Although mood and atmosphere are used interchangeably, there is a small difference. Mood is narrow as it concerns with the internal feelings of individual(s), without incorporating the feelings/emotions radiating throughout the venue. On the other hand, atmosphere is usually those feelings/emotions felt by more people or applied to a certain spot or venue.
The feeling could be gloomy, happy, tense, sad, romantic, amused, critical, humorous, cynical, pessimistic, hostile, loving, hopeless, anxious, cheerful, reflective, sorrowful, disgusting, fearful, sarcastic, hopeful, sleepy, sympathetic, peaceful, disappointed, curious, ashamed …
Some types of atmosphere/mood
- Gloomy mood: It is an atmosphere of great unhappiness/sorrow and loss of hope.
- Happy mood is an atmosphere of joy/happiness.
- Tense mood is an atmosphere of anxiety. You feel nervous/not relaxed because you are worried about what is going to happen.
In composition, the term purpose refers to a person’s reason for writing, such as to inform, entertain, explain, educate or persuade. In literature, purpose refers to the reasons/motives that make the author write a fictional work. It is the objective of a writer while writing a piece of work. In order to identify the purpose of a writer, we should ask ourselves why a story was written.
The purpose may be:
- To inform: The author aims to enlighten the reader or provide him/her with information about a topic. He gives facts or information about something
- To explain: The author may write to justify/clarify the reason why things are the way they are by providing details or facts.
- To entertain: The author aims to provide with amusement/pleasure or enjoyment.