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What Are the Different Stylistic Prose Techniques?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
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  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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Writing prose involves more than simply recording events as they happen, or telling a straight story. Sometimes stylistic prose techniques are used to add depth and character to the story. Perhaps the two most common techniques are the use of simile and metaphor, though other techniques exist as well. Motifs are prominent in both fiction and nonfiction, as is the use of irony. Fiction tends to adhere to a plot structure that helps guide the story along in a logical manner, though techniques such as frame stories and flashbacks can be used to change the plot structure.

Similes are comparisons between unrelated ideas, people, or objects. The comparison will include the words "like" or "as" in them to draw attention to the comparison. This is one of the most commonly used stylistic prose techniques because it is logical, easy to recognize, and often freeing for the writer: he or she can use figurative language without having to hide the meaning or disguise the technique. A simile might read something like this:

"The truck came barreling down the street like a fastball headed for the catcher's glove."

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The use of metaphors is also one of the most common stylistic prose techniques, and it is similar to a simile in that a comparison is made between two different people, places, things, ideas, actions, and so on. Metaphors do not use the words "like" or "as" in them, however, and they can be somewhat harder to spot. An example of a metaphor might read something like this:

"Bill's apartment was cavernous."

The comparison is made between the apartment and a cavern, but it is made more subtly than a simile would have structured it.

Motifs are recurring themes throughout a story or text. This is one of the more difficult stylistic prose techniques to recognize, as the reader must be astute enough to pick up on the recurring theme or event. A character in a story might, for example, have a habit of touching his nose every time he lies. This is considered a motif that is indicative of a repetition in the story. The astute reader will begin to understand the character is lying because he has touched his nose.

Irony occurs when the reader expects one situation or event, but another occurs. There are three general types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic. Using these techniques well can be tricky, and an ironic situation may not present itself until the very end of a story, making it an exceptionally difficult irony to spot until the story has been finished.

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croydon
Post 3

@KoiwiGal - Well, sometimes the stylistic features of a book are the way in which the author has chosen to tell the story.

Take House of Leaves, for example. There is a book that is so chock full of different ways to tell a story it is almost schizophrenic with them. The author moves the text around the book, he tells the story in several different points of view, he uses flashbacks and forwards, metaphors and hidden meanings, motifs, irony, you name it, he has used it in that book.

It is actually a bit of a mess, but still compelling for all of that and I think it was a book that needed to be written.

If nothing else, it definitely gets across the story that it wanted to tell, by any means necessary.

KoiwiGal
Post 2

@irontoenail - Very few people are able to write a main character convincingly with faults, particularly when the novel is written in the first person. Because, of course, we aren't usually aware of our own faults, at least not all of them, so the narrator can hardly inform the audience directly of what their failings are.

You have to see it through other characters, or through the way the narrator deals with events.

Dickens is very good at that, although in general I find him difficult to read, since he puts much more priority on character and place than on story.

I'd rather read a really good story with so-so prose, although of course, it's best when there's a good story and good prose.

My pet peeve though is when the author seems to be going through a list of stylistic prose techniques rather than just writing what they want to say clearly and well.

irontoenail
Post 1

I've started trying to read Dickens lately and one of the things that took me a while to realize was his sense of humor and irony that drifts through all his works.

I suppose it's one of his stylistic devices, although it just feels like a natural extension of his own sense of humor.

At first I thought he was being serious with the characters he created, and that they were meant to be real people. And they are supposed to be real in the narrative, I suppose, but to some extent they are also caricatures of people in general.

Even his narrators who, in the book I'm reading, as perpetually cheerful and who I thought he thought were faultless, I'm starting to see have been written so that the cheer is actually a fault.

Now that I understand that he has such an amazing grasp of his work that he can make gentle fun of his own characters like that, I'm enjoying the books even more.

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