What Is Narrative Prose?

G. Wiesen

Narrative prose is a form of writing in which the work is written in prose, rather than in poetry, and tells a definite story through actions. Many written works are written in this form, including a great deal of literary work and most modern pieces of fiction. The narrative aspect of this style comes from the fact that events occur and are narrated within the work, rather than having events occur outside of the framework of the story. Narrative prose also means that the story is told in a prose format, which is basic language, rather than a poetic format that may deal with meter and rhyme.

Narrative prose is a form of writing in which the work is written in prose, not poetry, and tells a definite story.
Narrative prose is a form of writing in which the work is written in prose, not poetry, and tells a definite story.

Perhaps one of the simplest types of writing to understand, narrative prose typically consists of a narrative story written in a fairly clear prose format. This does not mean that these stories are inherently simplistic, however, as very complex and detailed stories are crafted using this format. It simply means that these works are written as action-driven stories in which events occur and characters are seen taking part in them. Stories written as narratives can still have compelling and rich characters, but these characters are part of the action and are not merely witnesses or storytellers.

Books written in narrative prose tell the story in basic language.
Books written in narrative prose tell the story in basic language.

Narrative prose is typically written in the moment of the action and tells a story through a series of events. This means that a story written in this format is not likely to consist of a character sitting in a dark room, thinking about the things that have happened in his or her life. Of course, this type of story could be told through narrative, but the major events of the story would consist of flashbacks the reader would experience as those events play out. In this way, the events become the action that moves the story forward and eventually reveals various pieces of information about the character.

A work written as narrative prose is also written in a prose style, rather than as poetry. Poetic works have a number of different rules and facets to them, such as rhyme, rhythm, meter, and other poetic devices. Even blank verse poetry is typically written in a way that is meant to take advantage of the poetic format and create a piece of writing outside of standard communication. Prose, including narrative, is written in the voice of common speech and relays events through basic language that can be symbolic and powerful, but remains straightforward and accessible.

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Discussion Comments


From the school days up until now nobody (teachers) told me the appropriate definition of prose as what prose stands for. However, I am very thankful to wisegeek writers and editors who made the description of prose very easy.


Prose is a more grammatical structure -- a natural flow of speech. It is creative in nature and expresses emotion, or tells a story. Prose consists of complete sentences which convey specific thoughts or feelings

Narrative prose is non-poetic writing and it tells a definite story. It is modern fiction.


@SkyWhisperer - In my opinion it would still qualify as narrative prose as long as you tell events, somehow. You can use flashbacks in a character study, as the article points out.

I haven’t read much literary fiction since my college days, where a few pieces would be published in the college literary quarterly. I agree, it’s not the stuff of genre fiction, but I do think it qualifies as storytelling.

Story is ultimately about conflict. That conflict can be internal or external in my opinion. So even in the case of a character study, if you can show some kind of internal conflict, you potentially have a story. I don’t really split hairs here, but I believe that all literary fiction is narrative prose.


@SkyWhisperer: Literary fiction can certainly qualify as a form of narrative prose, though it depends on the individual piece. If a work of fiction is written as a stream of consciousness that reveals information about a character, but doesn't necessarily tell a definite story, then that is not usually narrative prose.

A similar work, however, that tells a story in a prose style is more often a piece of narrative prose. The lines can get pretty blurry, however, so all of this can be open to a great deal of interpretation.


@hamje32 - Let me jump in here and muddy the waters a little, or at least broaden the discussion.

What place does literary fiction play in narrative prose? The article hints at this type of fiction but makes it clear that it may, or may not, qualify as narrative prose.

I used to read issues of the New Yorker and other magazines like that which featured what they called “literary fiction.” When you ask how that differs from regular fiction, the answer is that there is an emphasis on the literary.

Literary fiction is more about prose and style; it’s not genre fiction, and it doesn’t always have a typical beginning, middle and end in the usual sense of the term. Sometimes a piece of literary fiction is more of a character study, just focusing on one issue and the things that happen to him, told from his perspective (or the author’s).


@widget2010- I think that is even a problem in a lot of modern published literature. I'm not the first person to complain about "pop" fiction and I won't be the last. It does seem sometimes though that a lot of "writers" could use some lessons in pace and conciseness.


@NathanG: Yeah, fiction and non-fiction have no real impact on whether something is narrative prose or not. Narrative non-fiction is a popular and enjoyable style of writing that many writers engage in.

It all comes down to format and style, rather than the subject of a work.


I have taken several creative writing courses and done some workshops, and beginning writers often feel that writing dialogue is the hardest. Even narrative prose can be hard, though, at least in terms of making it really engaging. It's easy to fill up word space, but not so easy to make every word somehow add to the story, which is the real goal with any good written work.


@NathanG - I think that you answered your own question – they have to be story-like in form and structure.

If it’s narrative, it probably will be, but not necessarily. For example, you can read many essays that have the narrative style, and they are certainly written in prose form, but do not qualify as stories.

The article makes it clear that there has to be a story, told through specific actions. If, however, you were writing a narrative of a real life event, with a definite beginning, middle and end, then I think that it would qualify as narrative prose. I agree that it doesn’t have to be fiction necessarily, but it must have a story.


I wonder if narrative prose nonfiction would be considered narrative prose as well? I am inclined to think that it would, because according to the article it would fulfill the condition of being narrative as well as prose.

The article doesn’t say that the prose has to be strictly fiction necessarily. The reason that I ask is that I had a class in nonfiction prose in college, and we read a lot of narrative nonfiction. They read like stories, but were real life events.

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