Prose fiction is an imaginary story, usually written down, that someone tells in everyday, natural language. The opposite of nonfiction and poetry, it lets people leave reality, exploring characters and events that typically are limited only by the scope of the writer’s imagination. It generally uses a variety of techniques such as narrative and has a wide range in terms of length. Although individuals label these stories by form and genre, a common thread is the use of universal themes that trigger emotional responses from readers. The definition of “good” and “bad” for these works is fairly subjective, because they are based on the way people talk and behave in regular conversation and situations, which changes over time.
The direct opposite of prose fiction is prose nonfiction, which is based purely on facts. Examples in this category include history textbooks and autobiographies. Some people also see poetry as a contrast, because it relies on rhyming, meter and other techniques, such as metaphor, rather than using more conversational language.
The Benefit of Imagination
Even though a writer can base his characters and events loosely on real facts or people, in general, the majority of what goes into a prose fiction work is made up. As a result, the author has an enormous amount of flexibility, as he can design his plot and characters based on his own imagination rather than on what he knows from reality. In fact, people often use this style of writing specifically to have fun with the unknown, such as exploring the future. Many people read these works as a way to temporarily escape regular life.
Writers can use different techniques in this type of literature, such as metaphor, exposition and narrative. One of the most popular ways to develop characters and move a plot forward is through dialogue, which is a conversation between at least two characters. Authors also may use a variety of viewpoints, such as first, second and third person.
A work of prose fiction can be any length, but editors and publishers typically use word count to determine what category it fits into best. The shortest group, flash fiction, has only 1,000 words or less. Short stories have up to 7,000, while a novella ranges between 10,000 – 60,000 words. Anything between 60,000 and 200,000 generally is a novel.
Features in each category can be similar, but each length has its own set of challenges. With flash fiction or a short story, for example, it can be hard to develop the plot or characters enough. With a novel, on the other hand, it is often difficult to keep track of complex plot points and characters.
Forms and Subgroups
Looking at form or style is another way to categorize prose fiction. These include historical, picaresque, epistolary, Bildungsroman, social, science and romance fiction, as well as metafiction. Within these groups are subcategories such as thriller, fantasy, mystery, drama, chick-lit and comedy. Although a written work might fit into more than one form or subcategory, in general, publishers usually like a single classification, because it typically helps in assigning submissions to specific, specialized editors.
One of the things that usually makes prose fiction work is that, regardless of how outlandish or silly a plot might be, and no matter what the length or classification is, writers tend to put universal themes into their stories. These are concepts that the majority of people understand, such as the need for friends or the fact people can learn from their mistakes. By including these ideas, authors often are able to make characters and events seem realistic and believable, striking an emotional chord with the reader. When this happens, assuming the work is marketed well and also is readily available, it has the potential to become very popular and well known, because many people might relate to it.
“Good” and “Bad”
By definition, this kind of writing is based on how people talk in regular conversation. Speech changes over time, however, with people altering the words they use and even how they construct sentences. Prose fiction that individuals think is good in one time period or culture, therefore, can be labeled as bad in another.
As an example, both Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo use long, extended sentences in their work. Some sentences even make up entire paragraphs, and plot movement is quite slow. Many contemporary readers, who are typically used to shorter, more direct writing, find the stories of these writers hard to understand or are bored with the drawn-out style. Some editors even have admitted that these classics might get rejected by contemporary publishing houses.