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An Introduction to the Elements of Prose

Hello everyone! Last time, we talked about some of the qualities that are best for developing yourself as a writer. This time we will dive into an element of writing that is ironically rarely talked about by most online writing tutorials, prose.


Prose can be defined as the style with which you write. The structure of your sentences, your word choices, and even the organization of your paragraphs are all important facets of prose. A good writing style is essential for conveying the information within your story. If the style of your writing does not engage the average reader, it’s unlikely anyone will find your work worth their time.

What tends to make for engaging prose though? Typically, two pivotal elements of engaging prose are understandability, and vividness. The importance of understandability is straight forward. If a reader is confused by your writing, you have no understandability.

For example:


“Joshua sat in his comfy chair, his corduroys hanging languidly from the mast of the Battleship Potemkin as Zeus scratched Garfield’s paw pads.”


What am I supposed to focus on? Where even is Joshua? Why would his pants be on an old Russian battleship? Wha- Zeus? Like… the god? And why would he be scratching Garfield’s paw pads of all places? …. What? Garfield is there too? The cartoon cat?

This sentence has no focus, continually compiling unrelated details— more so creating a demented collage than painting a picture. It’s vague in some areas while bizarrely specific in others. Unless you are trying to appeal to the kind of rich people who buy millions of dollars in art they don’t understand just to impress guests, no one is going to claim your prose are engaging.

An example of understandable prose would be:


“Joshua sat in his comfy recliner, watching the movie Battleship Potemkin on the tv sitting at the opposite side of his living room.”


Notice how this sentence has far more structure? Joshua is the clear focus as he is both the first thing mentioned and is not upstaged by increasingly wacky things. We are immediately told his condition (sitting in a recliner), what he’s doing (watching Battleship Potemkin), and where he is (his living room). Every detail is clearly connected to what we should be focusing on to build a coherent image.

Vividness is a bit more confusing than understandability, as it is arguably more subjective. However, most professionals agree that vivid prose convey a message as close to the author’s imagination as possible. Telling someone you pet a dog is so vague you might as well say you pet an organic entity. Saying that you scratched behind the ears of a two-year-old Doberman with floppy ears and blue eyes leaves little to be misinterpreted.

These two elements can at times oppose each other. Vividness is all about detail, and too much detail can be disorienting for a reader. On the opposite end, your writing can be comprehensive to the point of being boring. Petting a dog is simple, easy to understand, but it’s so plain and boring that it might as well just be a text message to your mom than a passage from a book.


There are many more elements to prose that deserve to be touched on, and they will. However, they will need to be tackled separately in their own blog posts, as I can only cram so much information into a single writing. I can’t wait to discuss more next time!

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