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Narrative Methods and Devices in Prose Works

A young desired writer with a Bachelor of Laws degree, Barrister - at - Law and a teacher of English Literature including Prose and Poetry.


Prose applies to all forms of written or spoken expressions which do not have a regular rhythmic pattern. It is most often meant to designate a conscious, cultivated writing not merely a bringing together of vocabularies, a listing of ideas, or a catalogue of objects.

Some of the qualities of prose include:

  1. It is without sustained rhythmic regularity.
  2. It has some logical, grammatical order, and its ideas are connectedly stated rather than merely listed.
  3. It is characterized by style, though style varies from writer to writer.
  4. It secures a variety of expressions through diction and sentence structure.

Prose is the most common and probably the most popular form of writing. The language of prose is the language of news, business, administration, and instruction. It is the same language, just as in magazines and in letter writings. Thus, prose may be said to be everyday language which has been represented or transformed into writing.

Prose is divided into FICTION and NON - FICTION. Its features include:

  • Sentence,
  • Idioms and proverbs,
  • Narrative technique, and
  • Paragraph.

Narrative Methods and Devices

In writing any of the prose works enumerated above, the writer makes use of different devices to narrate his story. He knows the nature of his narration and therefore, stands a better chance to choose what suitable narrative devices that will best convey his message to the readers, The main narrative methods include the following:

John Barth

John Barth

A. Epistolary

This is a letter writing method. When a book takes the form of a series of long letters, such book will be said to be in epistolary mode.

An example of a literary work in which an epistolary method is used is John Barth's epistolary work, Letters (1979), where the author interacts with the characters from his novels.

B. Autobiographical

This method tells a story in the first person: "I and we." The narrator is the person who has experienced or witnessed the event he narrates.

An example of a work written in autobiographical narrative is Old School by Tobias Wolff.


C. Omniscient

This method is otherwise known as the Eye of God narrative method. While the author makes use of this method, he narrates in the third person. The story comes from an unidentified voice who claims to be all-knowing, all-present, and has a direct access to explore even the minds and dreams of the characters.

An example of this type of narrative is Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."

D. Stream of Consciousness

This is the method that is used to explore and reveal the inner flow of thought of the characters. It is also called the internal monologue method which expresses or shows those thoughts and feelings which passes through the mind.

It has been suggested that Arthur Schnitzler, in his short story '"Leutnant Gustl - None but the Brave", (1900), was the first author who made full use of this narrative technique.

An example of this narrative method could be seen in T. S. Eliot's poem: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" which is a work influenced by the poetry of Robert Browning.

By T. S. Elliot (Poem)

By T. S. Elliot (Poem)

E. Flashback

This is a device that is used to reveal to the readers past event which might have happened before the prevailing narration. It is a sudden return to an earlier time by the writer in order to provide readers with as many details as possible.

Flashback narrative method can be exemplified by this quotation from the 1964 African novel of Chinua Achebe: Arrow of God;

"In the distant past, when the lizards were still few and far between, the six villages - Umuachala, Umunneora, Umuagu, Umuezani, Umuogwugwu and Umuisuizo - lived as different people, and each worshipped his own deity. Then the hired soldiers of Abam used to strike in the dead of night, set fire to the houses and carry men and children into slavery. Things were so bad for the six villages that their leaders came together to save themselves. They hired a strong team of medicine men to install a common deity for them. This deity which the fathers of the six villages made was called Ulu." - Extracted from Arrow of God [Chinua Achebe]

F. Dialogue

Dialogue is a common device that is used by a story teller or novelist. We must however, note that the fact that dialogue is an integral part of drama. Therefore, novelists often employ dialogue in prose in order to deliberately make their narrative a bit dramatic.

G. Assorted Narrative Methods

This is an overall employment of all or some of the methods earlier mentioned. Modern writers use any of these methods at different stages of their narration at anytime they deem it fit.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What narrative technique gives you details about the past?
    • Flashback
    • Dialogue
    • Epistolary
    • Ominiscient

Answer Key

  1. Flashback


https://www.wikipedia.org/: Online encyclopaedia.

Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God: Heinemann African Writers Series.


sunday sieh on November 14, 2018:

i enjoy the teaching

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