The style guide I use, THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, uses the term "prose" for all non-dialogue or quoted material. The word "narrative" is rarely used. However, fiction web sites, as well as Stack Exchange, seems to prefer "narrative." So my question is: Is there a professional difference (I'm not really looking for a dictionary definition; I use Webster's)? And then some follow-ups: Are there regional differences? Does fiction v. nonfiction matter? What about poetry? Thanks!

  • Based on your comments below, it sounds like you're wondering how to describe (or class) the texts you're written. Rather than focus on "narrative", "prose" etc., I'd say focus on the kind of text it is—such as novel, short story, essay, biography, investigation, history etc. – ralph.m Dec 3 '15 at 22:44

Prose and poetry refer to how something is presented.

Fiction is something that is made up. Non fiction is something that is based on fact.

There can be no prose vs fiction debate since the terms refer to different things.

If it isn't poetry then it is prose, fiction or otherwise.


Prose is a form of language that exhibits a grammatical structure and a natural flow of speech rather than a rhythmic structure (as in traditional poetry).

Narrative is more or less storytelling.

Source: wikipedia

You might get at better answer if you provide som examples of how you intend to use the two words.

  • I believe I gave specific examples, and I'm not looking for a definition. Let me clarify: At what point will I sound like an idiot if I use the word "prose" in explaining my work of fiction to an agent? Does It matter? The same holds true if we're talking the word "narrative." Should I avoid one or the other? – Stu W Dec 3 '15 at 19:07
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    You would say "prose" if you mean "this is not poetry or non-fiction". All kinds of literature can be narrative - it just means that a story is told. What you present to the agent is prose, but why not just call it "fiction"? – Stefan Dec 3 '15 at 19:24
  • So what you're saying is that if it's nonfiction, it can't be prose? Which is fine, but then what's the nonfiction equivalent? "Discussion"? "Narrative"? (Fortunately, I've gotten past the "This a work of fiction"-phase.) – Stu W Dec 3 '15 at 19:32
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    Narrative is story (and then, and then, and then), whether fictional or non-fictional. Prose can include narrative and also expository text like an encyclopedia article, or indeed, an answer on this site. It would be a stretch to call the latter sort of thing narrative. Poetry is not-necessarily-but-possibly-narrative artistic text that may or may not be grammatical, and may or may not be rhythmic. This is a rough-and-ready explanation. I'm sure the internet has a more extensive answer. – RJH Dec 3 '15 at 19:58

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