Offutt Glossary

I like Chris Offutt’s guide to literary terms, which Harper’s Magazine includes in its most recent issue.  Here’s a little sample:

nonfiction: Prose that is factual, except for newspapers.

creative nonfiction: Prose that is true, except in the case of memoir.

memoir: From the Latin memoria, meaning “memory,” a popular form in which the writer remembers entire passages of dialogue from the past, with the ultimate goal of blaming the writer’s parents for his current psychological challenges.

novel: A quaint, longer form that fell out of fashion with the advent of the memoir.

short story: An essay written to conceal the truth and protect the writer’s family.

novel-in-stories: A term invented solely to hoodwink the novel-reading public into inadvertently purchasing a collection of short fiction.

clandestine science fiction novel: A work set in the future that receives a strong reception from the literary world as long as no one mentions that it is, in fact, science fiction; for example, The Road, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

plot: A device, the lack of which denotes seriousness on the part of writers.

Isn’t it great? More here. The piece was originally published in Seneca Review.


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