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“Vignette” is a word that originally meant “something that may be written on a vine-leaf.” This image makes me think: small, special, delicate, and perhaps not for everyone to see.
How apt is this image?
Nowadays, a vignette is what you call a snapshot in words. It differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim doesn’t lie within the traditional realms of structure or plot. Instead, the vignette focuses on one element, mood, character, setting, object, or if you’re clever, a unique and smooth blend of them all. It is the perfect form of writing for poetic descriptions, excellent for character or theme exploration and wordplay.
The language can be simple and minimalistic, or extravagantly crafted literary prose. It’s your choice. Write in the style and genre you are comfortable with and in the genre you love. There are no limits regarding style and genre. In fact, the vignette only has one rule: create an atmosphere, not a story.
If you’d like to read some wonderful vignettes, you can find an abundance of them at Vine Leaves Literary Journal, which is run by me and Dawn Ius. But to be honest, I’d give writing one a go before you allow yourself to become influenced by too much other work.
Set your mind on a moment. Use all the senses to describe it. Especially the neglected ones like touch and taste and sound. Try not to go over 800 words. Anything longer than that will want to become a story. 100-word vignettes are also acceptable. And if you can manage to do it in even less than that, we applaud you. But it has to be good—really good, to get away with something so short.
That being said, one of my favourite vignettes in Vine Leaves Literary Journal Issue #01, called “Flashback”, is two lines long. It was written by a poet named Patricia Ranzoni:
This was a very brave submission. But totally worthy. Can you see why? Read it out loud. Slowly.
Let me tell you why I love this piece:
I can absolutely feel myself in the moment. Silence surrounding me, either really early in the morning or late at night. Alone. That soft click and then purr when I lift the receiver of the hook, and then the dancing notes as I dial. I can see the flashback—a blurry image of a pastel pink ballerina spinning, the tune twinkling, and the box vibrating in my hands. I can hear a child laughing in my head. It’s me when I was a kid. The first time I ever saw a ballerina in a box. Magic.
A successful vignette must evoke emotion. If you can make us feel, you’re on the right track.
If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written. Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat and Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. For more information, please visit her website.
Jessica Bell says
Thanks for having me today, Caroline!
Caroline Starr Rose says
You’re welcome! Thanks for sharing here. I love how doable you’ve made a vignette sound.
Valerie Geary says
I’m intrigued. I might try writing some of these…
Thanks for sharing Jessica!
Theresa Milstein says
Jessica introduced me to the vignette. It’s really changed my writing.