Uncategorized, Writing Advice

Vignettes: Writing a Photograph Pt. 2

Slice of Life / Vignette, according to Wikipedia.org: A storytelling technique that presents a seemingly arbitrary sample of a character’s life, which often lacks a coherent plot, conflict, or ending. The story may have little plot progress and little character development, and often has no exposition, conflict, or dénouement, with an open ending.

No Plot, No Conflict, Zero Development…

How do you keep a reader engaged, then? Today’s post is Part 2 to Vignettes: Writing a Photograph.

The reason why I compare vignettes to photographs may be obvious: very little movement actually takes place. But that does not mean nothing should be taking place.

Vignettes are, by a loose definition, basically just one scene out of a person’s life. But in order to make it an interesting scene—one readers will read, not just skim over and forget about in five minutes—you’ll need to put just as much thought and (maybe even more) attention into your character and the details on which you choose to put your emphasis.

The character may not change, but the reader must be left with a change inside of themselves. Whether your piece changes the way they judge old people, or makes them stop to think about that time in 7th grade when they were bullied, it needs to evoke something within them. It could be on an even smaller scale, if you wish; you can simply remind them what it feels like to be happy. In love. Lonely. Hopeful. Scared.

It needs to be human. (Though your center of focus can be on a dog or a horse, if you really want. Think War Horse.)

Environment is Character

When you’re working on such a small scale, you can’t afford to waste breath on describing a character’s clothes, eyes, hair cut, and cell phone case. In my opinion, you can totally throw out any physical descriptions unless it is absolutely relevant to your vignette’s emotional theme. (For instance, racism.) Pronouns and a couple of dropped hints will do quite nicely.

So instead of pointing to Main Character’s (MC) gorgeous blue eyes and chiseled chin, (which tell me absolutely nothing about his character and lifestyle,) I would mention the roar of motorcycles lining up outside the bar, the tang of sweaty men in a loud cramped space, the orange juice he’s sipping quietly because he didn’t mean to end up at a biker bar when his Subaru ran out of gas… Or maybe he’s the baddest boy in town and picks a fight? Which brings me to a side point: decisions are character, too. Clothing is just makeup; your vignette readers want to know and relate to MC. Not ogle him.

Subtlety is the Policy

While it may be tempting to jam as much emotion and ‘big action’ into the 500 to 2k words of a traditional vignette, try to remember that the point of his vignette—this ‘apparently arbitrary’ scene—is about showing your character in their most human state. If you can hone your ability to show the struggles and joys of the human condition, in a quiet and everyday moment between lovers or the glass of wine after the divorce, that is the most powerful tool in the world.


Good luck!



Submit Your Shorty Story or Vignette!

Stick around for Monday, May 14th’s post for tips on creating vivid imagery in your writing, and check out the Tweet below for a chance to win a $5 Starbucks gift card!

Vignettes pt 2

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