Reposted from 2009
This morning, I want to talk about one of my favorite literary genres: the vignette. The word vignette comes from the same root as “vine” and was first used to describe decorative borders painted in books or along the tops of walls. The illustrations often contained leaves, grapes, and vines. Later, in photography, a vignette came to be known as a portrait that is focused in the center, but blurred at the edges.
Vignettes are usually about a character, a setting, or an idea. They contain emotion, strong images, theme, and sometimes dialogue. Plot is of minor importance, for vignettes focus on a moment (or scene) in time and give insight to the importance of that moment.
Vignettes are never “locked in” to the plot of a story, but exist on their own, a little like a sketch, or a snapshot. Some people have even described a vignette as a “quick sketch,” much as an artist will often render a sketch that captures the mood –the essence — of a future painting. For the writer, the question always is: How much should I include in this single sketch? How will the details I choose to share affect the reader?
What memories do you have that can be turned into vignettes? In the Memoir Writing class I teach, we talk often of little memories that are not earth shaking, but stand out, nevertheless, like polished stones in our memories. We read them aloud, sharing the emotion, making the setting come alive, getting to know the characters. We feel as if we are part of an extended family, sitting around roasting marshmallows and sharing stories. Why? Because there is something about a vignette written by one person that reaches out and stirs up the memory of another.
Why not try your hand at vignette writing? Think back to your childhood and let the memories come alive. Did you have a secret hiding place? Were you afraid of the dark? What was it like to have a new pet? Draw a sketch of the street you grew up on. What images emerge of people and places and happenings?
How about marketing your vignette? Is it possible to sell a piece like this? Where in the world would you start? Tune in tomorrow and I’ll share a vignette with you that sold the first time I submitted it.