What Is A Vignette & How Do I Write One?

What Is A Vignette & How Do I Write One?

If you’ve ever wondered what a vignette is, read this post. We ask ‘What is a vignette?’ and show you how to write a vignette.

What Is A Vignette?

A vignette (pronunciation: vin-YET) is a short scene in literature that is used to describe a moment in time. It is descriptive and creates an atmosphere around a character, an incident, an emotion, or a place.

Dictionary.com defines it as a ‘a small, graceful literary sketch.’

It is also known as a slice of life that gives the reader added information that is not integral to the plot of the story.

Vignette means ‘little vine’ and it is named after the decorative vine leaves that adorned nineteenth-century books. Like the vines that adorn the books, a vignette in literature adorns the story by enhancing a part of it.

A vignette can be described as a pause in the story. Authors usually use vignettes when they want to highlight a defining, emotional moment in a character’s life.

Is A Vignette A Flashback?

No. A flashback is generally seen as essential to a plot. A vignette is not. A vignette can look into the past, but it is not a flashback in the traditional sense.

How Long Is A Vignette?

According to Masterclass, vignettes are short scenes within a larger story. They are (usually far) fewer than 1 000 words long.

Is A Vignette A Short Story?

No. A vignette does not follow a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It is more of a description or an observation. It is like looking through a magnifying glass for a moment. A short story features a viewpoint character who goes through some sort of conflict.

How To Write A Vignette

Think of it as a moment out of time.

  1. Use it when you want to give the reader a glimpse into a moment in a character’s life.
  2. Use it if you want to show something that is important, but not necessary to the plot.
  3. Use it when you want to create an atmosphere around a place or a character.
  4. Be descriptive.
  5. Use the senses.
  6. Use symbols.
  7. Leave the reader with a distinct visual impression.

Examples Of Vignettes:

A series of vignettes can be collected into one book:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is made up of vignettes that are ‘not quite poems and not quite full stories’. The character, ‘Esperanza narrates these vignettes in first-person present tense, focusing on her day-to-day activities but sometimes narrating sections that are a series of observations.’ (via)

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs is ‘structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes. Burroughs stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order. The reader follows the narration of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the U.S. to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone.’ (via)

Vignettes can be found within a book or a short story:

In In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway, the author uses a vignette to describe the death of a bullfighter, Maera. Hemingway writes: “Maera lay still, his head on his arms, his face in the sand. He felt warm and sticky from the bleeding. Each time he felt the horn coming. Sometimes the bull only bumped him with his head. Once the horn went all the way through him and he felt it go into the sand … Maera felt everything getting larger and larger and then smaller and smaller. Then it got larger and larger and larger and then smaller and smaller. Then everything commenced to run faster and faster as when they speed up a cinematograph film. Then he was dead.” (via)

‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien is a short story (in the book of the same name, The Things They Carried) about examples of things that men carried with them during the Vietnam War. ‘The list of things that O’Brien presents is surrounded with short vignettes showing the importance of some of the more sentimental objects they carried.’ (via)

LOOK: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

© Amanda Patterson

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This article has 5 comments

  1. Martin Haworth

    Hi Amanda

    I’m curious as to whether a vignette might be a very short story? Or has it to be a part of a larger story and just an aside; a glimpse?


    • Writers Write

      Dear Martin
      It could be a very short story, but generally it does not follow a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It is more of a description or an observation. It is like looking through a magnifying glass for a moment. It could work, but you will probably find the vignette morphing into more of a story as you go along.

    • Writers Write

      We have added your question to the post (and answered it). Thank you so much for asking it.

  2. Rabia Fatima

    Is vignette found mostly in any certain genre? Is it realism of some kind? Realism also focuses on describing minute details of a seemingly insignificant event.

    • Writers Write

      Dear Rabia
      It is not restricted to any particular genre. We don’t think it has anything to do with realism. It is a moment in time that is described using symbols, senses, and imagery. It is a literary device.

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