Writing a Vignette

No time for a full short story?
Then write a miniature one!

Finding myself very short on time this week as I’ve written about earlier, I was up a creek without a paddle when it came to composing a new story. My professor suggested it as an optional task to write a new story when handing in revisions of our previous stories this week. Because I didn’t have time to fully flesh out a new story, though, I wrote a vignette.

Sometimes a vignette can be the perfect compromise between short time and a story needing to be written. Like flash fiction, a vignette is usually one scene and it keeps things short but sweet. There’s no time to fully create a character, but you can hint at a very multi-faceted character. That doesn’t mean throwing in ten different things about the character, but to let the scene unfold and reveal small things about the person. It can improve your writing immensely to be limited to the vignette or flash fiction form. If you had only one scene to portray yourself, your mother, your closest friend’s character, personality, and lifestyle, what would you choose?

After the jump: making tough choices.

You can see how this forced choice makes you choose wisely. Too many beginners’ stories begin with the character waking up and getting out of bed. It’s not necessary! Unless something extraordinary and very character-defining happens, we don’t need to see it; we all have similar waking-up routines. Instead, in a vignette, leap straight into the scene that really matters, the “money scene.” Imbue your story with urgency and conflict.

At the same time, because of their short length, vignettes can’t carry as much of a burden of plot as short stories can, just as short stories can’t handle as much as novels can. Urgency and conflict doesn’t mean a dead relative, a bank robbery and a hostage situation all in one scene; it means capturing one conflict and capturing it well. This will help you stretch your muscles when it comes to detail. Pick out the details that really capture the place, time, and character. Give us the stuff that makes the scene darker, more troubling, or more challenging. Don’t tell us the walls are pastel pink unless it’s important to the scene; don’t tell us what the character ate for breakfast unless — well, that’s almost never important; just don’t tell us that.

I hope I’m sounding urgent, because vignettes only succeed if you have a strong sense of urgency. Get your characters to collide quickly. Get them talking and get them angry at each other. And at the end, while you don’t need quite as much closure as with a short story, there still needs to be a bit of an arc, a reason for breaking off where you do.


  1. Belinda says:

    I’ve been meaning to write a vignette, that is, this entry convinced me that what I’ve been wanting to write is a vignette. Do you have any suggested reading so I can get more exposure? I did vignettes years ago and I feel like I’ve lost the talent for it.

  2. Cassandra says:

    You say, “Don’t tell us the walls are pastel pink unless it’s important to the story.” I had to laugh a bit because I just did something like this in one of my flash fiction stories. Is it at all bad if it describes the scenery? Even if it doesn’t have any relevance?

  3. p 09 says:

    I saw you’re on the reading list for Wednesday. Will you do a post about readings? It seems like they’re an entirely different beast from sheer writing, because there’s an element of showmanship in them…

  4. I think short stories and vignettes really force writers to work their writing muscles. It’s like sprinting rather than jogging…you have to exert more effort to get it right in a short time. It puts the creative in creative writing.

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