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If novels and short stories aren’t your thing, or you find your time for writing comes only in short bursts, you might consider trying some vignettes instead. Vignettes are very short pieces of fiction; usually a maximum of 1,000 words, which just show a small snippet of a story. They will generally not have a beginning-to-end style plot, but will focus instead on getting the most out of a brief moment in the story.

For example, you might describe the feeling of taking the first sip of hot tea after a long day of work. Or it might be a young child paddling in the sea for the first time. The point is that in such a small space you will not be able to develop a very complex story so the focus is on the quality of your prose. As you may have guessed, this sort of writing is very much the literary, technical sort. It is less commonly seen in mainstream publication and generally appeals more to academics and those with a passion for traditional prose.

Just thinking about tea is making me crave it... I'll be right back. -Image by James Shade

Just thinking about tea is making me crave it… I’ll be right back.
-Image by James Shade

If you think this sort of manuscript might suit you, here are a few tips to get you started.

Your Focus Point

As I mentioned, you will not have time to develop a very complex plot so it is normal in a vignette to choose one very particular theme and develop it as much as possible. For this reason, it is less usual for a lot of time to pass in the story. If background is needed, you could do so briefly or weave it into the main story. For example, if your theme is an elderly woman remembering her dead husband, you could throw in small snippets of memory, but you would probably want to focus most on her feelings and reactions in the present.

Background Reading

If you are thinking that you will need to read a few vignettes before you write one, you would be spot on! But what should you read? I strongly recommend picking up an anthology with works from various different authors to give you a better breadth of reading. Authors, of course, have their own particular styles and reading a mixed collection will be the quickest and most cost-effective way to discover many different techniques.

You can also find free vignettes to read online; both professional and amateur. To narrow down your choices, I suggest sticking to the genre in which you want to write. There are plenty of anthologies and online collections that will focus on just one, which should make things a little easier for you.

Beware Repetition

When focusing on such a brief moment, it is easy to repeat yourself. If this is happening, it may be that your focus point is too small. Some authors believe that the more brief the moment you focus on, the better the vignette will be, but this is purely personal taste. If you find yourself running out of things to say about the woman drinking a cup of tea after 500 words, maybe have her eat a biscuit too! Actually, that’s a terrible example, but you get the idea.

Just thinking about... Wait... -Image by James Shade

Just thinking about… Wait…
-Image by James Shade

Human Condition

I have written briefly on the idea of writing “the human condition”. The strict definition of this is that it focuses on the emotions and experiences that make us uniquely human. I would say that it is the literary version of a stand-up comedy act. You have to tell your story using elements that your reader will identify with and recognise as an innate part of their own life. It’s a tall order, but remember that just because vignettes are short does not mean they are easy to write.

I hope that this article is helpful to you if you decide to write your own vignettes. If you liked it, please click like and follow. Also, look out for my next article when I will be bringing you a little more “Writing 101”.