Writing Practices: On Writing Vignettes

The word "vignette" originates from the French "vigne," which means "little vine" and refers to the vine motifs used sometimes as decorative embellishments to a text. Put a pin in that phrase "decorative embellishments to a text" because we're going to come back to it. There is a fair bit of conflicting commentary regarding vignettes. Some people refer to short stories or flash fiction as vignettes. Often, a personal essay is described as a vignette. These are not entirely accurate. For me, short stories and flash fiction are about complete stories with the classic story elements of protagonist, antagonist, conflict, complications, resolution, and so on. A personal essay may or may not be a vignette. So let's explore this narrative form today and see how it is different from these various other forms of writing.

Published: The Weight of His Bones (The Nottingham Review)

This is a flash fiction piece that started out as a much longer story about an adolescent boy who gropes women in public places (see my footnote at the end of this post). Any woman who has lived in India for even a short length of time will probably have experienced this from men of any age. I wanted to explore what drives this particular behavior. What kind of person might be behind that anonymous mask and those grasping hands? What life/people influences might have led him to be that way? In this shorter version, though, I have focused more on the father and the adolescent son struggling with their splintering relationship.

Booknotes: The Bluest Eye

With 'The Bluest Eye', Morrison wanted to explore racial self-contempt and how that comes about in us. In the late-60s, when the idea of different kinds of racial beauty was just beginning to be properly articulated and accepted, she wanted to show, through the life of a twelve-year-old girl, Pecola, how concepts like "ugly" become personal and how they shape personality and, therefore, life. Throughout, Morrison has also scrutinized the effects of religion, shame, classism, colonization (of the mind), gender politics, incest, child molestation, etc. To avoid dehumanizing those responsible for creating this kind of mindset in a child, Morrison has given us complex, layered characters who are, to me, almost Dickensian. I say "almost" because it is when describing the worst things that happen to or are done by some of these characters that Morrison surpasses Dickens' pathos. Her truth is searingly honest but kind, and her kindness carefully extends to both the flaws and the virtues of these men and women. Dickens showed us who people are or can be; Morrison shows us who we are or can be.