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Sunday, April 22, 2012


A vignette is defined as a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting and sometimes an object, and as such need not contain the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution.

Vignettes are stories that may have no plot but suggest one, leaving the reader to imagine those details. The point of the stories is to focus on individual moments, and give an impression of a character or place.

As a literary device it went out of fashion in the nineteenth century but I continue to employ it because it is the writing equivalent to people watching and I find it fascinating.

There is something very lyrical, magical and poetic about moments. The larger picture is a canvas, but a vignette offers color, texture, not a clear picture necessarily.

The reason I am fascinated by vignettes is tied to memory. Some people remember entire narratives in extraordinary detail. Most people I have encountered remember sketches that left an impression for what they made them feel at the time.

These days, vignettes are more often associated with theatre or film. It works in film especially because it is generally surrounded by a larger story and it’s all connected into a larger narrative.

To me the most powerful vignette in film is in “Blade Runner” – it lasts less than two minutes and yet as I remember the details, the moment stretches into so many impressions that it is a larger memory. It is just a moment but one of profound beauty and gravitas.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.” This line transforms me and I can see each frame of that scene at a slower pace. I remember details that are not necessarily there, they are emotional impressions that have stayed with me for years since I first saw this. “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

I rewrote that in my memory and what I remember may very well resemble what millions others saw, but it means something different and some details are more prominent than others. That is what memory does and that is why vignettes fascinate me: emotion, like perspective, changes everything.

To me life is made up of these moments. The connections don’t lose significance because I don’t focus on them. I just get drawn in by the simple beauty of a single moment – and by beauty I may mean color or its inherent musicality. Whatever it means, it is visceral and grand – whether elegant or inelegant – because it imparts some truth that reaches each individual as a personal emotional appeal.

That was what I was going for with Because She was a Woman – of which How Nadine and Libby Escaped Destiny is but a preview (still available as a free download on Smashwords). I can’t wait to share it and see how it is received!

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