Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday Writings - Creating Vignettes

The word vignette is defined as: (n.) Any small, pleasing picture or view; a small, graceful literary sketch. (v.) Finishing a picture or photograph in the manner of a vignette.

Whether crafting a setting for a short story or novel, a scene in a play, or framework for poetry, writers who think in terms of vignettes create sharper, more concise and memorable work.

Think of your keyboard or pen as a photographer’s camera. If you take the time to look carefully through the viewfinder and adjust your focus to exactly what you want to capture before clicking, you’ll be happier with your finished product. Conversely, if you grab and snap in a rush, you’ll produce blurred, amateurish work. All art takes time and practice to perfect, but with persistence, writing skills can be honed. To that end, following are a few “picturesque” tips on setting up good vignettes:
  • Invest in good equipment: If you think you can produce high quality work with a throw-away camera, think again. The quickie writer submits the first thing off the top of his head without taking the time to edit with a critical eye. The professional (one who invests in classes, workshops, critique group membership, and other learning opportunities) knows by taking his time to learn the rules and techniques, his work will shine.
  • Get down on your subject’s level: Think and write from your characters’ perspective. See what they see, hear what they hear, etc. When this is done, the writing will come off as realistic vs. fabricated. The words will have the ring of authenticity instead of smacking of the writer’s own voice and style.
  • Move in close: The best photographs are those which get as close to the subject as possible. Leave off extraneous descriptions and unneeded words. Get crisp and sharp and you’ll find more success with submissions, contests, and queries.
  • Try different poses, angles, points of interest and composition components: Your vignette staging is important, so spend time thinking of the overall word picture you are composing. Would a change in Point of View work better? Have you given your characters enough depth through character sketching? What might be added or subtracted to create a clearer portrayal?
  • Frame your subject through the lens: Think of all aspects of your vignette and consider how it will be translated to your readers. Give your story plot or poetry balance on all sides. Is every single thing you are considering including in your vignette necessary? Do you have enough variation and texture to make your work eye-catching? Beware of having trees sprout from subjects’ heads (fantastical plot lines). Savvy readers know when you’re overreaching. Make sure your thumb is out of the way also; remove all traces of yourself from your writing so the plot and characters can be heard.
  • Research your subject: Always check your facts. A few moments of Internet research on products, eras, weather or other data germane to your plot can mean the difference between a rejection and an acceptance to your query. It also adds interesting and fresh details to your work.

Now you’re locked, loaded, and ready to create better word photos. Your vignettes will be in sharper focus, as will your level of tone, mood, and quality. Leaving readers with an unforgettable mental snapshot (of characters, plot, or evocative use of words in a poem) is a hallmark of good writing.

What's your favorite "photographic" technique, and how can you apply it to writing?

{Photo from}


Anonymous said...

We use the same procedure when we do mental work with our racers. The simpler and clearer you make the picture the better they understand and embrace the plan. I guess it is the same with writing.
I'll hear about this.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I bet it works for your runners just as well as writers, Oren. Visualization of the finished product (or finish line) goes a long way in capturing the win.

Terri Tiffany said...

I loved this picture and how you explained it using photography! This was a wonderful post and I know when I think of my stories, I will picture the way you explained it. BTW, I love the picture you used--I would frame and hang that in my home. I really enjoy your Weds. posts!

Anonymous said...


I love learning new techniques for writing. This is a wonderful post and plan to incorporate every suggestion. Thanks!

Kathryn Magendie said...

I never can explain how I write or where it comes from, but I do know that even though I love breaking the rules, I also KNOW the rules --which as you said is important.

As an editor, I can usually tell who sent us something they just snapped off without thought - doesn't mean some writers won't snap off something brilliant that works (even if it needs editing), but there are some who I think "if they gave this just a little more thought, it would be really good..." and then it has to be rejected, and I imagine they send it over and over, hearing the same thing, until I hope finally it reaches their "ears" and they take some time to listen and learn! Many writers who could be really Good Writers are lost by the wayside because they are in a rush: I've done this myself when I first began submitting! Oh, the lessons hard learned!

Janine said...

Great job on showing how the creative arts reflect on another Angie. I really loved the photograph you used to explain this technique.

Janna Qualman said...

Angie, what a great analogy! I understand completely what you're saying, because I'm always mentally picturing what I write so as to capture it (I hope) at its best.

colbymarshall said...

Interesting you use this word today, because this morning I had to write a vignette for my puppy for her turn-in ceremony at Canine Companions for Independence. How hard to capture everything I feel about giving her back!

Melissa Marsh said...

Angie, this is EXCELLENT! I think I often need to be reminded to slow down when I write, to really focus on what it is I'm trying to say. I love how you used photography methods to apply to the craft of writing. I plan to go back to this post again and again.

Rachel Burton said...

What a great, well-written analogy. I love the thought of pulling in close and getting rid of extraneous details. It usually happens on the second draft for me. (like cropping pictures in my photo editor!)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thank you, Terri & Ang! Glad ya got the bigger "picture." :)

Kathryn, I'm guilty of the same thing many times. The rush to get the words out and down on paper, then the not-so-fun work of reading it slowly, aloud even, editing, tweaking, etc. Sometimes it helps to get completely away from a WIP and then see it again with fresh eyes later.

Glad you liked, Janine.

Write on, Janna! I love photography and seeing things through the tiny lens, so this helps me too. (I wonder if that's why I hate looking through the big window of a digital cam? Still hold it up and squint into the little one like a nerd.) LOL

So sorry for your hard duty today, Colby. Sometimes it's really hard to be clear and concise and focused when so much emotion surrounds the subject. Hugs

Melissa, thank you for the kind words. Made me smile.

Yes, exactly, Rachel. I've got to get into a photo editor and manipulate my pictures. Hmmm...maybe those skills will rub off on my writing too. :)

Carrie Wilson Link said...

If you can't hold steady, use a tripod/get support.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Carrie, I love that! Makes me think of lots of different support tools (including writing and blogging friends) that fit under that heading.

Lori said...

I can't remember where I read it, but I once saw advice for children's book writers that included the following instruction: "Lie down under the coffee table." The idea was to get down to the kids' perspective and basically to remember what it was like to be that young and that carefree. It gets you in the mindset of a 5 year old much faster than watching them bash each other with nerf balls at Chuck E Cheese. :))

Angie Ledbetter said...

Lori, excellent technique suggestion. Thanks!

Maria said...

Hi, what a great entry and so timely. I"m considering entering a short writeup I put together to a woman's magazine. It is on being a mom. I gave a speech at Toastmasters and decided it would make a great article. Your tips on practicing apply to speaking as well..which makes me think I could apply a lot of what I learned with speaking skills to both writing and photography. Taking time and framing are so important. You asked me about how hard it is to put words on photos in my Are You Positive blog. It's not hard and there are several ways...using a photo editor like Adobe Photoshop Elements is one way but I like the simple approach or Powerpoint..where you can group things on a page and save them as a photo. The resolution is great for web pages and small printouts..but bigger photos definitely need photo editing software. I'll remember your vignette analogy..what a great metaphor for writing!

Also, I like the way you respond back to your entries in your journal/blog...I'm going to start doing that too! Maria

Angie Ledbetter said...

Maria, you've got lots of great suggestions & comments here. Thanks so much. I'm technically challenged, so don't know if I'll be putting words on photos for a while. LOL. I enjoy your blog, and thanks for visiting mine.

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