Using Vignettes

Hello SErs! Harmony here. I hope this finds you all well. Today, I wanted to talk about using vignettes in your novels. Here is the dictionary definition of a vignette:




1. A brief evocative description, account, or episode.

“a classic vignette of embassy life”

One of the best uses of this device is one I saw in The Outsider, Stephen King’s latest book. The situation is tense. Detective Ralph has just arrested Local guy Terry –rather publicly–for an horrific crime. Terry keeps the detective and the DA in the room by saying, ‘I’m not going to discuss any of this until Howie gets here, but I want to tell you one thing.’ (Howie is the lawyer.)

Against his better judgement, the detective stays. Right here is where King leads us skilfully into the vignette, which serves multiple purposes. For one, it slows the pace and allows the reader to catch their breath–it’s been a hell of a ride up to this point. For another, it shows the back relationship between the detective and the suspect without boring telling and information dumping. For a third, it shows–artfully–how much danger a lot of local kids would have been, might yet be, in if this guy really is the killer.

King leads you into this bit of back story in a way that has you wanting more, especially as the main character doesn’t want to go there with the guy …

‘Go ahead.’ That was Samuels (the DA), trying not to sound eager, but his face fell at what Terry said next.

‘Derek was the best drag bunter I ever had.’

‘Oh, no,’ Ralph said. He could hear the rage trembling in his voice, a kind of vibrato. ‘Don’t go there. I don’t want to hear my son’s name come out of your mouth.’

Terry nodded. ‘I can relate, because I never wanted to be arrested in front of my wife and daughters and a thousand other people, many of them my neighbors. So never mind what you don’t want to hear. Just listen a minute. I think you owe me that for doing it the nasty way.’

King then allows Terry two pages to tell the story of how he helped Ralph’s boy Derek. Now, being a Brit, I don’t know about baseball, and especially not little league, but I got the message regardless. For me, this enticing lead-in has as much importance, if not more, than the actual vignette given. It sets it up so nicely.

Vignettes are something I haven’t yet tried, but this book and its skilful use of vignettes has inspired me to give this a try sometime. How about you? Have you used this device in your writing?


Harmony Kent

35 thoughts on “Using Vignettes

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

    • In many ways it is, Jan. As long as each one has an arc, a beginning, middle, and end. A true vignette is a slice of life, which a book or short story isn’t. So glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If I’m interpreting it correctly, I’ve used them a number of times, but usually in the form of a flashback. I sometimes set a separate “snapshot” as Yvette said within a scene that contributes to the overall plot. I did it a lot in Myth and Magic, and to a lesser degree in A Thousand Yesteryears.
    Cool topic, Harmony!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Never used them before and I’m not sure I’d do a good job. Then again, I’m still not exactly sure how they work. It sounds almost like a flashback, but it’s just one character explaining a situation. Sounds like something hard to pull off without going into ‘info dump’ territory.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t used vignettes, but one of the books that I use in my classroom is The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and the entire book is a collection of vignettes, and I love it. 🙂 I tell my students that a vignette is a snapshot of a moment that the author then magnifies to draw the reader in. It’s a great book to use to teach figurative language as well. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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