Dita Basu - <!-- -->Vignette Style Novels

Vignette Style Novels

IMG-0977Vignette style writing

What is vignette style? www.dictionary.com defines it as a small, graceful literary sketch. It is descriptive and creates an atmosphere around a character, an incident, an emotion, or a place. Hi

What Is A Vignette & How Do I Write One?


Vignettes can be standalone but they are more commonly part of a larger narrative. In my search, I found several books

The House on Mango Street__ by Sandra Cisneros. It’s a story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago who wanted to have a home (in Mango Street). In beautiful vignette style, it unfolds a poignant story. It’s a classic I came to know but didn’t read it earlier. An awesome read. *

Sold — by Patricia Mc Cormick. This is a story of a Nepali girl who is sold by his father, and brought to the city brothel — human trafficking. It is also told in vignette style. A worth read ****

Brown Girl Dreaming — by Jacqueline Woodstock.

This is written in poetry vignette style. A novel indeed. Exceptionally well done .****

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. Story of girl who escaped from an abusive home and became a henna artist in Jaipur. Excellent work again, with great care in detail work and world building. ****1/2

Why not 5*? I don’t want to give spoiler effect but contact me after you read. We’ll have a chat. This was not in vignette style, but very much in the subgenre of my work in progress novel. Finally,

In Other Words — by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Jhumpa wrote this in Italian and Ann Goldstein, a master translator, and editor has translated in English. Jhumpa’s writing — can’t be too bad. But it couldn’t hold me. After reading two thirds of it, I quit and moved on. In vignette style, she wrote about the agony and excitement of writing in Italian. Her insecurity about her own identity or about the sense of belonging is heart wrenching. In her words:

“In America, although I speak English like a native, although I am considered an American writer, I meet the same wall…because of my name, my appearance someone asks why I choose to write in English—ask me where I am from…I can’t avoid the wall even in India, in Calcutta…(they think) I scarcely understand Bengali, they express the same surprise as certain Italians, certain Americans. No one, anywhere, assumes that I speak the languages that are a part of me."

This is serious. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Development, a sense of belonging is a very basic need. But it is probably not as severe as a safe home and a bowl of food.

Somehow I felt it nagging at one point and repetitive. There are two short stories also but they didn’t have the same grip that the short stories have in her ‘Interpreters of Maladies’. Or even the novels.

Jhumpa is one of my favorite writers. I love her style but for this book my readers score is ***1/2

I found three more vignettes. Of those I’d share Alice Walker’s ‘The Flowers’. It is a vignette style short story of only about 1400 words. It’s an amazing piece.

I’ll try to share my experience of reading it.

In my first reading, I found it’s a story about a ten-year-old girl’s lost innocence. But there is so much more to it.

In my second read, I found the story is about racism. The word ‘sharecropping’ gave me the clue that it was Jim Crow time.

She’s a brown girl, so happy with summer, but as she enters unfamiliar territory, she bumps into the dead body of a person who was hanged. Her heel gets stuck to the bridge of the corpse’s nose…but the writer maintains the child’s wonder in the body's description.

Myop is a strange name…from myopia—nearsightedness?

This story is a perfect example of Hemmingway’s iceberg theory.

There is so much hidden underneath those 1400 words, but everything is there in the short vignette, in its word choice, in its rhythm of sentence construction, description, and setting, everything.

The little girl wanted to turn back to go home, but she has come too far…she’s exposed to the cruelty of people, though nature is bountiful.

At the end she places the gathered flowers at the feet of the dead body, her way of honoring a closure…and the very last line — ‘And the summer was over.’ Excellent.

In this blog post, I wanted to share what I learned and discovered about vignette style. Not as an expert, but as an elderly new student.

I believe people learn better from peers and fellow students and with that in mind I ask your help.

Come join me.

Did you read a vignette style novel to add here? What did you read lately? Please don’t be shy. I am eagerly waiting for your comments.