Flash v. Vignette: What’s the difference?

Vignette vs. Flash: Discuss.

Thank goodness for morning pages. They’re like the letter your homeroom teacher had you write to yourself on the first day of class, which she then sealed in an envelope for you to open on the last, and inside you find an enchanting, vaguely familiar message proving that past-, more-motivated you did the work. It’s a wonder! Good job, past you!

Who knows how long ago I scribbled this meditation chewing over flash v. vignette in my Cambridge Steno 8.5 “x 11” 80-sheet notebook, but here we are, peeling the lid off my one-page time capsule.

I just finished teaching Function Follows Form, an essay forms class full of beautiful writers, through Indiana Writers Center, and this smudgy, wrinkled page would have come in handy. Every time I sit down to teach or write vignette, I return to my MFA notes and Lopate to refresh my understanding of the nuances of various forms. Flash, however, is absent, so it’s up to me to analyze and explore on my own. Join me, won’t you?

Here are those morning pages notes, more or less unedited. I’d love your thoughts on the topic, because as far as I know there’s no book or definitive answer (but this lovely Mama Flash can probably illuminate us):

Vignette vs. Flash: Is there a difference? What is it? One is a small scene, a tiny portrait painted with words that show, that evoke, that bring to life a place or vibe or experience without telling (please forgive that old chestnut). Flash should, as with good writing in general, show, but it also tells a story—things happen—a beginning, middle, and end; whereas vignette may do that but with more poetry by engaging the senses with word choice. [And when I type that last sentence I realize how off the mark is that notion.] Vignette is a more compact lyric essay, a stage where prose and poetry dance. Flash isn’t about painting a picture (or is it?). It can and should and usually does evoke feelings, to be sure, but flash is also allowed to be all tell with little-to-no show and still works and even dazzles.

[And here is where I need to find an example to support that statement, so I will now turn to the webs . . . Okay, I’m back. Smokelong had my back. Fridge Flash: Peace, by Maya Bolden. See? Flash—story, telling, poetry, dazzling.]

Flash can be a 200-word memoir of an entire life or day, or exist just to make a single point. Is it fair to say one makes the reader feel and the other makes them think? One is impressionism, the other realism? That the lines are less defined in vignette(?), though that is probably wrong. A friend said, “flash is complete, and vignette is part of a whole.” I like that. What say you?

Not to be self-promotey, but here's a flash I wrote, and here's a vignette. I'm pretty proud of both and am trying to be more self-supportive. 🙂

Published by Beth Bates

Writer, writing coach, book editor, CNF instructor, connector, mom, wife, and lover of fresh air, grass, trees, birds, waves, sand, mountains, stories, and travel Let's be friends on Twitter @bethbates

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