Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Slush Gets Me Again

Have you written and submitted a vignette? No, don't play innocent. I see you there, whistling and pretending you didn't hear the question.

Vignettes are often some of the nicest writing, and while I realize you don't mean them to be, they're a dirty trick to play on editors.

Deep in the fens of slush, as we beat at the underbrush of bad punctuation and step gingerly (ew!) around the festering piles of crap, not so infrequently we catch sight of something. Wait, is it...! Something publishable? Something sleek and lovely and well-groomed? Yes! It's... No. It's a vignette.

This is like looking for the literary equivalent of an downy white swan or noble 10-prong buck, and finding a fricking plastic flamingo instead. In the realms of getting- the- rug- pulled- out- from- under- you, you can almost hear the "Yoink!"

Lookit. I don't care how charming and beautiful your two scenes / beloved memory / bonding moment is, it is not a story. Nothing happens. No, I take that back. (Jimmy and his dad caught a fish!) Nothing happens that anyone but you gives a shit about. There's no conflict.

These are also sometimes called "mood pieces", and their aim is to convey a single emotion or atmosphere. Yes, ok, Goodnight Moon has no conflict. But I'm not talking about bedtime books.

If some of your favorite picture books are No David, Where the Wild Things Are, and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, consider that those books are practically conflict from one end to the other. People love conflict! Think about it. You're reading this blog, aren't you?

14 comments:

azang said...

Suddenly I feel like starting a fight...

Colorado Writer said...

Hmmm...

Amber said...

I LOVED "No, David"... brilliant!

I think one of the hardest books to write are the ones from an experience. It's difficult to part with What Actually Happened and create a story with things (to make it interesting) with Things That Didn't Happen.

latteya said...

I've had a few rejections that started "This is a lovely vignette, but..."

ChrisEldin said...

I love the word 'vignette' though.
It's lovely. It could be a type of stiletto, or pasta, or sportscar.


The Porsche X3J Vignette.

Suzanne said...

how about novel length vignettes??? lol!

ae said...

I think the easiest books to write are the ones from experience. At least for me. But ya have to remember.

And I will be eternally grateful to an editor formerly with Dial who wrote "This needs more conflict/resolution,"(... with a smilie) on the first ms I sent out.

working illustrator said...

I think "Vignette" would make an awesome character name. A French foreign exchange student, maybe: good hair, bad attitude. Trouble.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...

Excellent post. However, I beg to differ on one point -- Goodnight Moon is all about conflict (saying goodnight to everything is the universal way children fight sleep, darkness, and the secret sounds of the night).

I speak anonymously, as the voice of mothers everywhere.

Kristi Holl said...

I do a lot of critiquing, and I wish writers (at least in the mss. I see) would add more inner conflict along with the plot's action conflict. Maybe it's from watching car chase special effects movies, but I see too many stories with outer action conflicts but nothing much going on inside the character--and so you don't care if they make it or not. For me, the inner conflict driving the outer one is much more interesting.

ae said...

Kristi, some would say (maybe everyone would say) that that is the emotional story that floats with the plot story. They would most likely say THAT is what makes the story literary (depending on your language and execution, of course). But yeah, I think most often those are the ones that linger.

ae said...

Oh. Post script. Some might even call that the truth or meaning (or both) of the story.

Holly Armstrong said...

Oh, if you lived nearby you'd be my new best friend...I can't stop laughing.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

Blogger ChrisEldin said...

> I love the word 'vignette'
> though. It's lovely. It could be
> a type of stiletto, or pasta,
> or sportscar.

> The Porsche X3J Vignette.

But surely it would be a sportscar which didn't actually go anywhere?