Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Xina Marie Uhl

Anne Hawley

Sue Campbell


Though I claim to write “long form” blog posts, in fact the fiction I post is mostly just vignettes.

“In a novel, theatrical script, screenplay, sketch stories, and poetry, a vignette is a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or character and gives a trenchant impression about that character, an idea, setting, and/or object. It is a short, descriptive passage, more about evoking meaning through imagery than about plot.

“A blog or web series can also provide a form of vignette or be presented as a series of vignettes.  An example of this is the critically acclaimed web series High Maintenance, which presents a different set of characters in each episode, focusing intensely on their specific traits, ideas, and worlds.

“Vignettes are more commonly used and have been particularly influential in the development of the contemporary notions of a scene as shown in postmodern theater, film and television, where less emphasis is placed on adhering to the conventions of traditional structure and story development.”

The nice thing about once having been a high school English teacher is that you know this stuff is all made up “after the fact” of the invention was already established and no longer that experimental.  If you are a writer who wants to stick to established rules, I have an excellent website for you.  It has a terrible name.  “Sheg” (Super Hardcore Editing Group) which is as ugly sounding as “blog.” Pictured above. P

Basically, it’s three female mature writers who abide by the story advice of specific people, almost all male.  It’s valid advice, rather technological and schematic, and listed on the website as books, though you can also access most of it online.

When I reflect on what we call “publishing,” I always think of a joke.  This newby sergeant is marching his men in formation over hill and dale, shouting out orders, when they come to a fence.  He doesn’t know any commands for “climb the fence,” but he’s resourceful.  He gives the command, “FALL OUT”, then climbs the fence himself, stands on the other side and shouts “COMPANY ASSEMBLE”.   Traditional publishing has nearly died, but now it is reassembling itself in pieces we can recognize.

In order to produce sale-able content, some steps are necessary.  One is, of course, writers who have the desire and courage to produce it. The next is editing so that it conforms to expectations and conventions.  Twenty years ago, these admirable women would have had solid jobs as editors at a publishing house or maybe the kind of agents who guide “their” writers to success.  They would have urged writers to understand the rules they give as Sheggers.  (Hmmm.  I would not say they “sheg” you — at least not around Brits.)

If you can really do what these books teach, you will sell books and other content.  It will be solid stuff, admired, and not stand out from the pack enough to embarrass you.  The rules are meant to apply to fiction — that is, novels, which is what many people think of when they aspire to write.  They don’t talk about writing the “Great American Essay,” though there are collections of pretty amazing ones and a whole body of advice for writing them, which I was not taught even in grad school.  (I’ll google and see what I can pick up online, since many of my posts are short essays.)  

When dealing with poetry, there are really no limits, nothing that another person can tell you about you’re writing because it comes from the interior, molten with experienced meaning.  (To be consistent, I must say that’s just my own rule and yours might be entirely, radically, different.)  Maybe the only rule is that if you want to be read, there must be someone out there who can understand it and wants to.

Yesterday’s post (“Two Friends and Puppy”  12/18/17) was a vignette, a recurring set-up that I use to address issues that would reveal people in a dangerous way if I wrote them in first person.  This time I used a sentence from a friend who became one source of this idea of two female therapists talking.  (She’s not a therapist.)  If a person were used to conventional stories, esp. the ones on television, they would want more drama and violence: say, a murderer who is after one of the women and is thwarted by the therapy puppy who has suddenly become an attack dog.  There is a contingent of readers who would like this friendship between women to become lesbian.  Or an indictment of men who need therapy.  None of this was me — this is MY story.

I put in the little male dog to supply a bit of space and humor.  The issues that therapists deal with are as technical as short story rules but no longer are they likely to be Freudian.  Instead they are based on research into how people make decisions, how people are shaped by their first three years, and a whole realm of post-traumatic consequences.  Sexual issues are far more complex and unexpected than anything Freud thought of.  Maybe not even about sex.

Esp. for women, sitting in a private room with an individual seeking answers, the process of empathizing and explaining can be difficult to manage.  The idea of this series of vignettes has been (and probably will be) just a glimpse into the kinds of things that can pull someone way out of their comfort zone.

There is a school of thought that resists the whole idea of one person trying to support and explain another.  The assumption is that society is a cruelly evolving landscape in which every human must struggle for existence because then the weak and stupid will be winnowed out.  To interfere with this is to cripple the future.  And, not least, to compromise the freedom of those who wish to destroy themselves and others.  Let the mass shooters shoot children — they are far too entitled anyway.  

At this point religion enters the discussion, but not in my vignettes in any direct way.  Part of religion is morality — developed rules of behavior — but another dimension of religion — a part that can threaten institutions — is the grandeur and inevitability of existence in a cosmos we try to figure out with no real assurance that our small beings are capable of such a grasp.  It’s scary, but we can find partners.  And puppies.  Both call us to kindness and joy.

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