A "vignette" is a short description that captures a single moment in time. With words, it paints a picture of someone or something, without much regard to what happened before, or what might happen next. You might call it a "snapshot of life".

Here is an example of a vignette.

It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.

"Last week he tried to commit suicide," one waiter said.


"He was in despair."

"What about?"


"How do you know it was nothing?"

"He has plenty of money.”

That particular vignette is from a short story by renowned author Ernest Hemingway. The story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place", brilliantly captures the scene of an old man drinking alone, a man who won't leave, and a young waiter in a hurry to go home to his wife, and another waiter. It's as simple as that.

Here is another vignette, this one from the book A House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. The whole book is written as a series of vignettes. Together, they paint a picture of what it was like to be a 12-year-old Chicana girl, growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago.

Then Uncle Nacho is pulling and pulling my arm and it doesn't matter how new the dress Mama bought is because my feet are ugly until my uncle who is a liar says, You are the prettiest girl here, will you dance, but I believe him, and yes, we are dancing, my Uncle Nacho and me, only I don't want to at first. My feet swell big and heavy like plungers, but I drag them across the linoleum floor straight center where Uncle wants to show off the new dance we learned. And Uncle spins me, and my skinny arms bend the way he taught me, and my mother watches, and my little cousins watch, and the boy who is my cousin by first communion watches, and everyone says, wow, who are those two who dance like in the movies, until I forget that I am wearing only ordinary shoes, brown and white, the kind my mother buys each year for school.


Personally, I like to compare vignettes to the sketches in an artist's notebook.

Art students are encouraged to bring a sketchbook with them everywhere. Then, whenever the urge strikes, they can draw a face, or a building, or a flower, or a sunset, or whatever. It's a way to practice their craft, without the pressure of having to turn everything they start into a polished work of art.

Think of this unit as your sketchbook for writing. It's a place for you to write vignettes, without necessarily having to turn them into complete stories, with a beginning, middle, and end.

About This Unit

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.