Monday, June 9, 2014

Is it Flash, Short, or a Vignette?

Once upon a time, people wrote stuff and published it on their own or sent it to places and hoped they would publish it. When did they start defining type of story by length? Was it in the beginning, or did it develop over time?

These days, you have to figure out your word count to define what you just wrote before you can submit it. Is it flash fiction, a vignette, a short story, a novelette, a novella, a novel? Is it one of a billion things I probably didn't think of when I wrote that list?

I've seen some confusion between flash fiction, short stories and vignettes. In fact, I've been confused on what makes a vignette versus a short story or flash fiction piece. So I decided to look into it and write a couple to try it out.

In general terms (with the understanding that different publications define them their own way):

Flash Fiction - There's a vast array of length definitions for flash fiction, but it is generally 1000 words or less. I don't think I've seen anything above 1000 words defined as flash fiction. Flash is also called a short-short, postcard fiction, and micro-fiction. Micro-flash is sometimes used as a term to define a super short piece of flash fiction (say, 100 words). Again, this is a general definition, that varies wildly between publications.

Short Story - Just as with flash, the length varies between publications. In general, we can say a short story is less than 10,000 words. Just to give you an idea. I've seen 2000-8000 words as a common basis in publications.

In both short stories and flash fiction, you are intended to write a full story, just with brevity. It's intended to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is meant to be some sort of character and/or story arc.

Vignette - Vignettes tend to be shorter, more like flash fiction lengths. However, the primary difference between a vignette and a flash piece is that a flash piece is still expected to have a beginning, middle, and end, just like a short story or longer work. But a vignette is more a snapshot in time, an idea, an impression or a moment in time versus a complete story that wishes to convey a story and/or character arc. It's a scene instead of an entire story. It can often be more elegant and descriptive, more intent to show an emotional sense than a story.

By Hanna Ghermay,
Vignettes are far less common than flash and short fiction. In fact, there is no classification for it at Duotrope, as they are more dependent on length for your submission type, and with vignettes it isn't all that simple. (Also, Duotrope defines short fiction as 1000-7500 words, with a novelette being 7500-15,000). A lot of places don't consider the vignette to be a real story, due to that lack of accepted structure, and a search will reveal a bunch of places with their own very specific definitions.

If you're curious about trying out the form, I highly recommend Vine Leaves Literary Journal to get a better understanding. You can read it free online, which is always a great way to get an understanding of a form of writing (read it, read it, read it!). While I don't pretend to be an expert on it, or even to have a full understanding of it, I'm working on it, and I find it interesting to write. It feels less restricted, and you can write what you feel instead of thinking it through too hard. Not a bad way to get into some writing mojo.

Have you ever written a vignette? Heard of one? Any publications interested in vignettes you'd like to pass along?

May you find your Muse.


  1. Thanks for the definitions, Shannon. I'm interested in improving my short story writing, so knowing a few variations could be a good thing.

  2. I can imagine Vignettes being very popular once upon a time, but people probably don't have as much patience these days. Good summary Shannon.

  3. Hey Shannon,

    I keep learning new stuff and your info was invaluable. I thought vignette was something you put on your French fries. Never written a vignette. Heck, I can't even bother counting the number of words I type. Could take me a long time to do that.

    Take care, Shannon. Sadly, I must go now. Goodnight and good morning from lil' ol' England.


  4. For a while, I was also a bit confused about word count wrt micro-fiction, flashfiction.
    What about the word length of the novella and novelette?

  5. D.G., I've been doing a lot of work on my short form recently, focusing more on that than novel writing (not that I've abandoned it.) The one thing I really haven't tried is a novella or novelette.

    Maurice, I imagine it's less satisfying to not get that full story arc like we expect. Sometimes. There's probably a way to write it well and make it satisfying, but how many would know how?

    Gary, okay, now I'm curious if there's something called vignette or similar that you do put on fries, LOL. If it's a play on words, it's one I don't recognize.

    Michelle, they vary as widely as short stories versus flash! From what I've seen, a novelette is about 7500-17500 and a novella is about 17500-40000. But each publication varies.

  6. So glad you wrote this for me!
    I accidentally write a vignette yesterday, I think, and I was like, "What is this? What am I supposed to do with this?" and now I am one step closer to knowing.
    True story.
    - Ms

    1. Awesome to hear! If only I would accidentally write a vignette.

  7. Thank you for the detail in your post! Nice flow to. Enjoyed reading your article. Curious, what was the extra interest in Vignette? I noticed you seemed to offer people looking more into Vignette rather than any of the other options as well, you provided a link to only that style of writing.

    1. I figured people were more aware of what the other forms were. At the very least, I was, but vignette is a form I'm exploring, so I probably focused more on that.

  8. Thanks for the clear description. I'm adding this post to a link in a post I'm doing. I'll be sure to check your site out further in the future.

  9. Thanks so much for this information and sharing your hard work and researching with us here. Novel scares me to bits, so I may start by publishing a series of vignettes or shorts.