Interview with WEbook's June Challenge Winner: LillyFramboise

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There are so many different things you can explore in literature, and sometimes you'll find that authors have been using little tricks to get you hooked on their stories. Sneaky, sneaky. Learning these tricks of the trade can help turn a so-so story in to a fantastic reading experience. Through our monthly competitions we've been exploring a few of the ways that writers have enhanced their stories by using different literary devices. 

In June we asked the members of WEbook to submit an entry that used the style of a vignette, or 'little vine'. 

Vignettes can be found in all kinds of literature from classics to the more modern. Authors use vignettes to really hone in on a moment, memory, object, or feeling that they want the reader to identify with. It's not only useful for you as a writer to be able to identify devices like these when reading other's work, but it's also incredibly beneficial for your own writing if you're able to utilise these devices effectively in your own writing. 

The winner of the June Challenge, LilyFramboise has been kind enough to have a chat with us about her winning vignette in the Little Vines challenge, but before we get to that let's have a look at what a vignette is and a few examples in popular literature.

So, what's a vignette?


vignette
viːˈnjɛt,vɪ-/
noun
  1. 1
    a brief evocative description, account, or episode.
    "a classic vignette of embassy life"
  2. 2
    a small illustration or portrait photograph which fades into its background without a definite border.
verb
  1. 1
    portray (someone) in the style of a vignette.


Essentially, a vignette makes the subject of your focus really stand out against the background. Perhaps it's a flashback, perhaps it's a current observation, or perhaps it's a rumination on things generally. Visualise it like a photograph taken at a party. You know there's lots more going on both in and around the wider frame, but you've picked a particular subject to focus on in that moment. 

Perhaps this one moment is a character sitting alone in a corner. Or perhaps the object of your character's affection is in conversation with another, and your protagonist is waxing lyrical on the contours of their face. Perhaps it's a song that comes on and transports your narrator back to a moment in their past. In each of these examples, a vignette can act as the descriptive vessel. 

The great thing about vignettes is that they're very malleable and therefore very useful. When it comes to providing more information about your character, you can utilise vignettes and avoid having to write an extensive background. You can also use vignettes to reveal new aspects to your characters and locations, etc. in dribs and drabs. This can help greatly with the development of your story as often the 'slow reveal' helps to develop and then hold your reader's interest. Definitely a top tool for your literary DIY box.

Here are some examples of vignettes in literature:


Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. Women and kids were in the carts crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bundles. There was a woman having a kid with a young girl holding a blanket over her and crying. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.



Annie Dillard: An American Childhood

Some boys taught me to play football. This was fine sport. You thought up a new strategy for every play and whispered it to the others. You went out for a pass, fooling everyone. Best, you got to throw yourself mightily at someone’s running legs… In winter, in the snow, there was neither baseball nor football, so the boys and I threw snowballs at passing cars. I got in trouble throwing snowballs, and have seldom been happier since.

You'll notice these examples are pretty different from one another, and, the thing is that you could easily pop them into a paragraph and they wouldn't be a vignette at all. Yet perhaps that's one of the best things about a vignette, it's nothing fancy. It's easy to use, and it's super approachable. Readers won't be all like 'oh look at them with their fancy try-hard writing', because a vignette isn't fancy at all, it's just some focused writing with specific placement and context.

Think about when you get an idea for a story, or a book, or a poem. Usually this is inspired by one moment, a meeting, a smell, a place, or a feeling, right? Well, that's your vignette; it's the polarisation of a moment that inspired you. Your piece of writing is a wider analysis of that feeling, but the moment of inspiration is the (metaphorical) vignette. 

If you feel like reading some vignettes in literature, here's a Goodreads shelf dedicated to them.

📘📙📕

We had a great variety of vignettes - and some very good almost vignettes - in our June challenge. Our winner without a doubt was Liberty Rose by LilyFramboise! Congratulations again to LilyFramboise  and read on below for our interview with the winning author.


WEbook: So, what’s a vignette then?

LilyFramboise: Well, to me a vignette is like a photograph - a snapshop of a moment in time, where you have a chance to get to know one person, or scene, or thing in intense detail. Imagine seeing the scene through a microscope or a telescope without moving it around; when you look through the eyepiece you can't see what surrounds it but you can focus on the details and really close in on them.

WB: Your entry was a really beautiful insight in to the first moment between a mother and her newborn. What made you choose this moment for your entry? Was there something in particular that made you decide it was ideal to use as a frame when writing your vignette?

LF: I'm a mum of two. It was just after my daughter's birthday and she was my firstborn. I think it just seemed obvious to me as a moment where you hone in on the minutae of this incredible new life to the exclusion of everything around you. Growing a whole new person inside you and bringing it out into the world is simply mind-blowing and I wanted to share that; a vignette provides the most perfect frame.

WB: The imagery you use in your submission is really well structured, with an interesting balance of external observations and internal feelings.

The contrast in the types of words you’ve selected to use in your story help to aid the polarisation of focus that the mother has for her newborn. The hospital - and her direct relationship / interaction with it - is characterised by harsher words and phrases, such as ‘rough’, ‘drone’, ‘dimly’ and ‘mind-altering pain’, whereas her association with the baby is peppered with soft and soothing ones, such as ‘marshmallow’, ‘milky’, ‘velvet’, and ‘gentle swell’.

Was this an active linguistic decision when you were writing your story? How do you think that the choice of ‘harsh’ and ‘soft’ words can help the reader to feel more connected to a piece of writing?

LF: Yes, of course. that contrast of words is always going to be an essential tool to creating a difference between two things and this situation couldn't provide two more extreme scenarios. First of all you have the labour and birth and everything about that is hard: sharp spasms, crippling cramps, overwhelming aches and fear. Pain takes over your body and you have no control over that and no knowledge when it will end and that is terrifying. If birth takes place in a hospital it revolves around order, structure, regime, rules and bright lights. You are part of a huge picture.

Contrast this with the softness and innocence of a new baby and the intimacy you feel, where the focus becomes just you and the new person you think you know but also know nothing about, and of course the language has to change.

WB: You use this vignette to show us the depths of a mother’s love, and also their endless worry. In the moment when the baby stops moving and gurgling, we all, as readers, pause ‘on a cliff-edge of uncertainly’ with the mother. You plough this emotion back in to the next moment when the mother and her child lock eyes for the first time, and it’s an incredibly effective use of the emotion that you’ve built up for the characters. How do you mitigate the challenge of creating an effective, emotional moment like this, without straying in to territory that could be seen as overly-dramatic, or ‘too literary’?

LF: I think having experienced the situation and writing about what you know reduces the likelihood of that. I lived those emotions and know they are real. We are talking about creating and introducing new life; that's huge. What could be bigger than meeting a child, no more than that, a whole new person. I don't think it can BE overly-dramatic. And too literary? I talk about amniotic fluid, sweat and strings of blood and licking soap and marshmallows, so I don't think the language is elevated to that level. It's very real, although I hope the moments of engaging with the new baby are anything but mundane, contrasted with the sense of the everyday that surrounds them.

WB: What are you reading at the moment?

LF: A Jilly Cooper actually; it's her new one, Mount. I grew up - well in my late teens, anyway - on a diet of her books, Judith Krantzs and Barbara Taylor Bradfords. They made a nice contrast to the classics, like Shakespeare, Dickens and Eliot, that I was studying at college and university. I still love them today, alongide Jodi Picoult's brilliant books. They inspired me to write a chick lit/erotic fiction of my own.

WB: What is your favourite WEbook project at the moment?

LF: The NaNoWriMo competition; I haven't done anything with the novel I mentioned but was on the verge of self-publishing. So I thought I'd give this a go first.

WB: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us LilyFramboise, and congratulations again on your win. We look forwards to seeing lots more entries from you over the coming months, and best of luck in the NaNoWriMo competition.


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