Vignette, in a general meaning, is defined as an image that fades into its background without clear frames. The term originates from Middle French “vignete” - a diminutive of “vigne” that is translated as “little vine.” Originally, the term was associated mainly with small sketches that could be found on the cover of the books or in medieval manuscripts.

In graphic design, this term means to frame an image or a photograph by making its edges rectilinear. Oftentimes, this method can be found on a title-page of a book to avoid less attractive blank space instead.

In philately, the term defines the core element of the postage design. For instance, a face of a prominent personality or a visual design are placed gradually to the border of the stamp. The key element is located inside the frame, which is created separately from the main pattern.

In literature, the term was first used at the end of the 19th century. As a literary device, it has the meaning of a short literary sketch or a brief description that conveys the typical features of the object or the character it represents. Sometimes, vignette is described as “a slice of life” due to its structural density and stylistic nuances, which make the literary piece more alive. 

The role of this literary tool, in the broadest sense, is to make a literary message more interesting and engaging for the reader. Going through a set of descriptive elements, readers may get a distinct impression of what the author is trying to say. Nevertheless, it is far from flash fiction, as there is no story, in its classic meaning, to be told. It can also contribute to creating a distinct feeling of isolation and loneliness. The novel “Sketches by Boz” written by Charles Dickens is full of long “sketches,” which are used to introduce the people and the scenes of London in a specific manner.

Being a significant tool in fiction and nonfiction, vignettes can add deep meaning and support to a literary work. This literary form has certain characteristics to be used for reaching the expected effect: descriptive elements, analytic comments, critical suggestions, evaluation, etc. Thus, this powerful descriptive device aims to create the insights about a place, a concept or characters required for the general understanding.

Vignette is widely used in novels, poetry, theatrical scripts, and screenplays. Also, it can be used as a complete literary piece or a part of a larger work. Compared to a short story, this literary form does not necessarily consist of all “mandatory” parts. Thus, introduction, body, and conclusion are not likely to be met in this type of a descriptive essay or sketch. 

There is no sequential plot development, so understanding is reached via symbolic or linguistic elements and details. A vignette method has some parallels with a snapshot in words, which are represented fragmentarily and incompletely. The use of these elements allows focusing the reader’s attention on the theme, view, feeling, and character, leaving the narrative far behind.

This literary form is widely used in creative writing, as it helps reach an artistic effect. In prose and poetry, authors use this form to reveal descriptive details of the characters or the main settings. In addition, vignette is one of the signs highlighting authors’ language proficiency, as the use of this form requires imagery to develop a certain atmosphere of the story.

The scene created by this literary form can also be applicable to the postmodern theatrical tendencies. The descriptive nature of vignette focuses on reaching special effects on the viewers rather than on story development and theatrical structures. The vignette’s style is not limited to being comic. It can be an interesting character or an enchanting scene, which do not necessarily make readers laugh but entertain them to the full extent. For example, a theatrical play of this format is easily adaptable to many purposes, such as entertaining, dramatic, etc. 

A series of vignettes make up a sketch comedy or sketches, which are usually read by comic actors in front of the audience. A single vignette can be an individual sketch, in a comic form, that is widely applied in comedies, television talk shows, and some television series. Today, the technique of vignette is widely exploited by filmmakers to develop the entire film concept. The film “Magnolia” of the director Paul Anderson is an example of this method.

This visual technique can be observed in some of the Internet blogs, which are structured in the form of the short scenes of the writer’s life. Modern social networks, such as Instagram and Snapchat, refer to this method to make the users’ experience more comfortable. 

In psychology, the term represents a hypothetical situation that requires from the participants to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Being applied in the form of simple phrases, vignettes aims to evaluate impression formation processes within the affect control method.

The Summary
The term vignette is widely used in various spheres, including literature, graphic design, psychology, and even theater. Most often, the term is defined as an illustration without clear borders or a literary sketch of a descriptive nature. This tool is usually an element of a structure larger than itself. The major characteristic of this tool is its descriptive nature allowing to develop a general understanding of the literary work or visual content. The term is derived from the word “vignete” (Middle French) that is translated as “little vine.”