I keep reading articles about how the internet is destroying attention spans faster and more effectively than Cosmo destroys my self-esteem. On the surface, this is bad news for writers. What’s the point of finishing that epic novel if no one’s willing to sit down and thoroughly read all 700 pages? I’m reminded of a mentor of mine who spotted the monstrous novel of a former student sitting on a bookstore shelf. She picked up that thick book, felt its heft in her hand, and scoffed, “Bah! Trying to take up too much space in the world,” before she deposited it back on the shelf.
While minimalism has long been the fashion at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (to the frustration of many), it may once again be relevant. All the hollering about attention spans aside, minimalism has long been lauded by proponents as superior due to the inherent necessity that the writer uses the fewest words to express the deepest emotions and ideas. Only the most meaningful words must be utilized. (It is worth noting that “meaningful” does not necessarily mean “complicated.”) This takes more time and effort than it sounds. For example, this post fails miserably.
Electronic reading demands the minimal, be it in style or length. Flash fiction was barely a thing before 2008. The vignette, on the other hand, has been in existence… a while. Wikipedia doesn’t have a date of its first appearance, and that’s all the research I’m willing to do on the subject.
Wikipedia does tell me that a vignette is a short, impressionistic piece that focuses on one scene, one moment, and is typically character-driven. A good one is like a delicious little chunk of literary steak; a poetic striptease of a secret life, where your 500 word allotment is up just prior to the full monty.
The vignette never really had a heyday. Some authors collect them in chapbooks that no one except English majors and art students read. Perhaps, just perhaps, the internet will deliver the vignette from obscurity? Please?
Vine Leaves, a newish literary mag that publishes only vignettes, seems to be banking on this idea. You should totally check out this month’s issue, in which I have a piece published (Ha! Super sneaky plug!), and see for yourself if the genre can hold the attention of the average internet user.
Lit mags like Vine Leaves have the potential to own the online literary community if they can navigate the minefield that is e-culture and engage with their audience consistently and innovatively. Mobile apps are the next wave, of course, as many publishers have discovered; they’re an inexpensive and efficient way to reach a wide audience, which is why they’re a grand resource for indie publishers as well, like the ever awesome Featherproof Books. Sit on a city bus for five minutes and count how many people messing with their phones. I’d do it, but I’m too busy playing Angry Birds.