Experiment 1 field guide — realistic fiction vignettes

My first experiment is a short, personal reflection on electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), narrated by an unnamed young person. In trying to assign a specific genre to my piece, I immediately think of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, a collection of realistic fiction vignettes. I believe my piece falls into a similar category, and also has a coming-of-age focus.

Each vignette in The House on Mango Street is around a few short paragraphs long. The writing is realistic fiction, but Cisneros uses figurative language and illustrative descriptions so that her vignettes are more poetic than they are plot-driven, concrete prose. Her language is beautiful, and the tone of The House on Mango Street is reflective and slightly sad. I admire Cisneros’ writing because she demonstrates one of the major affordances of short, realistic fiction – the ability to incorporate poetic and figurative language. My goal in Experiment 1 was to accomplish a similar tone using the “fog” metaphor (borrowed from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”). Like Cisneros, I tried to choose language and descriptions that produce a thoughtful, reflective tone.

I also think it’s appropriate to examine One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, since my original goal was to write something inspired by Ken Kesey’s novel using modern descriptions of ECT. I modeled my piece after a specific passage (page 102-103 of this PDF) where Chief, the main character, describes the “fog” – a metaphor for his isolation, complacency and trauma/electroshock-induced mental haziness. One thing I appreciate about Kesey’s writing is the way his descriptions reveal something about Chief’s past. For instance, Chief compares the fog to an attack he experienced during the war, reminding readers that Chief is still traumatized by his military experiences. Since my piece is much shorter and my character is unnamed, I don’t know if I can do this type of character development, but I do think it makes Kesey’s writing very effective.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is similar to Cisneros’ writing in its tone, genre and emphasis on figurative language, but it has much longer chapters and is more plot-driven. In that sense, I think the style of my piece aligns more with The House On Mango Street. Also, Kesey’s rhetorical goals are slightly different than those of Cisneros. In my opinion, Mango Street is more geared towards people who appreciate poetic language and beautifully written literature. Kesey’s writing is also wonderful, but I believe he wrote the book with the intention of making a statement about mental health care. Since I want my piece to communicate information about modern-day ECT, I suppose my rhetorical goal (and perhaps intended audience) is more similar to Kesey’s.

Lastly, in analyzing the genre of my first experiment, I want to look at Secret Stream, a short story by Hector Tobar. The realistic fiction piece focuses on a young man and young woman, who meet up and map out some of the hidden waterways under Los Angeles. The two strangers have a strong connection, but the tone of the story is sad, suggestive of the fact that the two will eventually lose touch. I like the way Tobar isolates their relationship – details about their upbringings and personal lives are limited, making the short story all about the emotional connection. I tried to achieve the same effect in my piece, limiting background information about my character so that the focus is on their emotional experience. I think the haziness of this style of writing also leaves space for the author to use poetic language and incorporate some figurative descriptions, both of which Tobar employs and which I tried to use as well.

Overall, the genre of realistic fiction vignettes is broad, leaving the author with a lot of creative freedom. One major affordance of the genre is that the author can incorporate poetic language, as Cisneros and Tobar do, making the short piece of writing more like a free-form poem. Realistic fiction also allows for figurative language and symbolism, something Kesey does well. The genre can also be used to communicate a message or call to action, as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – since I’m writing my experiment with a purpose, I hope to achieve that as well. After looking at the three model pieces, I realize my piece is less plot-driven than other short realistic fiction, but that’s one of the affordances of such a broad genre.


One thought to “Experiment 1 field guide — realistic fiction vignettes”

  1. Alice! I really think you hit it home with limiting background information – it works in highlighting what’s actually happening in the story, just like how Hector Tobar highlighted the emotional connection. I think that your piece is unique in that it “is less plot-driven” – it works, and I think I mentioned earlier in group that yours is a kind of story that I’m sure a lot of readers can relate to and project themselves onto.

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