Editors of contemporary literary journals love slice-of-life vignettes. According to Wikipedia, slice of life is:
“a storytelling technique that presents a seemingly arbitrary sample of a character’s life, which often lacks a coherent plot, conflict, or ending. The story may have little plot progress and little character development, and often has no exposition, conflict, or dénouement, with an open ending.”
So if slice-of-life prose features mundane characters, little or no plot or conflict, and no real conclusion—why are literary magazine editors so excited by these vignettes that they’re scooping the manuscripts up left and right?
Here’s why. Slice-of-life pieces are short (which editors love)…can encapsulate big ideas in small passages (also a win)…and often reflect the sensibilities of post-modern life (which many editors want to bring to the pages of their lit mags).
But writing a slice-of-life piece—whether fiction or nonfiction—isn’t easy; in fact, making it look easy is one of the most challenging aspects of the exercise. If you’re thinking about writing slice of life for submission to a literary journal, consider these tips.
How To Write A Slice-Of-Life Story
1. Read some slice-of-life stories before writing one. Great slice of life can be transporting; bad slice of life will be boring. A story where nothing much happens to an everyday, average person can be a recipe for disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing. Read slice-of-life pieces in literary journals to get a sense of the form before you take a stab at writing one.
2. Get real. Realism tends to be the focus of most slice-of-life stories. Use your narrative to examine those small, ordinary, yet often powerful moments of daily life. However, keep in mind there are no rules that say you couldn’t do something wild—like write a slice of life about a dog, an alien, or a vampire.
3. Focus on character. A slice-of-life piece doesn’t necessarily have to feature obvious, gripping conflict or larger-than-life actors. But the characters—their everyday desires, their disappointments, their emotional reactions to what’s going on (or not going on)—must be well-developed. Though slice-of-life pieces may be “quiet,” they still have to be interesting and worth the reader’s time. Maybe the main character doesn’t measurably change over the course of the piece, but the reader should be changed or affected by what he or she has read.
4. Focus on environment. Slice-of-life pieces don’t necessarily need to be set in colorful, fascinating settings. Yet something about the characters’ environment should be compelling. Great slice-of-life pieces offer insight into the small, common moments that might go unnoticed in bigger stories. So spend time thinking about your character’s environment to learn what will make it interesting to your reader.
5. Keep it short. A slice-of-life piece that goes on too long can begin to feel like a prosaic short story that lacks focus and form. Though there are no hard and fast designated word counts for slice-of-life stories, a safe goal might be around 1,500 to 2,000 words if you’re hoping to submit to literary journals for publication.
Photo via LaughingRaven