Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Capturing a scene in 200 words & getting paid for it

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In the past, newspapers sold on the grimy streets of London or New York City often contained evocative accounts of far away lands. Telegrams would be sent from the Crimea, from Prussia, Indochina, Arabia, Austria-Hungary, and other exotic places.

Whether describing a war, some local ascendancy, or natural disaster, these early foreign correspondents would write in a style now rarely seen, exciting the imaginations of readers back home who could not see (there being no TV) nor travel to foreign countries.

A “vignette” is defined as “a brief evocative description, account, or episode”. They were a popular form in early American newspapers. Indeed, that sublime piece of “reporting” — The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, written about the American Civil War, could be taken as a long, extended vignette.

I wrote the following vignettes for The ‘i’ newspaper, a British national newspaper, that still finds a place for them. I enjoy writing them. It’s a romantic form that allows the writer to claim some lineage with explorer writers like Wilfred Thesiger or Marco Polo. Well, that’s how I like to think of it anyway.

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The ‘i’ newspaper, a sister title to The Independent, pays £50 for each 200-word entry.

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