Slice of life

Slice of life describes the depiction of mundane experiences in art and entertainment.[1] In theater, slice-of-life refers to naturalism, while in literary parlance it is a narrative technique in which a seemingly arbitrary sequence of events in a character's life is presented, often lacking plot development, conflict and exposition, as well as often having an open ending.

Film and theaterEdit

In theatrical parlance, the term slice of life refers to a naturalistic representation of real life, sometimes used as an adjective, as in "a play with 'slice of life' dialogue". The term originated between 1890 and 1895 as a calque from the French phrase tranche de vie, credited to the French playwright Jean Jullien (1854–1919).[2]

Jullien introduced the term not long after a staging of his play The Serenade, as noted by Wayne S. Turney in his essay "Notes on Naturalism in the Theatre":

The Serenade was introduced by the Théâtre Libre in 1887. It is a prime example of rosserie, that is, plays dealing with corrupt, morally bankrupt characters who seem to be respectable, "smiling, smiling, damned villains..." Jullien gave us the famous apothegm defining naturalism in his The Living Theatre (1892): "A play is a slice of life put onstage with art." He goes on to say that "...our purpose is not to create laughter, but thought." He felt that the story of a play does not end with the curtain, which is "only an arbitrary interruption of the action which leaves the spectator free to speculate about what goes on beyond your expectation..."[3]

During the 1950s, the phrase was commonly used in critical reviews of live television dramas, notably teleplays by JP Miller, Paddy Chayefsky,[4] and Reginald Rose.[5] At that time, it was sometimes used synonymously with the pejorative term kitchen sink realism adopted from British films and theatre.

In 2017, screenwriter and scholar Eric R. Williams identified Slice of Life Films as one of eleven super-genres in his screenwriters’ taxonomy, claiming that all feature length narrative films can be classified by these super-genres.  The other ten super-genres are Action, Crime, Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Science Fiction, Sports, Thriller, War and Western.[6] Williams identifies the following films as some examples of films in the Slice of Life super-genre: Boyhood, Captain Fantastic, Fences, Moonlight, The Terminal and Waitress.[7]


In literary parlance, the term "slice of life" refers to a storytelling technique that presents a seemingly arbitrary sample of a character's life, which often lacks a coherent plot, conflict, or ending.[8] The story may have little plot progress and often has no exposition, conflict, or dénouement, but rather has an open ending. A work that focuses on minute and faithful reproduction of some bit of reality, without selection, organization, or judgment and that every smallest detail is presented with scientific fidelity is an example of the "slice of life" novel.[9] This is demonstrated in the case of Guy de Maupassant's novel A Woman's Life, which told the story of a woman who transferred an unreturned love for her husband into a pathological affection for her son.[10]

In the United States, slice-of-life stories were particularly given emphasis by the Chicago school at the end of the 19th century, a period when the novel and social sciences became different systems of discourse.[11] These produced literary texts by researcher-authors that were written to represent the subject's stories and sentiment-free social realism using the language of ordinary people.[11] It formed part of the late 19th- and early 20th-century naturalism in literature, which was inspired by the adaptation of principles and methods of social sciences such as the Darwinian view of nature.[12] The movement was an extension of realism, presenting the faithful representation of reality without moral judgment.[12] Some authors, particularly playwrights, used it by focusing on the "underbelly of life" to expose social ills and repressive social codes with the aim of shocking the audience so that they call for social reform.[13]

Japanese animation and comicsEdit

Robin E. Brenner's 2007 book "Understanding manga and anime" holds that in anime and manga, "slice of life" is a genre that is more akin to melodrama than drama, bordering on absurd due to the large numbers of dramatic and comedic events in very short spans. The author compares it to teen dramas such as Dawson's Creek or The O.C.. This genre claims a large section of the Japanese manga market and usually focuses on school and interpersonal relationships.[14] An unusual slice-of-life narrative is characteristic of "Sorcerous Stabber Orphen" light novel series, where a realistic human reaction to supernatural circumstances is depicted by the author.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Jewell, Elizabeth J. & Abate, Frank R. (editors) (September 2001). "Slice of Life". The New Oxford American Dictionary (First ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-511227-X.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Slice of life". Random House Unabridged Dictionary. 2006.
  3. ^ Turney, Wayne S. "Notes on Naturalism in the Theatre". Archived from the original on 2008-05-14.
  4. ^ Gottfried, Martin. All His Jazz, Da Capo, 2003.
  5. ^ Dowler, Kevin. "Reginald Rose". Museum of Broadcast Communications.
  6. ^ Williams, Eric R., (2017). Screen Adaptation: Beyond the Basics. New York: Focal Press. ISBN 978-1-315-66941-0. OCLC 986993829.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Williams, Eric R., (2017). The screenwriters taxonomy : a roadmap to collaborative storytelling. New York, NY: Routledge Studies in Media Theory and Practice. ISBN 978-1-315-10864-3. OCLC 993983488.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Stuart Eddy Baker (2002). Bernard Shaw's remarkable religion: a faith that fits the facts. University Press of Florida. pp. 83–84.
  9. ^ Walcutt, Charles (1966). American Literary Naturalism, a Divided Stream. St. Paul, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. p. 21. ISBN 9780816658855.
  10. ^ Lehan, Richard (2005). Realism and Naturalism: The Novel in an Age of Transition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 193. ISBN 0299208702.
  11. ^ a b Denzin, Norman; Lincoln, Yvonna (2005). The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. pp. 16. ISBN 0761927573.
  12. ^ a b Augustyn, Adam (2010). American Literature from the 1850s to 1945. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 9781615302345.
  13. ^ Downs, William; Wright, Lou Anne; Ramsey, Erik (2016). The Art of Theatre: Then and Now. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. p. 372. ISBN 9781305954700.
  14. ^ Brenner, Robin (2007). Understanding Manga and Anime. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 112. ISBN 9781591583325.
  15. ^ Mizuno, Ryou (2019). Sorcerous Stabber Orphen Anthology. Commentary (in Japanese). TO Books. p. 235. ISBN 9784864728799.

External linksEdit