These are an elusive and oft-misunderstood form of fiction – or so it seems to me, in my travels throughout the internet – but can be very fun for both reader and writer.
I write this post in part because of the lack of understanding or awareness of this form of short fiction, in hopes that someone might find their way to it and enjoy it as much as I do. (Also because it seems I am asked about them quite frequently.)
I suppose I have unintentionally become somewhat of an expert on the topic of drabbles – perhaps appropriately, as I came to write in this format for the first time by accident.
My qualification for being an expert? To date I have written, between several fandoms and my original works, somewhere around 1,300 drabbles.
. . .yeah. This medium suits me, evidently – a surprising discovery for someone as verbose as I can most certainly be.
So, first of all. . .
What is a drabble, anyway?
A true drabble is precisely 100 words that form a complete story. This can be in the form of a vignette, or not – I’ve written drabbles that were a snatch of scene that didn’t even introduce – or close – the argument depicted, but I’ve also written ones with more than one scene.
Now, a true drabble, is precisely 100 words. This can be a little too limiting, so it is generally accepted by those of us who love this format that you can also write double or triple drabbles.
So, if your idea is just a wee bit too much for 100 words, try 200, or 300!
If we get past that we’re really on to either some form of flashfiction or just the general term of ‘short story’.
Something that bothers me – a little too much, really, but it is a bit of a pet peeve for me – is when I find stories posted under the ‘drabble’ umbrella that are very clearly outside these guidelines.
If you’re writing short fiction that is simply awesome – but if your story is 239 words? It isn’t a drabble.
Or, give me a moment to brace myself . . . if your story is 4,239 words. (Yes, I have seen someone call a story of this approximate length a drabble. I may have been mildly traumatised.) This is clearly a short story, I’m sorry. Or not, because short stories are awesome, whatever their length!
Part of the appeal, as well as the point of a drabble is the challenge, control, and focus demanded by the format, and the precision in the wordcount limit.
Why I love drabbles!
Ooh, what to start with?
Drabbles are an excellent place to play around with and ‘garden’ ideas! If you have a snippet of a scene that you love and want to see realised, but simply can not get more than part of? Try writing it out in a drabble!
(Of course, you may find that once you begin writing, the rest comes to you – that is always pretty exciting in itself!)
Drabbles are a great exercise to help you learn what is essential to your story or scene. I say this as someone who can stretch out a conversation onto ten pages without noticing how much time it is taking, but this is brilliant!
They can also help you figure out how to explore a scene very quickly – I am a very descriptive writer, this can take up a lot of space. Yet I don’t leave out descriptions in my drabbles, far from it – I learned to be economical with descriptions.
What shares the image I have with the reader the most easily, the quickest, in the fewest words? Is there a way to describe what I want to and progress the scene at the same time? Is there some self-indulgent description I should cut entirely, even though I love it?
Drabbles can be quickly written – easily, well, that can vary, as with all formats of writing, fiction and non. I often scribble down a drabble or three in a waiting room, or my car, or even at a restaurant – times when I’m waiting for things, but only have a few minutes, or don’t know how long I have.
Drabbles can be taken from the tiniest snippet of an idea – or no idea! – and built up.
Prompt words, freewriting, snippets of scenes, things you observe (expressions, poses) anything you can think of can be made into a drabble – I promise! (I’ll talk more about how I do this and where my drabble ideas come from in part two of Explaining Drabbles.)
Drabbles can provide an arena to explore background characters, details, or histories for a larger story – things that don’t fit in a novel, say, but you still have lingering in your mind, and want to get out. Or things that may help you understand the world you’ve built a little better.
Drabbles can be a great palate-cleanser or quick break when you’re working on a larger story and frustrated with it – or have just been working on the one project for so long that if you think about it for much longer you will scream or be brought to tears.
(At least, I sometimes use them this way, when I hit that point with other stories.)
Drabbles can give you a feeling of accomplishing, completing something – not to be underestimated, in my opinion. After working on a longer project, or a number of stories I can’t quite finish, or have finished a draft of, but am not up to editing. . .
A drabble is short enough to not only write, but edit and polish fully, in not a lot of time. That feeling of finishing something can help me regain motivation to work on other things again if I’ve been frustrated, or just don’t feel like I’m getting anything done.
Drabbles are also excellent short-form editing practise! All those drabbles certainly helped me learn how to edit more effectively, as well as the best ways to do a final polish – I hope – and when, even if you’re sick of the story . . . not to call it done.
I hope that this post was enlightening and entertaining – or at least one! – and that perhaps it will inspire you to try your hand at these fascinating, fun little beasties.
Part two of Explaining Drabbles will talk more about the writing process behind them and also tell the story of how I came to write drabbles (and so many!) if you are still curious. See it here next week.