I’ve Been Reading Drabbles…Lots of Drabbles

In my pursuit of the form, I’ve now read something like 100 to 150 drabbles. Luckily, hundred-word stories don’t take that long to read.

In addition to the Martian Magazine, which I’ve mentioned previously, I discovered The Drabble (which does include poetry and fiction less than 100 words, rather than exactly 100 words). I also found Speck Lit, which stopped updating a few years ago, but has a large archive still available. I’ve found drabbles of the exactly-100-words definition in a handful of other places. I’m sure there are plenty more out there, especially in flash fiction publications that would accept very short fiction, but typically have max lengths of 1000 or 1500 words. They’re just a pain to find.

One of the nice things about drabbles is that you can read quite a lot of them in a short amount of time. It’s relatively easy to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, because everything has to be laid out in a couple of paragraphs. They lend themselves to quick analysis.

My Favorites

These are my favorite (freely accessible) drabble stories so far. They surprised me, or made me laugh, or made me feel something. As usual, I skew toward speculative fiction. You can read the whole lot in less time than it would take to read a typical short story.

  1. Nicholas Was — Neil Gaiman
  2. Orbital Views — Gretchen Tessmer
  3. Todd — Jason P. Burnham
  4. The Reluctant Time Traveler Wears Two Watches — Wendy Nikel
  5. The Weave — M. Yzmore
  6. Double Trouble — R. Daniel Lester
  7. The Forest of Memory — Anna Salonen
  8. A Cabin to Die In — Anna Salonen
  9. Of Artistic Temperament — Sophie Flynn
  10. Redemption — Belinda Saville

Styles of Drabble

Having now observed quite a few drabbles in the wild, I tried to classify some of the common styles that are used to make a story interesting in one hundred words. It’s interesting to see that the limited word count really does force a wide variety of forms.

Haunted (A Drabble)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been reading and writing drabbles recently. If you’re not aware, drabbles are just short stories with exactly 100 words — no more, no less. It has been both interesting and frustrating. Where microfiction stories feel like little toys, drabbles feel closer to “real” stories.

Closer, but not quite.

The Challenges

Drabbles invite experimentation and strange forms, like a story-as-a-list, story-as-app-review, or story entirely in dialogue with no context. They require odd tricks, unusual style, or very clever wording to be engaging.

Dialogue is hard in a drabble. Even the vanilla “he said, she said” tags use up precious words. It’s tempting, because dialogue can do so many things at once, but I’ve found it very difficult to write drabble dialogue in practice. It needs to be tight without becoming artificial, stilted, or confusing.

What Makes A Good Drabble?

Drabbles love little twist endings. A twist ending is one of the easiest ways to make a drabble interesting. I’m not convinced that it’s the best way though. I can’t help but think that it’s a bit of a crutch, which may be silly considering how challenging it is to write a good drabble without any additional restrictions beyond word count.

I think a good drabble uses one, maybe two, storytelling structures. Drabbles are too short to include a setting, characters, a real character arc, a conflict, a resolution, dialogue, strong voice, and all of the other scaffolding that we typically use to hold up a story. A good drabble has only one or two of these things that it does really well. It might glance sidelong at one or two more, but that’s pushing it.

So far, I only have one hard and fast rule for a good drabble. A good drabble makes you think, “There’s no way that was only one hundred words.”

My First Drabble

Haunted

It sounds fun to rent a house haunted by a sexy ghost. I guess it was, at first. The dreams were amazing, until she got stabby.

It took a while for her to stop shrieking and talk, but she eventually told me about the adultery, the murder-suicide, and the whole “vengeance against all men” thing. She says she’ll be free if I burn the bones buried in the cellar. Free to leave, and kill as she pleases.

It wouldn’t be right to unleash a murder-ghost on the world. But if she keeps breaking things, I’ll never get my deposit back.

This is my very first drabble, a little parody of horror tropes. The idea came from a Story Engine prompt.

You’ll notice it has no dialogue. I summarized the conversation, because dialogue is hard in a drabble. It has two characters and approximately three words of setting. No arc. A conflict, but no resolution. It does have a twist, although the twist comes in the form of a joke. I’m happy with it, for a first attempt, even if it doesn’t make me think, “There’s no way that was only one hundred words.” On the other hand, I had to carefully whittle it down to those one hundred words, so maybe that rule just doesn’t apply when I’m the one writing it.

Drabbles

I recently went on a foray into Twitter-size microfiction, a story format so short that it’s challenging to even fit the basic elements of a story. It was a fun exercise in minimalism and editing down to the bare bones, and gave me something to do with a bunch of ideas that I had never found a home for. I wrote 21 of these little gems and I was rather pleased with myself.

Well, that was then, and this is now. I’ve really grown as a creator in the last…uh, month or so. My stories need to grow with me. I simply cannot be contained within the narrow confines of 280 characters. No, I need more.

I’m moving up, friends. Moving up to drabbles. “What are drabbles?” you ask. Drabbles are short stories of exactly 100 words. Yes, that’s an astonishing two or three times the length of an average tweet.

On the one hand, a drabble might be harder to write. In terms of pure labor, it has more words. On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges of microfiction is making a structurally sound, interesting story, within the size limit. So the extra space may make the editing that much easier. More likely, I’ll just be tempted to cram more into that luxurious extra space.

How to Drabble

I’ll admit, I haven’t read very many drabbles, so I thought I had better educate myself. There are some examples by well-known authors (and a bit of history) at meades.org. I also found the site Drablr, where authors have freely published thousands of drabbles. They have section on drabble history and suggestions on how to go about writing one (namely, write a short short story, then edit it until it’s exactly 100 words).

When it comes to Drabble construction advice, I think Connie J. Jasperson has the best take I’ve seen. She says to limit yourself to a setting, one or two characters, a conflict, and a resolution. No subplots, and minimal background. She also suggests a dedicating about 25 words to the opening, 50-60 for the middle, and the remainder for the conclusion (and resolution). Check out the whole post over on her blog.

More to Come

My first attempts at this format will probably be expanded versions of my microfiction. There were several that left a lot on the cutting room floor. I’d like to see if they benefit or suffer when given twice as much breathing room. I plan to write some “fresh” ones as well, to get the full experience of writing drabbles from scratch.

It’s worth mentioning a notable benefit to writing drabbles instead of tweet-sized microfiction: drabbles are more practical to sell to online and print magazines and journals. In fact, there are markets like The Martian magazine that only publish drabbles. If there are markets for tweet-stories, I haven’t seen them.

I’m guessing drabbles are going to be a bit harder to write than my microfiction stories, but I’ll have a follow-up post once I’ve finished a few, to describe the experience.

Kindle Vella is Now Live!

This is an interesting new market for serial fiction. It’s unfortunate (although not particularly surprising) that Amazon is demanding to be the sole distributor of any stories you put on the platform. That’s the main reason I’m not excited to start using it immediately.

It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon can leverage their existing writer and reader ecosystems to make headway against the existing services, especially companies from Asia, where short, serial fiction for mobile has been a thing for a while…

Originally posted on chrismcmullen: KINDLE VELLA Amazon just launched the new Kindle Vella. What is Vella? Stories that are told one episode at a …

Kindle Vella is Now Live!

The Final Week of Microfiction

This is the last installment of the experiment where I write tiny stories and post them daily on Twitter at @DeferredWords. You can find stories from previous weeks here and here.

If you enjoy this sort of thing, you should check out another Twitter account, @DailyMicroFic, who has been doing this a lot longer than I have. Through them, I discovered the the #vss365 hashtag, where you can find lots of people writing very short stories on Twitter, 365 days a year. See vss365today.com for more info and daily prompts.

I enjoyed writing these. They were a fun exercise in writing under severe limitations, and the format gave some life to lots of little ideas I’ve been kicking around for ages, but I hadn’t been inspired enough to expand into longer formats. I think I’ll have to do it again sometime.

The Furies

The Vine

Desert Bones

Moon and Sea

Politically Correct

Jungles of Minnesota

“No More Kings”

Another Week of Microfiction

I’m back, for the second installment of the experiment where I write tiny stories and post them daily on Twitter at @DeferredWords. You can read the first week of stories here.

Our Time Together

The Last Game of Go

The Warp

Black Clouds

Starfall

*(Yes, it should be “pens.” Thanks Twitter.)

Knight, Forsaken

A Concern

There’s one more week of stories left. I’ll post the final installment next Wednesday. See you then.

Weekly Microfiction

Last week, I talked about a little experiment I’m doing — a very little experiment! As a slightly silly way to get back into writing short stories, I started putting out microfiction on Twitter, @DeferredWords. Every morning for the past week, I’ve been posting a story in a single tweet, and I’m going to keep doing it for a couple more weeks.

Here are this week’s stories:

Gary Left

Princess, Under the Moon

Carlos and Esteban

Angela’s Enlightenment

Space Wizards

Dana Asks

The First Time

See you next week for seven more micro-stories!