These editors are looking for new, unpublished work, so get out your pens and start writing.
You might ask why you would want to write something that short, and I do see your point. But if not having the time to sit down and write a novel is holding you back from writing, you have another option: extremely short fiction.
When you force yourself to create within strict wordcount limits, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition. We grow in the craft and gain different perspectives when we write short stories and essays.
This is especially true if you practice writing drabbles. Trying to tell a story in 100 words or less teaches you several skills.
- You are forced to develop economy of words.
- You begin to see what the core plot elements of a story might be.
When you have a backlog of short stories, you also have a vault full of ready-made characters and premade settings to draw on.
I hear you saying that any investment of time is difficult if it takes you away from your longer works. It’s hard to not feel jealous of the scant time we have for that.
Look at this as a muscle-building routine. Writing a 100-word story takes far less time than writing a 2,000 word short fiction, or a 70,000-word novel.
Something you should consider: you are more likely to sell a drabble than a short story, and more likely to sell a short story than a novel.
Writing a drabble is like any other form of writing. You should expect to spend an hour or so writing and then editing it to fit within the 100-word constraint.
A 100-word story has the same basic components as a longer story:
- A setting.
- 1 or 2 characters.
- A conflict.
- A resolution.
- No subplots are introduced.
- Minimal background is introduced.
- Every sentence propels the story to the conclusion.
First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and still others no prompt at all.
A prompt is a word or visual image that kickstarts the story in your head. The prompt for the following drabble was sunset.
I break short stories into acts by taking the number of words I plan to fit the story into and dividing it into 3 sections.
A drabble works the same way. We break it down to make the story arc work for us.
For a drabble, we have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.
For this drabble, I used:
24 Words (opening): We sat on the beach near the fire, two old people bundled against the cold Oregon sunset. Friends we’d never met fished the surf.
51 words (middle and crisis): Wind whipped my hair, gray and uncut, tore it from its inept braid. The August wind was chill inside my hood, but I remained, pleased to be with you, and pleased to be on that beach.
Mist rose with the tide, closed in and enfolded us, blotting out the falling stars.
25 Words (conclusion): Laughing at our folly, we dragged our weary selves back to our digs, rented, but with everything this old girl needed—love, laughter, and you.
The above drabble is a 100-word romance, one I have used here before. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The opening shows our protagonist on the beach with someone for whom she cares deeply.
The conflict in this tale is the weather. Wind and blowing mist make it too cold for our protagonist to stay on the beach and forces her indoors.
The resolution is a romantic evening spent in front of the fireplace.
Drabbles contain the ideas and thoughts that can easily become longer works, such as this drabble did in my poem, Oregon Sunset.
I think of drabbles as the distilled essences of novels. In 100 words, they offer everything the reader needs to know. A good drabble makes the reader ponder what might have happened next.
In this way, writing drabbles teaches us how to write a good hook. Knowing how to write a great hook is critical. The first paragraphs of our longer works must intrigue the reader or they will set it aside.
Write your story ideas in the form of drabbles and flash fictions. Save them for later use as they could hold the seeds of a longer work.
Save the drabble/flash fiction for submission to a publication or contest, as it won’t spoil whatever novel you think it might grow into.
When you can’t write on the project you’ve given your soul to, it’s time to take a break. The act of writing random ideas and emotions down is a kind of vacation from your other work. It rests your mind and clears things so you can return to your main project with all your attention.
Whether you choose to submit a drabble or hang on to it doesn’t matter. The idea is written down and accessible for when you need a new project.
In that regard, drabbles are the literary equivalent of dried beans and rice. They are resources we can set aside for a rainy day.