I think of writing as a muscle of sorts, working the way all other muscles do. Our bodies are healthiest when we exercise regularly, and with respect to our creativity, writing works the same way.
Daily writing becomes easier once you make it a behavioral habit. The more frequently you write, the more confident you become. Spend a small amount of time writing every day and you will develop discipline.
If you hope to finish writing a book, personal discipline is essential.
Every morning, I take the time to write a random short scene or vignette. Some become drabbles, others short stories, but most are just for exercise. Writing 100-word stories is a good way to create characters you can use in other works.
Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in their craft and gain different perspectives with each short story and essay they write. Each short piece increases your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.
This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes, but most importantly, they grow your habit of writing new words every day.
Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop an economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.
Writing drabbles means your narrative will be limited to one or two characters. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the story’s outcome.
The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes. A side-effect of building a backlog of short stories is the supply of ready-made characters and premade settings you have to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.
Below is a graphic for breaking down the story arc of a 2,000-word story. Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 2,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment.
When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.
To write a drabble, we need the same fundamental components as we do for a longer story:
- A setting
- One or more characters
- A conflict
- A resolution.
First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.
Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and others may offer no prompt at all.
A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to 700+ Weekly Writing Prompts.
If a contest has a rigid word count requirement, it’s best to divide the count into manageable sections. I use a loose outline to break short stories into acts with a certain number of words for each increment, as illustrated in the previous graphic, the short-story story arc.
A drabble works the same way.
We break down the word count to make the story arc work for us instead of against us. 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.
If you are too focused on your novel to think about other works, spend fifteen minutes writing info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere. That is an excellent way to build background files for your world-building and character development and keeps the info dumps separate and out of the narrative.
Also, you have the chance to identify the themes and subthemes you can expand on to add depth to your narrative.
Theme is vastly different from the subject of a work. Theme is an underlying idea, a thread that is woven through the story from the beginning to the end.
An example I’ve mentioned before is the movie franchise Star Wars. The subject of those movies is the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Two of the themes explored in those films are the bonds of friendship and the gray area between good and evil—moral ambiguity.
The best way to begin building your brand as an author is to submit your work to magazines and anthologies. But writing for magazines and anthologies is different than writing novels. Some aspects of short story construction are critical and must be planned for in advance, important elements of craft that show professionalism.
When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word “theme” as well as your ability to write clean and compelling prose.
For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.
Most of my own novels fit in epic or medieval fantasy genres. They are based on the hero’s journey, detailing how events and experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood and love of family.
These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, and so they find their way into my writing.
To support the theme, you must add these layers:
- character studies
These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc.
When you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.
Save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form.
Good drabbles are the distilled souls of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and makes them wonder what happened next.
Write at least 100 new words every day. Write even if you have nothing to say. Write a wish list, a grocery list, or a sonnet—but no matter what form the words take, write. The act of writing new words on a completely different project can break you out of writer’s block—it nudges your creative mind.