Tag Archives: drabbles

How writing drabbles develops mad skills #amwriting

Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in the craft and gain different perspectives when they write short stories and essays. With each short piece that you write, you increase 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:

Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.

  1. You have a limited amount of space so your narrative will be limited to one or two characters only.
  2. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the outcome of the story.
  3. The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes.
  4. Building a backlog of short stories gives you ready-made characters and a premade setting to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.

Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 3,000-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 basic components as we do for a longer story:

  1. A setting
  2. One or more characters
  3. A conflict
  4. 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 the life of a character. 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 kick starts the story in your head. The prompt for the following story is sunset.

In my previous post on writing short stories, I showed how I break short stories into acts. A drabble works the same way–we can break this down into its component parts and make the story arc work for 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.

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.

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.

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, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning places our protagonist on the beach with someone for whom she cares deeply.

The conflict in this tale? The mist and wind make it too cold for our protagonist to stay on the beach and gaze at the stars. A hard, cold wind and heavy mist are typical of the Washington and Oregon Coast in August, two things you wouldn’t think could coexist, but there, they do.

The resolution? A cozy evening indoors.

Drabbles are incredibly useful. They contain the ideas and thoughts that can easily become longer works. The above drabble, written in 2015, combined with a photograph I took while vacationing in Oregon with my husband in 2016, was the inspiration for what became a longer poem: Oregon Sunset, which you can read here.

Good drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and fills them with curiosity to learn what happened next.

When you have a flash of brilliance, a shining moment of what if, write it in the form of a drabble. Save it in a file for later use as a springboard to write a longer work, or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form. Spending an hour getting that idea and emotion down so you won’t forget it is a small gift you give yourself, as an author.

Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing a drabble hones your skills, and you will have captured the emotion and ambiance of the brilliant idea.

That is what true writing is about.

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#Drabble “Ted”

Today is the first day of 2018! An area of writing that I really enjoy is called The Drabble. Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop economy of words. We will be exploring Drabbles and the craft of writing short fiction more closely here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy during the month of January.

A Drabble is an extremely short story, usually no more than 100 words, although some contests will allow as much as 300 words.

My first Drabble was this one, penned in 2013, and it remains one of my favorite short pieces.


 

TED

Edna stirred her coffee and looked out the window toward the shed.

“Did you feed the chickens?” Marion always asked, despite knowing Edna had.

Edna tore her gaze from the shed. “Of course.” Her eyes turned back to the small building. “We won’t be able to keep him in there much longer. He’s growing too big. We should have a barn built for him.”

“Ted was always a greedy boy.” Marion sipped her coffee. “I warned him he behaved like a beast, and now look.”

A rumbling bellow shook the shed. A long green tail snaked out of the door.


“Ted,” by Connie J. Jasperson ©2013 – 2018

Garden Shed, Australia, By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Garden Shed, Australia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) ], via Wikimedia Commons

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#FlashFictionFriday: The Watcher

 

She stares out the window of her lonely room, watching the street below through the rivulets of water; blue and grey, washed away. Azure blue, the sky briefly shows itself and sunlight temporarily blinds her. Dry, elderly eyes watch as dark clouds once again overtake the blue. Rain pounds against the glass.

Rain beats down, and passersby on the street below vainly seek shelter beneath newspapers and fragile umbrellas, dodging under awnings, leaping into taxis waiting to whisk them away to distant places where the rains of March are just a rumor.

She looks down at the black of her dress. In her mind she sees him in the casket, looking as if he’d merely fallen asleep.

Her damp woolen coat lies on the bed, where sixty two years of her life were spent with him. Sixty two years of quarrels, of passion, sixty two years of love and jealous anger. Sixty two years of ties that bound them more securely than the mere vows of marriage two young people once took ever could.

Slightly ajar, the door of the closet reveals his clothes, suits and slacks hanging ready for the man who will never again wear them. The book he was reading rests on the nightstand by his pillow.

She stares out the window of her lonely room, watching the street below through the rivulets of water, blue and grey; washed away.

The sky weeps tears that faded blue eyes refuse to shed.


Credits and Attributions

The Watcher, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2013-2017, Originally published on Wattpad March 21, 2013.

The Plaza After Rain, Paul Cornoyer, PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

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Drabbles: experimenting with POV and prose #amwriting

I love writing ‘drabbles,’ extremely short fiction because they offer the opportunity to write in a wide variety of genres and styles. Drabbles present the chance to experiment with point of view and prose. Often, these 100 – 200-word experiments become 1,000-word flash fictions, which are sometimes saleable.

In my files (to be worked on at a later date) is the rough draft of a short story that began as a brief exercise in writing from the point of view of the flâneur–the person of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. They are the interested observer, a person who seeks much, knows a little, and is a (frequently unreliable) witness to the events of a story.

Click here for Scott Driscoll‘s great blogpost on the flâneur. In short, he tells us that: “With a flâneur narrating, you can remove the noticing consciousness from your point of view character to accomplish other purposes.”  

The flâneur is a character frequently found in literature from the 19th century. The story is filtered through his eyes and perceptions–it distances the reader from the immediacy of the scene, so be forewarned: genre-nazis and armchair editors who want the material delivered in 60 second sound bites of action won’t love it.

My flâneur is Martin Daniels, a wealthy, retired jeweler. He spends his time roaming his city’s streets, sitting in sidewalk cafés observing his fellow citizens, and making social and aesthetic observations. He regularly finds himself crossing paths with one man, in particular, Jenner: a self-made man who came up through the mines.

Jenner is battering against the prevailing social barriers which stand in the way of his achieving a political office that he covets, using whatever means at his disposal. He is uncouth, a barely civilized rough-neck with a bad reputation, but something about him draws Martin’s attention, and so he finds himself both observing Jenner and listening to the whispered gossip that surrounds the man.

One day, as Jenner is passing Martin’s table, his hat blows off, and Martin catches it, returning it to him. Jenner then introduces himself and admits that he has been watching Martin for some time. He has a task for Martin, one that intrigues him enough to bring him out of retirement. Thus begins an odd relationship.

When this twist happened, my flâneur ceased to be merely an observer and became my protagonist, yet he is reporting the events from the distance of his memory, so he is still the observer.

Literary fantasy, one of my favorite genres to read, is a great venue for the flâneur. It examines the meaning of life or looks at real issues, and I tend to write from that aspect. In my favorite works, the fantastic, otherworld setting is the frame that holds the picture. It offers a means to pose a series of questions that explore the darker places in the human condition.

Sometimes the quest the hero faces is, in fact, an allegory for something else, and the flâneur shows you this without beating you over the head with it. I read good literary fantasy—it tends to be written by men and women who write well and literately. Not only are the words and sentences pregnant with meaning and layers of allegory, but they are also often poetic and beautifully constructed.

I like to experiment with prose as well as style and genre, and writing drabbles offers that opportunity.

The character of the interested observer is not limited to a person walking the streets and making political or social commentaries on what is seen. Nor is the gender of the observer limited to that of a man. Any person can be the observer and serve in this role. The flâneur is great fodder for a drabble, so give it a try.

The modern flâneur is found in the office, the coffee shop, shopping at the mall or grocery store, waiting in line at the movies, even looking through the curtains of their front windows. These are venues they habitually visit and don’t go out of their way for, and are where they are likely to regularly see the person who piques their curiosity.

Writers are, by nature, observers of the human condition. When two friends sit in a Starbucks and play ‘the coffee shop game,’ the game where they see patrons and invent stories about who they are and what they do, they become the flâneur for a brief moment. Write those paragraphs and see what emerges.

Writing drabbles offers me the chance to write two or three paragraphs in a literary style, experiment with both point of view and prose, and allows me to play with words. I can imitate the style of my favorite authors and see what it is about their work that attracts me.

Any time you have a great little idea, pause for the moment and write a drabble about it. Save it in a file labelled ‘Drabbles.’ You never know when you may have the seeds of a great story in those two brief paragraphs.


Quotes and Attributions

Flaneur, try it and set yourself free by Scott Driscoll, © Oct 24, 2013,  https://scottdriscollblogs.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/flaneur-try-it-and-set-yourself-free/

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#flashficfriday: TED (a drabble)

large dragon courtesy www.wallpaperfreehd.com

large dragon courtesy http://www.wallpaperfreehd.com

Drabbles are little short stories of 100 words in length, and writing them is good exercise.

Each time you write a drabble, you create possibilities that could evolve into larger stories. In 2013 I participated in a challenge to write a drabble every day for the month of May. The original prompt went as follows:

Write A 100 Word Story (“Drabble”) . . . although a 100 word story will probably take longer than expected, it can be done in a manageable amount of time.

To make a drabble work,
-Choose one or two characters
-Take one single moment/action/choice and show us how it unfolds
-Give one or two vibrant details in as few words as possible
-Hint at how this moment/action/choice is more significant than the characters probably realize in the moment

 Here is my first drabble, written May 1st, 2013:

TED

Edna stirred her coffee and looked out the window toward the shed.

“Did you feed the chickens?” Marion always asked, despite knowing Edna had.

Edna tore her gaze from the shed. “Of course.” Her eyes turned back to the small building. “We won’t be able to keep him in there much longer. He’s growing too big. We should have a barn built for him.”

“Ted was always a greedy boy.” Marion stirred her coffee. “I warned him he behaved like a beast, and now look.”

A rumbling bellow shook the shed. A long green tail snaked out of the door.

Garden Shed, Albatross Cottages, San Diego Public Domain Via Wikimedia

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I love that scene. I keep wondering about the two ladies, and also Ted. Who is he in relation to them, who are they in relation to each other, and what is their life like, apart from the secret in the shed?

Ted will become a longer short story in November, as part of my NaNoWriMo project. I will be writing a book of short stories this year, as I need to build my repertoire. I hope to have fifteen or twenty new short tales of 2000 to 5000 words in length by November 30.

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Achieving balance

the balanced narrativeYou’ve heard the saying, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The implication is that a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence and leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.

When we are newly-hatched authors, we eagerly soak up the wisdom offered to us through writing seminars and handbooks on the craft of writing.

But if you are an avid reader, someone who reads widely and in many different genres, you can see that writing is not simply a matter of following rules.

This is especially true in regard to the many-layered concept of exposition, introducing background and necessary information into the narrative.

Sometimes there is life in a manuscript that has broken all the rules. The work shines because it’s clear that the writer had passion and it was conveyed in the written word. Life is a natural consequence of the rush of creativity and is set into the manuscript when the first words are written.

Unfortunately it is easy to murder what began as a beautiful story. Consider those writers who spend years carefully combing every spark of accidental passion out of their work, creating textbook-perfect sentences that are flat, toneless. The reader has no desire to care about the characters or their struggle.

kurt-vonnegut_quoteI’ve also known people who use “the ‘f’ word” regularly in their work  because they think it’s cutting edge, and then they have the balls to say they write like Kurt Vonnegut.

They don’t.

Blindly breaking rules without understanding them is not good writing craft. Vonnegut understood the rules, and when he broke them, he did it to inject life into his work.

He understood balance and was not afraid to use it.

You want to create a balanced narrative:

  1. Information must be delivered only as the protagonists need it.
  2. The information can never be something everyone already knows.
  3. You must offer SOME information–people appearing out of nowhere mean nothing if you do not offer an explanation for them.
  4. No one will die if you use an adjective to describe an object, once in a while.
  5. Show people by using simple, general descriptions such as handsome or dark-haired, and use their mannerisms to convey their moods–things that allow the reader to form their own idea of what the characters look like and how they are feeling. But do give the reader something to build their visualization around.
  6. Stick to simple basic speech tags like said and replied, and if the conversation has only two people, skip them sometimes for a sentence or two.

I know a few authors who are like pendulums. They have no concept of balance and leave each meeting of their writing group with the notion that they have to go all or nothing when deploying information.

Thus, if they have been told they gave too much information, they go too far and now their characters appear out of the ether, with unexplained powers and do things that make no sense.

First you have to realize that no one writes a perfect, completely flawless manuscript, not even Neil Gaiman. And then you have to decide: are you writing for the critics who might be out there, or because you love to write.

If you are not writing for the joy of writing, quit now.

Otherwise, keep writing. Only by continued practice will you develop the balance you know you need. And you don’t have to be committed to only writing novels. Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of short stories.

You can gain a handle on balance by writing short-stories and essays.

With each short-story you write, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition. This is especially true if you limit yourself to writing the occasional practice story—telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  • You have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.
  • You have a limited amount of space so your characters will be limited to just the important ones.
  • There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot, or affect the outcome.
  • You will build a backlog of short stories and characters to draw on when you need a good story to enter into a contest.

Go for the gusto, and try writing flash fiction–give yourself less than 1000 words to tell a story. Or really challenge yourself–tell that story in around 100 words ( a drabble):

Drake - a drabble by cjj

Drake, © Connie J. Jasperson 2013, All Rights Reserved

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