Tag Archives: extremely short fiction

The Drabble #amwriting

Right now, we have a lot of opportunities to sell our extremely short stories. Many online publications are looking for drabbles (100-word stories) and flash fictions under 750 words.

These editors are looking for new, unpublished work, so get out your pens and start writing.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.

Just saying.

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:

  1. A setting.
  2. 1 or 2 characters.
  3. A conflict.
  4. A resolution.
  5. No subplots are introduced.
  6. Minimal background is introduced.
  7. 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.

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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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