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/