The habit of creative writing usually begins small. It’s an idea, something we wish someone would write. At first, it’s a hobby we must fit around our work schedule and family obligations. Somehow, that hobby grows and grows. For some of us, it becomes a second job that pays little and demands a great deal of attention.
When a new writer decides to begin their career by embarking on writing a novel, the magnitude of the undertaking soon becomes apparent.
At first, they are fired up about the project. For several pages, the words flow. Unfortunately, the fire of enthusiasm burns low as creativity fails.
They have the idea. They have the characters. But they don’t have the skills to write something as long and involved as a novel.
Many people see that as a sign that they are untalented. They put it away and never write again.
But the truth is, the project was too ambitious for their skill level. They haven’t learned the tools of the trade and received no reward for their efforts.
I suggest people begin by writing micro fiction. Drabbles are a form of micro fiction, an entire story in exactly 100 words.
Some forms of poetry, such as haiku, are not micro fiction, as they don’t tell a fully developed story.
Writing a drabble takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story or a 70,000-word novel, 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.
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 still others have 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 Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Prompts.
But prompts are only the beginning. To write a story of any length, we need these essential components:
- A setting
- One or more characters
- A conflict
- A resolution.
I use a loose outline to break the arc of every story I write into acts, each with a specific word count. (I’ve included a graphic at the bottom of this post.)
A drabble may have only 100 words, but my process works the same as for a novel.
For a novel, I divide my outline this way: 10,000 or so words to open the story, set the scene, introduce the characters and get to the inciting incident. 50,000 or so words for the heart of the story. 10,000 or so words for the conclusion.
A micro fiction is outlined the same way:
- I have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene.
- I have about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story.
- I give myself 10 – 25 words to conclude it.
- The story must be told in precisely 100 words. (Not more, and not less—exactly 100 words.)
Writing micro fiction teaches you to tell a story without exposition.
However, you should save the clumps of exposition and backstory in a separate file because they do come in usefully as part of your world-building and character development exercises.
- Every word you write and discard might be useful in a later story.
- Label the file with a title that says what it is.
- Save it in a master file that contains ideas for longer stories.
I mentioned rewards in the title of this post. The completed story is a small gift you give yourself, and the surge of endorphins you experience in that moment of “Yes! I can write after all!” are the reward.
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.
I suggest you 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 you might want to submit it to a drabble contest.
Contests for micro fiction abound on the internet. Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing micro fiction hones your skills, and you will have captured the heart of your brilliant idea.
Micro fictions are the distilled essence of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that one moment in time. The reader wants to know what happens next.
You will have succeeded in writing your story, and that success is a reward in itself.