Tag Archives: short story

Writing Drabbles and Exploring Theme #amwriting

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.

WritingCraft_short-story-drabbleDaily 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.

short-story-arc

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:

  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 a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and others may offer no prompt at all.

Orange_Door_with_Hydrangeas_©_Connie_Jasperson_2019A 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. I’ve included that graphic at the bottom of this post.

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
  • allegory
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapWhen 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.

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#FlashFictionFriday: The Marriage Counselor

I shook my head to get rid of the sudden, loud buzzing sound in my ears. Feeling a little disoriented, I looked at the calendar, which said Thursday, the day I dreaded most. Sometimes I felt like it was always Thursday. It was nearly time for my regular two o’clock appointment… the couple from hell, pardon my cursing. After my heart attack about six months before, they had begun coming to me, and were likely to give me another. They never missed an appointment no matter how I wished they would.

I watched the clock tick from one fifty-nine to two o’clock.

My receptionist opened the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Haydes are here. Shall I show them in?”

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I lifted my pen from the notepad and regarded the couple seated across from me. “Would you listen to yourselves? You make marriage sound like hell. It doesn’t have to be that way. You both sabotage it every chance you get.”

“Of course marriage is hell,” said the husband across from me, dressed in a double-breasted, blue suit, giving him an almost nautical appearance. Add a captain’s hat and he’d look like a cast member on The Love Boat. “It’s the absolute worst thing that could possibly have happened to a once studly man like myself. But just like the moth flying into the flame, I had to do it. ‘Don’t go toward the light,’ my friends all said. But did I listen? Hell, no!”

His wife snorted. “Luke always does the exact opposite of what anyone advises him to do. That’s what he gets for being a devil-may-care, I’m-gonna-do-it-my-way sort of a guy. He’s Satan. That makes me Satan’s wife. Of course it’s hell—it comes with the territory. If I can put up with him, he can put up with me.” This week she wore little makeup, and was neatly coiffed with not a hair out of place. In a counterpoint to Luke’s dashing attire, she wore a beige wool suit, cut to just below her modestly crossed knees, with low-heeled pumps. Mrs. Haydes could have been a proper matron from any Protestant congregation, right down to her puritanical sense of morality.

This forty-five minute session of misery began promptly at two o’clock every Thursday. They booked their appointments under the pseudonyms, Lucifer and Persephone Haydes. He preferred to be called Luke, and she preferred to be called Mrs. Haydes. After six months of working with this pair of nut cases, I was beginning to suspect they were playing a game of mess-with-the-counselor.

Last week she’d been dressed like a teenaged skateboarder, and he as an English literature professor. The week before that, she was a hippie, complete with headband and love beads, and he was a cricket player.

Every week it was something different but always opposites. Mrs. Haydes seemed to choose her wardrobe based on what she thought would annoy him most, and he went with the opposite because he really couldn’t do anything else. He had the worst case of oppositional defiant disorder I had ever seen.

“Why are you here?” I had to ask, despite knowing I wouldn’t get an answer. “I no longer understand what you are trying to save here. You never take my advice. And you’ve been aware since the outset that I am a pastor, not a magician. What do you hope to gain from this?” I tapped my foot and looked at the clock. We were only fifteen minutes into this session, and I was already exhausted. “What you really need is a good divorce lawyer, not a counselor. I can tell you every reason why you should stay married, and if you are looking for religious affirmation, I can give you chapter and verse on the apostle Paul’s views regarding marriage. Over the last six months, I have done so repeatedly.  We’ve discussed what you originally saw in each other and what you each want from your relationship, but you’re still at this impasse.  I think that at this stage divorce is the only answer for the two of you.”

Luke snorted. “Don’t bother telling me anything the apostle Paul said—I wrote that book. I was delusional.”

“I think the pastor is right,” said Mrs. Haydes, primly folding her hands. “Divorce is the only option. I’m sure no one would blame me for leaving a devil like you.”

“I’m not giving up half of everything I own,” said Luke, clearly aghast at the notion. “Do you know how many divorce lawyers she has access to? No way am I going to let her off so easily.”

“I come from a broken family,” said Mrs. Haydes, discreetly wiping a tear. “I don’t want our children to grow up in a broken home. But it would be better than Anaheim. It’s a bad environment to raise children in. I want to move back to our palace in Hell. All it needs is a little remodeling.”

I couldn’t stop myself. I had to ask it. “And you think Hell is a good environment to raise kids in?”

“Well, at least there’s no crime in hell. We have the finest law enforcement professionals in the universe.” She glared at me defensively. “Where should I be raising them? Seattle? I’m not exposing my children to a bunch of pot-smoking vegans who ride bicycles and wear socks with sandals.”

Luke brightened up. “I love Seattle—perhaps we should move there. I could get some goats or raise alpacas. They have the best coffee in the world!”

Mrs. Haydes sniffed. “The place is full of vulgar vegetarians. They’re always taking their children to yoga and soccer, where everyone gets a trophy whether they win or lose—it’s just wrong. We will most certainly not be moving to Seattle.”

“Enough,” said Luke. “I’m going vegan and we’re moving to Seattle and that’s final.” He turned to me and missed her small, satisfied smile. “What I really want to talk about is the stint we did on ‘Home Hunters.’ She destroyed me in front of millions of people, and I have to watch it every time they rerun that episode, which they seem to do three times a week.”

“Well dear, it airs on one of your networks, and you make the rules. You’re the one who decides why the television viewing public has 999 channels available to them, and all but three of them at any given time are showing the same reruns of Pawn Shop Heroes, Home Hunters, or Gator Boys.”

From the look on Luke’s face, Mrs. Haydes had the knife and was twisting it for all she was worth.

She continued, “Besides, I said very clearly that I wanted the extremely modern condo, with all the sleek furnishings and the gorgeous terrazzo floors. I said it at least six times. It’s on the videotape of the show.” She smiled at him smugly. “You just had your heart set on that cozy, little pink bungalow with the seventies’ décor and the orange shag carpet. You insisted, and so, of course, I gave in. Once you make up your mind, it’s impossible to change it.”

“See?” Luke exploded. “See how she manipulates me? How could I not go for the house she said she didn’t want? It was like asking the dog not to eat the chocolate you left on the coffee table. I’m Satan! I’m not really an agreeable sort of guy, and she knows exactly how to manipulate me, so now, twice a week, everyone in America gets to watch me buying grandma’s overpriced, decorating nightmare. It’s been voted the most popular episode of all time! She embarrassed me in front of God and the world.” He dropped his head into his hands. “We’re moving to Seattle now, and it’s going to be hell trying to sell that dump in Anaheim. I won’t even be able to rent it out for enough to cover the carrying costs. What a life!”

I knew this session was going nowhere. Their sessions never went anywhere positive because they were masters at circular reasoning. “What is it you want from me? You must have some reason for putting me through this agony every week.”

“I despise him, so I want a divorce, of course,” said Mrs. Haydes, with a smug, little smile. “I’ll be happy with my half of everything, and, of course, alimony. I gave up my career to raise our children, you know, and they will need child support.” She aimed her tight, fundamentalist smile at me. “We won’t waste your time any further.”

“No. No. No!” Luke’s eyes widened and he leaned forward. “No divorce. I adore you, Persey—you’re the love of my life!” He kissed her hand.  “I would be lost without you. Think of the children.”

“I love you too, Luke—I just hate being around you. And now you’re going to be forcing all your hippy, vegetarian food on me.” She turned away from him, primly pursing her lips. “You know how I love steak.”

“No dear, not vegetarian. Vegan. It’s good for you, you’ll love it. Why, I’ve a recipe for smoked tofu that will put a smile on that pretty face in no time.” Luke smiled his most charming. “If there is one thing I understand, it’s how to barbecue. You’ll adore my smoked tofu salad.”

“If you say so, dear. I’ll likely throw up.”

The two rose and left my office. I sighed.

Luke might claim to be Satan, and yes, it was even possible given how contrary he was, but if that was case, Mrs. Haydes ruled in Hell. There was no mistake about that.

I heard my receptionist speaking in the anteroom. Yes, Mrs. Haydes was scheduling another appointment…two o’clock next Thursday.

Satan might move to Seattle, or he might not. Somehow, I knew his new penchant for tofu and coffee wouldn’t get me off the hook.

I shook my head to get rid of the sudden, loud buzzing sound in my ears. Feeling a little disoriented, I looked at the calendar, which said Thursday, the day I dreaded most. Sometimes I felt like it was always Thursday. It was nearly time for my regular two o’clock appointment… the couple from hell, pardon my cursing. After my heart attack about six months before, they had begun coming to me, and were likely to give me another. They never missed an appointment no matter how I wished they would.

I watched the clock tick from one fifty-nine to two o’clock.

My receptionist opened the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Haydes are here. Shall I show them in?”


The Marriage Counselor, by Connie J. Jasperson © 2015-2018, All Rights Reserved, was first published on 06 March 2015, at Edgewise Words Inn. Reprinted by permission.

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A Dog’s Tale #FlashFictionFriday

I used to spend a lot of time in the backyard, howling. What can I say? I was young and impulsive in those days.

However, Dave bought me this new collar, which, while it’s nice to look at, has an inherent flaw. It becomes terribly uncomfortable when I howl or announce the arrival of that vandal who shoves trash through the slot in our door. He seems to be targeting our house. Since I can no longer yell at him to go away, I nip at his fingers through the slot. But he’s crafty now and doesn’t get close enough for me to do any damage.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m no different than any other girl. I’m quite partial to jewelry, but more importantly, I’m a responsible man owner. Since Dave is my human, I always show my appreciation for his thoughtfulness, even though he has no idea what sort of collar I’d really like. It’s the thought that counts.

Caring for a pet human teaches a dog to be patient and adaptable. Humans have a compulsion to keep redecorating their nests, and no amount of scolding on your part will change it—it’s the way humans are. Sure, it’s annoying to discover they have changed things around just when you finally had things arranged the way you like it. But putting up with trivial annoyances is part of the job of owning a pet.

Dave is no different than any other human, and it’s one habit I’ve been unable to train him out of. I don’t think he understands that the new cover he puts on the sofa when he leaves is not comfy at all. It buzzes and zaps me, so I just give up trying to get comfortable and sleep on the floor.

Dave seldom puts me in the kennel when he’s gone, the way some humans do. Bonzo, the dachshund from next door, spends all day in his kennel, which his human bought specially for him. Bonzo doesn’t like it but is too polite to complain as it was a gift. And there again, it’s the thought that counts. I’m only asked to sleep in mine when Dave and that woman have a sleep-over.

It took a while, but I have Dave pretty well trained now. He’s loyal, and never forgets to feed me, and he has never once left me alone in the car on a hot day. It’s a good life.

I’m feeling sleepy now, so I’ll just go nap by the front door, and wait for the vandal. He shows up nearly every day just before noon. Today, if he’s careless, maybe I’ll finally draw blood, and he’ll stop throwing trash into our house.


The Dog’s Tale, © Connie J. Jasperson, 2017-2018

This little bit of flash fiction was inspired by the above photo, found on Wikimedia Commons and first appeared here Feb 03, 2017.

Image: Pomeranian, By Chunbin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#FlashFictionFriday: The Dog’s Tale

I used to spend a lot of time in the backyard, howling. What can I say? I was young and impulsive in those days.

However, Dave bought me this new collar, which, while it’s really nice to look at, has an inherent flaw. It becomes terribly uncomfortable when I howl or announce the arrival of that vandal who shoves trash through the slot in our door. He seems to be targeting our house. Since I can no longer yell at him to go away, I nip at his fingers through the slot. But he’s crafty now and doesn’t get close enough for me to do any damage.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m no different than any other girl. I’m quite partial to jewelry, and since Dave is my human, I always show my appreciation for his thoughtfulness, even though he has no idea what sort of collar I’d really like. It’s the thought that counts.

However, I hope he understands that the new cover he puts on the sofa when he leaves is not very comfy at all. It buzzes and zaps me when I step on it, so I have to sleep on the floor. At least he doesn’t put me in the kennel when he’s gone, the way some humans do. Bonzo, the dachshund from next door, spends all day in his kennel. I’m only forced to sleep in mine when Dave and that woman have a sleep-over.

It took a while, but I have Dave trained pretty well now. He’s a considerate man, and never forgets to feed me, and he has never once left me alone in the car on a hot day. It’s a good life.

I’m feeling sleepy now, so I’ll just go nap by the front door, and wait for the vandal. He shows up nearly every day just before noon. Today, if he’s careless, maybe I’ll finally draw blood, and he’ll stop throwing trash into our house.

pomeranian-tb2


The Dog’s Tale, © Connie J. Jasperson, 2017

This little bit of flash fiction was inspired by the above photo, found on Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Pomeranian, By Chunbin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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