The Writing Zone: Stage 7 - Drabbles

The Writing Zone: Stage 7 - Drabbles

Fictional works can take on many different forms and have lengths that are as variable as there are stars in the universe. From Stephen King's "The Stand" clocking in at over 472 thousand words (823 paperback pages!) to Ernest Hemingway's six-word story that was written in response to a ten dollar bet, novels created throughout history have fallen into one of many different categories based on how many words they spanned. Some classifications have been around for centuries, such as the novel, novella, flash fiction and short-short.

There is much that can be said about each of the four terms above, and there are others that I didn't mention - all of which deserve their own, proper posts for explanations. However, we will focus on one of the shortest forms of literary writing styles: The Drabble.

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.
— Ernest Hemingway

Before talking about drabbles, let's quickly discuss flash fiction. If you are one that is short on free time but want to still read a complete story, you cannot go wrong with flash fiction, works of writing that is designed with brevity in mind. Extreme brevity. In summary, flash fiction are stories that are no longer than 1,000 words. As you can imagine, constraining a story to such a small number of words poses significant challenges, as you still need to have a beginning, middle, and end.

This brings us to the drabble, a short form of fiction that is exactly 100 words long (not counting the title) - no more, no less. Are you sweating yet?

Writing a Drabble

How would you go about writing a drabble? The first thing to keep in mind is that your first draft likely won't be 100 words on the dot - it may easily fall just shy under that or fall over the mark, which is okay! Think about the following as you prepare to write:

  • Plot is more about incident. Isolate a moment in time and have that be the focal point for your story. Think about a photo or a painting - craft a drabble based entirely on what is (or isn't) happening there.
  • Begin with a powerful opening sentence. One hundred words is not a lot so you need to have a hook the moment your audience starts to read. Aim to play off that first sentence throughout the drabble with one or more twists.
  • Scrutinize every word used "as if they were on trial for their lives." You have extremely limited space, so every word present must have a reason for existing. On the flip side, you must think about what you would be leaving out as well. Think of a drabble as an iceberg, where everything your audience reads would be above the water, but the underlying message of the story - the thoughts you want to invoke within your readers - all lies underwater and can be vastly larger than what's on the surface.

My First Drabble

This was a concept I learned as part of a larger session during the San Francisco Writers Conference on "short shorts", and it fascinated me, in part because I hadn't considered just how much meat one could have in a story so short. Given the length of my completed first draft at the time, I was flummoxed as to whether or not I could write something so short.

And then the leader of the session, Grant Faulkner, asked everyone present to write a short-short that was no more than 100 words long. In three minutes. 

We had a picture of a painting on display as inspiration, along with the challenge: "Create a universe in 100 words or less."


Once the invisible timer began, I wasn't sure what to do - it felt like there was a spotlight hanging over my head, demanding to know my thoughts. I took the challenge and ran dozens of words through my head to find a plot that could work in under 100 words. "Universe; planets; stars; emptiness; sadness; life; death; explosion; senseless... yes." I had my idea and quickly got to work!

A few minutes later, just as Faulkner called "Time!", I had written my first drabble. A few minutes after that, I elected to read it aloud to the room from my laptop; in short, it was well-received, especially considering that it was one of two science fiction-focused stories read aloud and that it was a first draft (I did manage to make a quick adjustment to a few words in the seconds before time was up). I must say, it felt really good to have created something with such speed and passion! 

You can read my first drabble, titled "Nature's Shrug", here!

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
— Margaret Atwood

Have you written a drabble or a short-short before? Based on the painting above, write a short story no longer than 100 words below!

The Writing Zone: Stage 8 - The "Rejection-Proof" Manuscript

The Writing Zone: Stage 8 - The "Rejection-Proof" Manuscript

Reading While Young... and a Gamer

Reading While Young... and a Gamer