Do You Drabble? — Short Fiction Can Hone Your Skills

I tried my first drabble today and can recommend giving it a go

Photo by coincidence on Unsplash

I learnt a new word today — drabble — I promise you it is much better than the last word I learnt, whilst performing in the Vicar of Dibley, which was episiotomy.

If you Google it you’ll probably find it means — to make or become wet and dirty by movement into or through muddy water.

But an alternative meaning is a short story of exactly 100 words.

I heard the word for the first time whilst listening to the Writers, Ink podcast when they were interviewing Jack Bible. He says he uses drabbles as a way of handling his huge number of story ideas. By writing a drabble every idea gets a go.

Sometimes they lead to bigger things. In one case he wrote a novel of over a hundred thousand words consisting entirely of drabbles. He won’t do it again.

Etymology of drabble

I love the origins of words, and so couldn’t resist looking it up. This one apparently came from Monty Python’s Big Red Book which came out in 1971.

Drabble is a game where the first player to write a novel wins.

Obviously you’re not likely to win this by writing War and Peace, and in the 1980s the Birmingham University Science Fiction society set the story length of a drabble at exactly 100 words.

Creative challenges fuel the imagination

Writing a story in exactly 100 words is a challenge. Jack Bible says it has honed his editing skills as he usually starts with many more words and then has to cut them down. It is a skill he can then use with all of his writing.

Although I’ve tried various forms of short story, I’ve never before dabbled in drabbles. The closest I’ve come is for a competition where I tried to write a story in 10 words. I was inspired by one of the shortest stories that is sometimes, though mistakenly, attributed to Hemingway,

For Sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

I wrote my 10 worder about Kasey, our dog that we had to put to sleep,

The wet patch sat forgotten. “It’s her kidneys I’m afraid.”

As a group, very short stories are sometimes called flash fiction or micro fiction which covers any story from 6 words to 1000 words. I wonder if there is a general word for all stories that must have a specific exact length — please let me know in the comments if you know one.

I searched for some online and my favourite was this 8 word micro-saga from Colin Greenland:

‘Aliens disguised as typewriters? I never heard such –’

Famous drabbles

Back to slightly longer fiction, though not by much. At 100 words a drabble is both long enough and short enough to be particularly challenging. It is long enough to have a beginning and middle and an end, but short enough that there isn’t room for any fat.

Some famous writers have drabbled. I particularly liked this one by Neil Gaiman.

So I decided it was time to have a go myself, so here is my first ever drabble:

Christmas Eve, she has a blue plaster on her chin and cries as she runs into my arms.

“What did you do?”

My ex shouts from the car, “Ben told her he doesn’t exist.”

When I go to say goodnight, the door won’t open and she says she wants to show Ben that he does.

I widen the window and wrestle her stocking inside — thank you sultry Melbourne night.

In the morning she is in tears. “He hasn’t been.”

I point to her gifts but she shakes her head.

She walks to her bed, lifts the pillow, reveals a tooth.

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