by Jessica Nelson
I imagine your first thought upon seeing this post title is Awesome internal rhyme! I imagine your second is What the heck is a drabble?
Allow me to introduce you to the shortest form of short stories. A drabble is a story that is exactly 100 words. No more, no less.
“Why would I ever want to write a drabbble?”
Funny you should ask that. Here’s why:
Drabbles force you to write your story succinctly. There can be no extra fluff. Every word must advance your story. Every word must be carefully chosen to describe as much as possible by saying as little as possible, because you only have 100 words to play around with. That’s it.
Short stories, by nature, tend to be character driven. As the shortest category of short story, drabbles demand that you get down to the nitty-gritty of your character. You have to find out what makes your character tick and convey that to the reader in less space than most scholarship essays.
Since this is a short story, our friend Rhonda Browning White reminds us to keep these things in mind:
- One consciousness (point of view)
- One central action
- One major change in the life of the character
- A single emotional impact
- A single understanding
- Focus on one specific moment in time and/or place
- Start at the flashpoint—the instant when something is different
- Focus on one simple plot line
- Focus on one main character
- Focus on one internal conflict and one external conflict
Drabbles are the ultimate test for a writer. It’s easy to tell a full story in 1000, 5000, or 80,000 words. You have all the time in the world to move your characters around and reveal who they are. To do all that in 100 words tests your very nature as a writer. As writers, we tend to be wordy and long-winded, waxing poetic about the sunset at the beach or the less-than-pleasant fragrance of our character’s son’s gym bag after a week in his locker. (If that last sentence had been part of my drabble, I would have used up a third of my available space.)
The best way to start a drabble is to begin as you would any other short story. Just start writing. Word vomit all over the page, and get everything out. Once that is done, we can get to the hard part.
Here’s my example:
Kara clutched the gun in her sweaty palm, her trembling finger resting on the trigger. Part of her worried that the gun would accidently go off. A larger part of her just didn’t care anymore. That part of her played words on loop like a broken record, over and over again.
I’m sorry, Mrs. Peters, but the insurance won’t pay any more. Unless you can find the money to keep up the payments on your own, we have to send him home.
Her jaw clenched as she saw her son in her mind’s eye. He was lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by beeping machines and tubes that tangled all around him. His hair was gone, and his face was gaunt, but still he smiled at her, his big blue eyes shining with warmth and love.
It’ll be okay, Momma. It will.
An errant tear ran down Kara’s cheek. She sniffled, then lifted her chin and deliberately pulled back the hammer. “Put the money in the bag,” she said. “Now.”
Not bad, if I do say so myself. There’s not an exceptional amount of plot going on here. It’s almost like a snapshot from a longer story, but that’s okay. You can still infer what the big picture is from this brief excerpt. Now, here’s the thing: that version is 170 words long. Not a drabble—yet.
Let’s try again.
Palms sweaty, Kara clutched the gun
in her sweaty palm, her trembling finger resting on the trigger. Part of her worried that about the gun would accidentally go off accidentally firing. A larger Part of her just didn’t care anymore. That part of her played words on loop like a broken record, over and over again.
Words echoed through her mind. I’m sorry,
Mrs. Peters, but the insurance won’t pay anymore. Unless you can find the money to keep up the payments on your own pay yourself, we have to send him home he can’t stay here.
He smiled. It’ll be okay, Momma. It will.
This is what you’ll see if you use Microsoft Word’s Tracking Feature. It’ll keep track of your edits, and for our purposes, allows you to see just how much I had to take out and all the things that were rephrased. By keeping myself to a firm 100-word limit, I had to think outside the box to get my point across.
Let’s take a look at it without all the marks. Here’s the final product:
Palms sweaty, Kara clutched the gun, her trembling finger on the trigger. Part of her worried about the gun accidentally firing. Part of her didn’t care.
Words echoed through her mind. I’m sorry, but the insurance won’t pay anymore. Unless you can find the money to pay yourself, he can’t stay here.
Jaw clenching, she envisioned her son. Head bald and cheeks gaunt, he lay in a hospital bed surrounded by beeping machines and tubes.
He smiled. It’ll be okay, Momma. It will.
She sniffled, lifted her chin, and deliberately cocked the gun. “Put the money in the bag. Now.”
Eureka! 100 words. Is it super frilly? No. But does it tell enough of the story that you understand what is happening? Yes.
Perhaps that Great American Novel you’re working on needs some bells and whistles. Truth be told, it probably does. But much like cars, if your story has an exorbitant amount of them, your reader will get frustrated. Use drabbles as an exercise in brevity and succinctness. It will greatly improve your writing and please your reader—and your editor!
Now, I challenge you to try it. Write your own drabble, and leave it in the comments here for a chance to win a 1000-word free edit! This contest will run until Saturday, July 12, at 12:00am Eastern Time. May the best drabble win!
And for more information about how to use the Microsoft Tracking Feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a How-To manual.