05 October 2010

Drabbles




A Story told in Two Words
If you have been a regular of this blog, you would know exactly what a drabble is. Wikipedia defines a drabble as "an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length", and goes on to specify that "the purpose of the drabble is brevity, testing the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space."
The term apparently comes from Monty Python's 1971 Big Red Book, where "Drabble" was a word game where the first participant to write a novel wins. In order to make the game possible in the real world, it was agreed that 100 words would suffice to tell a story.
Purists have questioned it. According to them, a story can be called a story only if it has detailed plots, meaningful character development, and an easily identifiable beginning, middle and end. I am no expert on what constitutes or doesn't constitute a story, but take a look at this one-
High school sweethearts, we drifted apart. Corporate lawyers need trophy wives, not gynecologist-wives on call twenty-four hours. Neither noticed when we stopped exchanging X-mas cards. Keeping in touch was tough before e-mail.
You found me on Facebook. I accepted your friend request. We had grown as people, but the old spark was still alive. You wrangled a trip to the Continent, I drove down to Paris. We were lovers again, though never to be re-united.
Your wife is Catholic, she will not let you go. My husband has Alzheimer's, I cannot leave him. Only in Paris can we be Us.




Plot? I can think of dozens of published books where the plot is not very much more complicated than this.
Character sketch
Characters? The drabble may not go into the nuances of the personality of the characters, but there is enough in the sketch for us to fill in the details.
Beginning, Middle and End? Maybe not. The middle ages have merely been indicated, but is that central to the story? Had, for instance, Eric Segal had written the story, over half the book would have been devoted to the lives that the main characters led when they were separated from each other. A literary writer may have written it from the standpoint of the lady dealing with her husband's Alzheimer's. Chick lit would have contrived a happy ending somehow. But, no matter how you choose to deal with the topic, the story told in 100 words, does tell a story.

Or take a look at this one-
I found out all about her. She had grown up in this village. Left in disgrace after being impregnated by an infidel. She returned with her gypsy lover– she flaunted him.
She was everything I hated. I denounced her from the pulpit. Predicted eternal hell for her offspring.
She said love was not a sin, hate was. She remained unrepentant; she continued to attend my church.

She asked for me before she died.
"Father", she confessed. "You are my first-born child."
She died. I have to go on living. How?

People who live in glass houses... should not throw stones.
I had just finished reading Joanne Harris' Chocolat when I wrote this, and everytime I read the drabble, I am taken back to the other book. The details are merely indicated, but any reader can fill them in. It can easily be expanded into an entire novel, without needing to add anything.

A hundred words can never convey as much as a 75,000 word novel, not is it expected to. One is an oil painting, the other is a pencil sketch- the two cannot be compared.


Write EVERYDAY
Why go into all this? Because I do think that writing a drabble is one of the best writing exercises there can be. Any writer will tell you that the key to writing is to write everyday. But there are days when real life catches up with you to such an extent, you just cannot find the time to write. Drabbles are ideal for those days.

You can think about the drabble while your hands are otherwise employed. You can play it out in your mind, to determine what is absolutely essential and what can be taken out. The physical act of writing down the drabble need not take more than 15 minutes. Add another 15 minutes to edit, add, chop, and change to make it 100 words, and you have a drabble. While a self-imposed discipline of 1,000 words a day may take you closer to having the first draft of your manuscript in three months, writing a drabble a day gives you as much writing practice as writing ten times as many words.

Try it. It can be addictive.


And to get you started, do check out some of the drabbles on our home website- the Burrow

14 comments:

Hart Johnson said...

I need to make more of a point of having my drabbles have full stories in them. I tend to do slices of life, but I think you've got a great point that working out PLOTTING in 100 words is a very nice exercise indeed.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

95% of the drabbles we write, Tami, are either slices of life or gentle musings (I know because I ploughed through ALL the drabbles on our database this weekend, before deciding to use two of my own stories). But even doing a slice of life in 100 words is great exercise.

lissa said...

I like the idea of drabbles, I have written a few of them and find them to be easier to digest in terms of reading

drabbles are definitely nice exercise in writing, thanks for the tip

Mary said...

You got me hooked on Drabble. I love reading them and find a great writing exercise. What you complete in half a hour -- well let's just say it takes me a lot longer.
Mary

LTM said...

you are the master, savvy mama! And I love that you've got the kids doing it--what a great idea! love it~ <3

Deb and Barbara said...

Oh, Rayna, I have always love LOVED your drabbles. You ARE a master. The two drabbles you post here are just magnificent. As much as I love the slice of life drabbles (and come here regularly to read them), your story-drabbles here convey just how evocative a story can be in 100 words.

And your words of wisdom are also much appreciated! Deb keeps saying how much she's working at making her points more and more precise. I still struggle with that (or don't struggle so much as don't try! -- I love to talktalktalk)

:) B

gargimehra said...

Never tried one, but thanks to you I am planning to.

Helen Ginger said...

The second one almost made me cry. Wonderful writing.

Pam Torres said...

Drabble, what a great concept. Your examples are great. Thanks!

Dorte H said...

I don´t write drabbles but flash fiction, and it seems that this technique has made me much better at showing what my characters are like and what they feel in a few words. Before I was too wordy, and my readers always told me to cut to the bone. So practicing brevity is certainly useful for any writer.

Julie Musil said...

Rayna, you are a genius when it comes to drabbles. I'm amazed at how much story you pack in to 100 words. Amazing.

Holly Ruggiero said...

I love all your drabbles. I like the post. I have not yet tried drabbles.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Lissa- I really look forward to reading your drabbles. They are great to read and write, aren't they?

@ Mary- Like Picasso famously said, "it didn't take two minutes- it took 25 years". I guess I have been drabbling so long, it has become second nature for me. But I do know that is about as long as it takes most of the people at the Burrow- writing time, I mean, not thinking about it time.

@ Leigh- oh thank you. The difference between the kids and me is that I struggle to cut out the words, and they struggle to put in words

@ Barbara- thank you. They are two of my favourite drabbles- those two and a third which was supposed to be a novel,then became a short story, before finally being written as a drabble.
But drabbles are just a facade- in 'real life' I just fall short of verbal diarrhea.

@ gargimehra- do- they are fun to write.

@ Helen- thank you. It is a poignant tale, isn't it? How I would love to wring the neck of that sanctimonious b******.

@ Pam- thank you. And when you do drabble, do post me a link

@ Dorte- of the two, flash fiction is perhaps the better writing exercise. With drabbles, you can get away with poorly constructed sentences, not so with flash.
But cutting out words is great exercise.

@ Julie- thank you. *blushes*

@ Holly- thank you, and you really should attempt drabbles. Visit our colours feature- maybe that would inspire you to put us right in our interpretation of various colours.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Lissa- I really look forward to reading your drabbles. They are great to read and write, aren't they?

@ Mary- Like Picasso famously said, "it didn't take two minutes- it took 25 years". I guess I have been drabbling so long, it has become second nature for me. But I do know that is about as long as it takes most of the people at the Burrow- writing time, I mean, not thinking about it time.

@ Leigh- oh thank you. The difference between the kids and me is that I struggle to cut out the words, and they struggle to put in words

@ Barbara- thank you. They are two of my favourite drabbles- those two and a third which was supposed to be a novel,then became a short story, before finally being written as a drabble.
But drabbles are just a facade- in 'real life' I just fall short of verbal diarrhea.

@ gargimehra- do- they are fun to write.

@ Helen- thank you. It is a poignant tale, isn't it? How I would love to wring the neck of that sanctimonious b******.

@ Pam- thank you. And when you do drabble, do post me a link

@ Dorte- of the two, flash fiction is perhaps the better writing exercise. With drabbles, you can get away with poorly constructed sentences, not so with flash.
But cutting out words is great exercise.

@ Julie- thank you. *blushes*

@ Holly- thank you, and you really should attempt drabbles. Visit our colours feature- maybe that would inspire you to put us right in our interpretation of various colours.