Drabble Writing … It’s Harder than You Might Think!
by Arlene Duane Hemingway
If you are like I was years ago, you had never heard the word Drabble. “What is it?” we asked, foreheads and eyebrows crinkled like discarded wrapping paper at a child’s birthday party. Our writing instructor responded: “It is a complete story in 100 words—no more, no less.”
I was intrigued and came to discover after some research that this form of writing— developed in Great Britain in the 1980s —was inspired by a word game suggested in Monty Python’s Big Red Book. Today, the drabble is just one form in the microfiction genre, which also includes 50-word stories (dribbles), 750-word stories (sudden fiction) and others, loved by so many for the fun and challenge they pose.
Upon receiving the assignment, I remember saying to myself, “It’s only 100 words; this should be easy!” After a week of crossing out and restarting, and ceaseless deliberations about this seemingly “simple”100-word story, I knew a big creative change was underway.
This small assignment resulted in a huge disruption in my pattern, but more than this, I was hooked! As a full-time music teacher, journaling had always helped me focus on life, goals, and the realization that things are what they are until they aren’t. It was and still is my way of keeping my cup half-full through all the ups and downs. But creating these ever-so-short stories, as opposed to the longer ones I had been laboring over, opened up an entirely new world to me. Suddenly, each blank canvas before me was reserved for exactly one-hundred words, which to this day leaves me inspired.
As soon as my focus shifted to drabbling, subjects began presenting themselves. I would hear something on the radio or a snippet of dialogue from passersby or fellow diners, see something beautiful, or disturbing, while out on an errand, or read something in the newspaper. I got into the habit of jotting topics, names, titles, and any other insights that came to me during these encounters in a notebook. To this day, I date the pages and file them in folders.
Then comes the writing; how do I choose what to write? When a particular theme keeps coming to mind or continues to wake me in the middle of night, I know my subconscious mind is at work, and the drabble is preparing to be born. In this case, I retrieve and read the related notes and—combining them with any new ideas—begin freely putting the story down on paper. At this stage, I allow the story to just fall out of me and spend no time editing.
When wanting to write and nothing in particular calls, I empty the contents of the folders and rifle through them until something jumps out at me. As I sit quietly with the notes, something always comes. I’ve learned to trust this. All of my first drafts are written by hand; it seems that my heart and mind are more in alignment this way, and the message of the story is more easily coaxed into existence. I mention this because stories often have minds of their own—characters change names, circumstances shift, and sometimes the ending is completely different from what I first envisioned. All of this becomes more obvious to me in the slower, more tactile experience of drawing a lead pencil over what is essentially wood fiber.
It is only when I feel complete with this stage that I move on. Completing a first draft can take a day. Other times it takes several days, or even up to a couple of weeks. I let it have the time that it needs.
After completing the first draft, the story is typed into the computer. This is where the real work begins. I revisit the story again—word by word—considering facts (if necessary), language, names, tense, duplications, nuance, word-count, punctuation, and more, and only work on one story at a time. After a number of rewrites, to authenticate the content, I ask myself if the story is ready for scrutiny by the Asheville Writer’s Group to which I belong. There, it undergoes further examination, and I always leave with homework! (Members always have suggestions for edits as well as new topics to explore!)
After years of drabbling, I realize that crafting them is like so many things in life—some things are easier than others, many things delight, and most things are unpredictable. All of this makes writing them so much fun for me, in part, because I am never bored! And then there is the other aspect, where I wonder what I could accomplish in 100 words. Could these stories change someone’s life? Ignite a new passion? Many say yes. My foray into these powerful little morsels of prose has expanded my world beyond what I could have imagined—and now may even do the same to yours. Then there will be two of us who won’t be the same without them!
My Personal Drabble Recipe
- Paper (recycled is fine) or legal pads
- A small notebook, kept with you at all times
- Pens/Pencils (I prefer No. 2 lead)
- Plastic Folders (letter (8.5” x 11”) or legal (8.5” x 14”))
- A computer
- A writer’s group, or someone to critique your writing
Try Your Hand … and Inspire Others!
Now that I’ve babbled on about drabbles, my hope is that you’ll be anxious to try creating one of your own. I’ve recently formulated the Inspirational Drabble Challenge in response to the challenges of these recent times. I’m collecting inspirational, encouraging, and upbeat 100-word drabbles to post on Facebook and my website , lift us during this time and beyond. Click here for more information and to download your free list of 10 Drabble-Writing Tips!
The first five drabbles that I receive will be professionally edited—free of charge—and after acceptance posted on my website with your name and geographical location. Meanwhile, if you would like to join my free online support group for drabble writers, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s in your pen to share?
ARLENE DUANE HEMINGWAY is an accomplished musician with a degree from Julliard. She is a retired public school piano and vocal music teacher who then went into the healing arts and has now published her first book. When asked about a relationship to Ernest Hemingway, her reply is often, “I’m the other Hemingway; the one without the six-toed cats.” Her book, A Twist of Lemon, 100 curious stories in exactly 100 words” is available on Amazon and booksellers everywhere.