The term comes from Monty Python‘s 1971 Big Red Book. In this book, "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.
Forms of writing
In my blog NaNoWriMo: Write a novel in 1 month?, I talked about an American organisation that sponsors Nation Novel Writing Month every November where participants write a 50,000 word novel, 175 pages in just 30 days. The idea is to promote writing and for those of you trying to quickly do the math in your head, that works out to an average of 1,667 words per day.
I found a general breakdown of various forms of writing based on the number of words. While a novel would be considered a major work, there are other substantial works with fewer words. Wikipedia’s article Word Count attempted to define them as:
Novel: over 40,000 words
Novella: 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500 words
Short story: under 7,500 words
Wikipedia goes on to further define genres by saying that a mystery novel may be from 60,000 to 80,000 words while a thriller could be over 100,000. Of course, both these types of works fall under the category of novel listed above as being over 40,000
Short, Shorter and Shortest
Don’t have the patience for the NaNoWriMo challenge? Do you measure your attention span by comparing it to a gnat? That doesn’t seem to be a problem as there are other areas of writing which involve shorter works, sometimes much shorter works at which you can try your hand.
Flash Fiction describes something, as the name suggests, which is very short. The idea may have roots in Aesop’s Fables, the idea of which certainly encapsulates the short, short story well under the thousands of words of the proper short story defined above. Pushing the envelope in this area, are types of flash fiction which lay out rules about a determined number of words. The drabble is a flash fiction of precisely 100 words. A "55 Fiction" or a nanofiction clocks at a 55 words.
Oddly enough, there are even contests for these literary works and I’m sure that anybody reading this would raise the question as I did of the literary merit of such works. While we’re raising possible objections to all this being a form of art, let’s not forget the haiku, the form of Japanese poetry which consists of supposedly just 17 syllables. The conclusion seems to be that brevity is not a lack of artistic merit and that brevity may sometimes be one of the defined objectives of the art in question.
This web site Is Full Of Crap not only has examples, it promotes their creation by having a weekly challenge and promotes their reading through podcasts.
Oddly enough or amusingly enough, the author of this assortment of drabbles also goes off-world by doing live readings of drabbles as an avatar called Crap Marinerin the on-line game called Second Life. He apparently does these readings every Wednesday at 5pm SLT or Second Life Time which turns out to be Pacific Time since Linden Labs, the creators and hosts of SL, reside in San Francisco, California.
Other short stuff: the ficly
This variation of flash fiction, the ficlet was originally a creation on AOL but has since disappeared only to be reincarnated as the "ficly". The official web sitededicated to this literary art form explains that a ficly is something short with an upper limit of no more than 1,024 characters. This amusing connection to programming is that one of the creators of the ficly is a computer programmer and this self-imposed limit is one kilobyte, 1,024. Don’t forget that while kilo designates a thousand, in the computer world structures are based on the powers of 2 and this binary system when multiplied out ends up at 1,024 not a thousand.
5th Annual Short Story Challenge
I refer to the About page from the web site of the organisation NYC Midnight:
The mission of NYC Midnight is to discover a new wave of talented filmmakers and storytellers from around the world and provide them with an outlet for their creativity. Each year, NYC Midnight designs intense competitions to challenge the stamina, determination, and originality of these aspiring filmmakers and writers.
They are sponsoring a short story contest in which writers have 1 week to create an original short story (2,500 words max.) based on a genre and subject assignment. Finalists are chosen to compete for thousands of prizes by writing an original short story in 24 hours. This is an international online competition – anyone may compete from anywhere.
The information page on the contest indicates an entry deadline of February 2, 2011. The 1st round starts on February 4 and ends on February 12 – you have 1 week t write a short story – with the final round starting on April 1 and ending on April 2 – you have 24 hours to write a short story.
Shorter still? Tweet Me a Story
Those people at NYC Midnight are throwing down a gaunt gauntlet with this competition. Yes, that’s right, the objective is to tweet a story in just 144 characters. Like the short story contest, there is a 1st round then a final round. However unlike that competition, you only have 5 hours to tweet; you start at 7pm EST and must finish by 11:59pm EST.
Want to try your hand? Registration ends on January 12, 2011 and the fun begins on Thursday, January 13 at 7pm EST. Participation is international and the top prize is a hundred bucks.
With no set goals, you can blog. You can do this when you want and you can say as much or as little as you want. If you want more structure or a challenge, you can enter a contest. That contest could give you the goal of an entire novel (see my blog NaNoWriMo: Write a novel in 1 month?) or as seen above, you could sign up to tackle something a little less daunting. "Less daunting" would obviously entail something less than a novel like a short story but I’ve discover that there are people doodling in far lesser forms of literary endeavours which are measured not just in a small number of words like flash fiction or the drabble, but the number of characters such as the ficly or even the tweet. Creativity doesn’t have to be measured in size. Brevity can also artistic.
Click HERE to read more from William Belle.
Drabble is the name of a comic strip
Wikipedia: Margaret Drabble
Dame Margaret Drabble Holroyd, DBE (née Drabble; born 5 June 1939), known as Margaret Drabble, is an English novelist, biographer and critic.
A history of the drabble with samples