Author’s Note: This article has been revised from the original, which appears in the second edition of Poet’s Workshop – and Beyond!
What, you may ask, is a drabble, and why would I want to write one?
Our guidelines can be found at Alban Lake Publishing, but here is a brief recap:
Basically, a drabble is a work of fiction, a short-short story much like sudden fiction (and all those other synonyms). The difference, however, is that they are exactly 100 words, no more, no less, while their titles may be 15 words or less (i.e., providing more words to tell the story – 115 total!) Yes, they are a challenge, and it’s been my personal experience that a drabble may often take longer to write than the oxymoronic short story. They are also addictive, highly contagious, and are known to “go viral” (Sorry, there is no vaccine. . .but why would you want one?).
Drabbles can be fun, serious, contemplative, experimental, outrageous, ludicrous, oxymoronic, wry, maddening, bloody, and yes, they can cross genres whenever they wish—and they often do. Horror, science and speculative fiction, fantasy. . .you name it and they can be it!
One of the things I’ve observed from my own writing practice, is that a short story of 2-3,000 words may be “better told” in a drabble. On the proverbial flip side, a drabble has the capacity to encapsulate a much longer work for safe-keeping—even a novel with sequels! Several contributors have told me that they use drabbles in this way.
If you have a stack of poems that are resisting completion, they may be trying to tell you that they’re really drabbles! So, step back, give them (and yourself) some room to explore the infinite array of possibilities.
To illustrate, I’ve included one of my poems, “A Sighting,” to demonstrate how it may morph into a drabble.
Here is the original mirror cinquain of 36 words with a 2-word title:
breaching the clouds
like a starship landing. . .
incandescent rays hovering
waves. . .I pause to watch its descent. . .
there–just beyond the pier–
Here’s the first draft of the drabble it may become. . .It’s a bulky 121 words with a 3-word working title.
Alien Landing Bay
The lights along the Ocean Beach pier aren’t for romantic walks by moonlight. Actually, they’re beacon lights to guide alien ships to their underwater station.
How do I know this?
Because my boyfriend was abducted by one just the other night.
We were walking along the pier, the sun breaching the clouds like a starship landing, incandescent rays hovering above dark blue waves. We paused to watch the sunset, there—just beyond the pier.
And then I heard a sound, delicate, like the alighting of a seagull on silvery sand.
Then whoosh–and he was gone without a splash.
I called 911, but they didn’t believe me, and so here I lean at pier’s end, watching the sky for another sighting.
And here’s the second draft (or maybe it’s the fifth, as I often lose count of revisions even though I save most of them. . .) that comes in at 98 words with a new 8-word title.
My boyfriend was abducted by aliens the other night
How do I know?
Because I was with him.
We were walking along the Ocean Beach Pier just around sunset, where indigo, fuchsia, and gold striations still hovered above the horizon. We held hands, leaned into each other, kissed, as waves of fog swirled around us.
There was a delicate sound, like sea foam dissolving at shore’s edge, and when the fog cleared, my boyfriend was no longer in my arms, wrenched away without so much as a sharp intake of breath.
My boyfriend was abducted by aliens the other night.
I should know, as I was there.
All I need now is two more words, but I’m not sure if I like the tone of the title, and want to have more of a plot. I’m also not sure if I should use the frame (i.e., ending with the title and a response to the question).
Here’s the third (or seventh) draft. . .I’ll probably sit with it for a while before “finishing” it. (Remember the immortal words of my graduate thesis chair, Dr. Shirley Rose: “Writing is never done; we just decide to stop.”)
What Happened at the Pier That Night
My boyfriend and I were walking hand-in-hand along the worn wooden pier, listening to the sound of seagulls screeching, while we oohed-and-ahhed over the exquisite sunset.
We closed our eyes, kissed, unaware of an encroaching fog. We opened our eyes to a lightning flash of emerald green, to red objects hovering.
My boyfriend clambered up to the railing, reached out as if to touch the objects. . .
But just out of the corner of my eye, I swear the waves rose like the petals of a lily to surround him.
And no, I never heard a splash. . .
I hope the above illustration demonstrates how drabbles are genetic mutations encoded with the will to survive AND proliferate! I look forward to reading yours, and don’t forget that I’m open to thematic suggestions for upcoming contests!
And remember to visit Alban Lake Publishing regularly! Just click on the Guidelines menu to be whisked away to trans-galactic adventures! The winners, as well as new contest themes, are posted in the “View from the Lake,” our monthly newsletter.
Disclaimer: Neither Alban Lake Publishing nor the The Great Lake Drabble editor, or The Boortean Embassy and its various interests, sponsors, and/or subsidiaries, are responsible for genetic experiments that breach their containment fields. Please to contact the proper local authorities in the event that this should happen.