Thursday, 26 June 2014

Drabble Rouser

I must admit, I'm a bit old-fashioned when it comes to the evolution of language. I'm not against it, per se, but I've found that most new language that enters the zeitgeist tends to be crap. The one that always comes to mind is "bouncebackability", which is the measure of one's ability to bounce back after going through some kind of difficulty or setback, particularly in sport. The fact of the matter is, we don't need this word, because it's a foolish word, and we already have the word "resilience", which is the same word, only more appropriate and less redundant. Or words like "pansexual", which is the same word as "bisexual" only structured so as to misgender transgendered people & further ignore bisexuality.
The same redundancy and ill-necessity can be observed in many new words, such as with the certification of nonce words; colloquial misspellings and a huge number of portmanteau neologisms (noob, vajazzle, frenemy, etc).
To me these words are little more than a joke, and the punchline is that you all have the vocabulary of a stoat, and if you spent less time trying to make up new words, you'd know that most of our old words suit perfectly fine for the task of communicating your thoughts, notions or intent.
On the other hand, I'm not a Frenchman, so I don't think we should refuse all linguistic change and retain an archaic, stagnant language. Rather, I like it when language evolves. But I prefer it when language grows outward rather than inward. Words like those mentioned above are just an etymological cul-de-sac, we already have words for these meanings, and they just leave language festering in its own ignorance to repeat the definitions of the past.

But when language grows, it gives us meanings that allow us to express concepts we otherwise couldn't. Words like "cisgender", which is relatively new, and now allows transgendered people a way of expressing their difference from the majority, without othering themselves. Also words like "gription", which allows people to distinguish between surface friction and surface traction caused by friction. Or, hell, even "jeggings", which are leggings which have a denim jeans texture printed on them, because leggings which have a denim jeans texture printed on them takes eleven more syllables to say.

Sometimes, language evolves to make it easier for people to express themselves, or allows intellectual headroom for more ideas. And in that sense, today's W.o.t.D. is one of my favourite, new words (or at least, new usages of a word) because it relates directly to my second favourite thing ever--stories. The Word of the Day is: 'DRABBLE'

Drabble /drabəl/ v.t. 1. To wet or dirty, especially by dragging through mud; draggle. ♦v.i. 2. To fish with a long line and rod: To drabble for barbels. ♦n. 3. A fictional story (typically fanfiction) that is exactly one hundred (100) words long. 4. A fictional story only a few hundred words long.

Of course, since I think fishing is about as boring as golf and getting muddy wouldn't make for a good blog post without pictures to illustrate, I'm more concerned with the definitions of drabble as a noun. I like the word for a few reasons, firstly because it's not too pretentious. If I named such a thing, I would use a word like centifiction or hectofable or something else that advertises my knowledge of Greek prefixes and Latin suffixes, but there's no need for such pomposity. Drabbles are meant to be fun, so the word itself is fun with only two syllables, easy to remember and with a meaning that's lots of fun.

One of the best things about a drabble is that if I were talking about feature length films or epic poetry of best-selling novels, then I couldn't just show them off, because it would outlast my self-imposed word limit. But since drabbles are so small, I can actually pop a few into my blog post here to show them off to their full potential.
But first, a little run down. See, a drabble is exactly 100 words, but there are a few more details. For one, although the rules can vary, as I was told them hyphenated words count as a single word, so ticket-seller is one word, as is upside-down and tête-à-tête, to make things a little easier for writers.
Another rule is that the title doesn't count in the 100-word count, but as a consequence it also should be no more than seven words, so that writers don't cheat and put more of the story in the title (although some people are more lenient on this rule).
And the final rule is that it has to be a story, and that is the hardest part. It has to tell someone's story, but only in 100 words. Let me give you an example. Here's one I wrote a little while ago, a funny little drabble I wrote in an online discussion using story prompts. The prompt for this had a picture of a cute, little hamster:
HAMSTER
Alarm bells ringing. Dogs barking, cats screeching. The sound of chaos, echoing hallways. A rodent listened quietly, from his prison. Suddenly a man bursts into the office; runs to the phone and hits speed-dial. The hamster licks his paws and cleans his whiskers as the man paces.
“This is Hartford, it’s an emergency . . . it’s the animals, they’re escaping! Someone broke all the locks! . . . I don’t know, it’s impossi- . . .”
Then he sees the cage. Defiantly, the hamster glares back at him, nose twitching.
I am a hamster, and my name is Justice.
Love it or hate it, that is a complete story. It's comedy and it's a story about a hamster that considers itself a superhero, called Justice. In a mere hundred words, you know the story, even though it's just one scene, because the rest of the story is implied. It's never mentioned that the hamster was the one that actually freed the other animals, but it's implied, and it's that implication which tells the story. I guess you could almost say that drabbles are like ergodic literature in that sense, because the reader is actually writing part of the story by extrapolating key plot elements in their mind to make the story bigger, but maybe I'm reading too much into it.
Sure, drabbles usually aren't a very big story, but it couldn't really be much bigger, I could adapt this drabble into a short story or novella about a heroic hamster, but that wouldn't help it. Brevity is the soul of wit, after all, and this is comedy. Here's another one I wrote, not for a challenge or anything, it's just an idea I had, and so I wrote it and trimmed it down to one hundred words:
WHEN PIGS FLY
It was a curious moment when the research team found the flying pig. For the creature was both perfectly formed for flight, and yet perfect for sausages and bacon. It was astounding.
However, the professor of the group didn't realize the creature was a manifestation of belief, when he foolishly said: “I don't believe it.”
In actual fact he did believe it, due to empirical data, but the flying pig heard him and couldn't believe he could say something like that. This then caused the pig to lose confidence and stop believing in itself, causing it to disappear into non-existence.
I have a habit of writing comedy with my drabbles, but they don't have to be. I'm not a hilarious comedian, but I tend towards comedy because comedy is easier when you're given such a small canvas. Because all you have to do is imply that something is a little unusual and it can be funny. something like:
  "If masturbating in public is so wrong, surely I would have been caught by now."
See, something short and silly and simple. It doesn't take long to be funny. But other genres and other emotions, they often take longer to evoke because you often need tone, atmosphere and language cues to portray them. But they're not impossible.

One of the shortest stories ever told was written as a sad story, and it's only six words in length.
For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.
It's not remembered who wrote it, but from that an entire tale is surmised, one of loss, grief and melancholy distribution of that which memorializes that loss.
But again, the story is all implied. You don't see the story, but we understand it through those six words alone, because our mind takes over where the words left off.
Another instance of a story being told in very few words is an article written by Benjamin "Yahtzee" Croshaw, analyzing the first piece of spoken dialogue in the horror game Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, which consists of only five words:
"Daddy, please, don't kill me"
I'll leave the analysis up to Mr Croshaw, he  covers pretty much everything in his article.
Although, these aren't drabbles, they are instances of flash fiction (stories written in as few words of possible [less than ten]), but all of this is important when it comes to writing stories. Because even if you're writing a novel, you should know the tricks that are employed in this kind of fiction. Because they come in very handy. Often the first line of a story needs to be pregnant with the potential of your entire story, and the first paragraph can be the decider of whether or not your book gets placed back on the shelf, or instead taken to the front counter to be purchased.
If you already know how to write a story in one paragraph, it guarantees that you have the skills to catch a person's interest in your longer forms of story writing. Not to mention, there's no time to sit back and explain your story to people. So, generally, with drabbles you have to adhere to the "Show, Don't Tell" rule, because there's no time to tell, you just have to show it as you go along.

I have a tumblog, and something I would love is if I could get people to send me "questions" that are just drabbles. The "ask" submission page has a 500 character limit, so it can be done (and please feel free, if you want to), but my tumblr isn't that popular, so I figured I'd stick to this blog for a moment.
So, to all you writers out there - or those that like a challenge - I have a challenge for you: Write me a drabble in the comments section.
I know it's hard to write without inspiration, so here's your Story Prompt.
Three Words: Kitchen, Reflection, Murder.
I know that people hate Audience Participation, so I'll make you a deal. First of all, if no one responds with a drabble-comment, that just means that I win (that's how challenges work, right?) so I don't feel like a jackass for getting no responses.
Secondly, I'll give you a couple of tips on how to write a drabble.

Okay, so, what's the trick to a drabble? Well, for one, be aware of your word count. 100 words is actually quite a lot. Most sentences have, on average, ten words in them, so that's about ten sentences if you're writing regular prose. But you can split it in other ways.
Ten sentences is good for one scene. But if I wanted to have two scenes, I'd split it 50/50. Literally, 50 words each scene. It can vary, if you want to do a scene with an introduction thing but want to spend more effort on the second scene, then split it 30/70 or 20/80 if you want to. One time, I wrote a drabble for a contest, and I wanted it to cover five days, so I split the word count by five giving me 20 words to cover each of the five parts of the story - you'll know best what parts of your story need the most words to be written, so use them wisely.
100 words is a lot, so long as you know what you're writing about, just don't waste them.

That's the second thing, know what you're writing about. For instance, there's no time to mess about with character backstory, history of the setting or the details of a magic system - none of that. I mean, unless the story is one of those elements, but even then, this is about separating the wheat from the chaff. You should only keep what you need for the story and drop everything else.
It's a good idea to start in medias res. You needn't, it's not compulsory, but it tends to make it easier. So just keep in mind, what's the core of your story?
Like, for my Flying Pig story, I spent no time describing the setting, because the story isn't about the setting, it's about the pig. In that superhero hamster story, I never explained who Hartford was calling, because it doesn't matter. The story isn't about them.
So, find your core. And remember, some stories are too big for a drabble. If you come up with an idea but you're struggling to fit it into a story, it might be a good idea to abandon that drabble. Or, just do what my Beloved does, write a small part of that story as a drabble, then write it again as a longer story when you're ready.

Thirdly, proofreading is a precise surgery. Do you think that I write stories and they're magically one hundred words? Of course not. I wrote a little scene, and I either cut words out or put more in. But it's more than just writing a scene 117 words long and cutting off the last seventeen. This is why it's important to know what you're writing about, so you can only cut the fat when you slim the story down. Adverbs are a sometimes treat, use them sparingly (tee-hee); don't use two adjectives when one will do, this is where your vocabulary come in handy (e.g. why say morbid and melancholy when you could instead just say lugubrious?) & ask yourself for every sentence "Does this sentence help to tell this story?", if not, remove it.

Anyway, those are my tips. Now for a final send-off, I've written one last drabble. I wanted to write one just for you and also to test myself and see if I could write a drabble that wasn't a comedy. So here's a drabble that's a little bit sad, I hope you enjoy it.
RUNNING LATE
I shoved aside the other commuters as I ran onto the train. I was late for the end-of-financial-year meeting at work. The doors closed behind me, and I turned to see three faces.
The old woman just stared. She would miss her plane, and couldn't afford another ticket. She missed her daughter's wedding.
The young boy was distraught. He got home after sundown, and his father beat him for coming home late.
The man in the suit looked sad. He caught the next train to the hospital. His wife died at ten past five, and he arrived at five-fifteen.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I'm sorry for the delay, but my internet died on me; meanwhile, if you want to try out drabbling for yourself, you could try out writing for Alban Lake, they sometimes hold drabble contests, so you could get the chance to see your writing in print.
Until next time, I'm going to write a few more of these little drabbles, poems and stories, and if they're good enough, I'll share them with you here.

4 comments:

  1. Bone Knife
    Quiet evening. Lacey pondered a cut of steak on the wooden board, and a dull knife. Dinnertime.
    He was home. Brandon opened and closed the same door seven times, then ten. She had tried talking with him, pointing where the wood had splintered. Brandon agreed, only the bang the same door later.
    Lacey sliced the meat, dissecting it. She imagined running the knife through Brandon’s wrist, severing it0
    A sweet, fresh scent. Lacey looked up. Carnations, her favorite, mixed with honeysuckle and lemongrass. He had wrapped them in paper towel.
    “For you.”
    The knife fell. Lacy went to kiss him.

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    Replies
    1. There are some spelling mistakes and stuff, so I can tell this was rushed, but it's still a sweet, little story. Great stuff.

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  2. He watched her old hands in the mirror repeating the usual steps to create their evening meal. Their kitchen was small and had mirrors for the backsplash which really did help create a sense of space. He had always cleaned up, loading or unloading the dishwasher, wiping the counters, and when he remembered sweeping the floor.

    Slowly over the years that had changed. Her dinner preparation had become an act of trembling arthritic fingers. She also fed him, wiping his mouth as she gently held his hand. The pill bottle was open and empty. They would share the same meal.

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    Replies
    1. When I added "murder" as word, I thought that someone might go for mystery, but so far all of these are going for something more dramatic. Thanks for the contribution, this is great writing.

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I would love to read your words.