Francine - harvest
I Blame the Dutch mpoetess
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A dribble, a drabble -- below, please find babble...

A drabble is 100 words. It just is. If it's 300 words long, or 500 words long, or 98 words long, the term you're looking for is "short story" or perhaps "ficlet" or "flashfic" but it is not "drabble." It's exactly like saying, "Well, I like the sound of the word 'sonnet' and it sort of seems like it should mean 'Any poem in iambic pentameter that rhymes,' so I'm going to use it that way."

People who say "Er, no, that's not a sonnet; it's a very nice poem, but it fails as a sonnet because it has too many lines," aren't being tightasses, they're just making a statement that what's been written here doesn't fall under the rules of that specific literary form. Nobody's saying it has to comply with a specific literary form, but if you don't want to be limited to the rules that have been established for that form, all you have to do is not call it that (or in the linked case, admit that it was an honest screwup). It's a problem that solves itself.

I think what bugs me about the way 'drabble' is being used recently in fandom to mean 'any really short story' or at best 'any short story of a pre-assigned round number of words' is that when done well, the 100-word drabble is a lot like a very carefully-crafted poem. I haven't regularly written poetry for years, but it was my first love and it's still the art-form I have the most formal study in, so I love drabbles that recapture that feeling (whether I wrote them or am reading them) of crafting and shaping where every. single. word. and its placement counts at a very intense level. Use of 'drabble' to mean any old short fic bothers me because I sense that the meaning-shift has come because the word sounds like "some little thing that dribbled out of my pen," and that association then attaches itself to the 100-word ones as well, that people have worked hard on to make meet the requirements of the form.

(And I'm not saying people didn't work hard on the 120-word stories and the 500-word stories; I'm just saying that they didn't specifically work hard to make a story that says something touching or clever and says it in exactly 100 words, no more, no less.)


Edit: But then there's people who don't know the original meaning of 'drabble' because they've only seen it used in fandom, by someone else who learned it from someone else who... etc. I'm not bitching at them (or even really at the people who know the literary meaning and have tried to adapt it to different word counts) -- I'm just sort of bitching into the wind that this is what happens when word-meanings become more and more inclusive, moving from the specific to the general. We lose, as julia_here pointed out, meaning, in our quest for inclusiveness.

I like words.

My cat's breath smells like catfood.

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2004-12-11 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Tangential wank:

In my undergrad creative writing class, my 'professor' told us about sonnets. She did so by writing a sixteen line poem that consisted of one word each. When I raised my hand and said no, that's not a sonnet, though it is a good poem (have we noticed the trend of never shutting up, even when I really should?), she grew very angry with me. It's the idea of a sonnet, she said. The rules don't matter. It just feels like one.

That's when I decided never to take another creative writing class at Brandeis, as she headed the department. Dear god, the stupidity. I just ... gah.

That said, I use drabble wrong all the time. Meep :)

*makes note to change 'drabble' to 'ficlet' from now on*

P.S. How the hell can a sonnet not, you know, follow the rules of a sonnet? I don't understand this! Six years later and I still don't.


2004-12-11 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: your prefossor. It is people like this that make me totally disassociate with the educational system. I wish they would all take a header off the Ivory Tower. I'd write a sonnet about that.

I'm a rules oriented person, and so I think that when one creates something that is a formula, that formula should be used to create the thing with the formula's name; strawberry shortcake should be what we all recognize as strawberry shortcake, and not goulash or something. A drabble is 100 words, and if you write something that is short, even if it's in the spirit of the drabble, and it's not 100 words, then you call it something else. Gah.

(no subject) - ladycat777, 2004-12-11 09:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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2004-12-11 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)


2004-12-11 11:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't think I'm quite brave enough to actually go on a quest to reclaim the word, myself! It took pre-mixed alcoholic beverages before I got ambitious enough to even rant about it in my own space.


2004-12-11 09:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

There's also that nifty aha! rush when you manage to get your thoughts across in exactly 100 words.

Unless yor name is Humpty Dumpty in which case sonnet and drabble can mean whatever you want.


2004-12-11 11:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Exactly, to both points. Yes, language shift exists, but thre'sa difference between language shifting over time, and language shifting while you watch, to no discernable benefit, since there's already words to cover "short fic" but no word to cover "100 word story" except drabble.


2004-12-11 09:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, oops!

I thought a "drabble" was a very short story written in increments of 100 words since that's how it gets used so often.

I'm going to be using the phrase "drabble or ficlet" a lot more in my near future, I can tell!

Unless it's a novel.

Very quickly written.


2004-12-11 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

ETA time: the community info for slashthedrabble has been changed to note the difference. We'll be making a note of that in all future community challenges too.

(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-11 10:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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2004-12-11 09:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Polite applause.

Prolonged, polite applause.

Julia, holding the line on meaning whenever possible


2004-12-11 11:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

I like meaning. I like playing with meaning, too. Just get driven nuts by meaning shifting with no particular positive reason behind it, from the specific to the general.

(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-11 11:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-11 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

Amen, sister! Hear, hear!

The drabble as a meaningful catagory of fic is threatened by letting the 100-words rule slide. I mean, a story in 98 words is just... a really, really short story. A story in 100 words exactly is a story you had to put a lot more thought into, I think. It's a wonderful exercise for learning to streamline your prose.


2004-12-11 10:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

That's why i love them, definitely. It lets you teach yourself a certain kind of editing, and word-flow.

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2004-12-11 10:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Shh! Not so loud! The philosophy majors might hear you! ;-)


2004-12-11 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

*covers you in chocolate and licks it off slowly*

*makes sure Carole is either out of the country or in the room applying said chocolate*

*licks you more*


2004-12-11 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

*does not tell your wife*

*therefore you do not need to scroll down the page to see me not telling your wife*

*these are not the chocolates you are looking for*


2004-12-11 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

You have beautifully elucidated something that has been bothering me pretty much since I discovered that people were calling various short pieces drabbles.

In my mind, the whole point, the whole beauty of the drabble is the trimming down, the precision and economy of language.

I am less bothered by the faux!drabbles that are still a precise number of words...but still kind of bothered.

I wonder why people feel compelled to overuse the word. Is it just that the word drabble is funny? Ficlet is a funny word, why isn’t it good enough? *feels sad for the poor maligned ficlet*

[fyi, because I am a huge dork avoiding writing a paper brilliant and funny, this reply is precisely 100 words, not including this little note]


2004-12-11 09:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

[fyi, because I am a huge dork avoiding writing a paper brilliant and funny, this reply is precisely 100 words, not including this little note]

Mwhahaaha! *loves on you* I should make a note in the main post that all further replies must be exactly 100 words, no more, no less.

I wonder why people feel compelled to overuse the word. Is it just that the word drabble is funny?

My instinct is maybe more that it doesn't seem threatening? It's such a small-sounding word that it seems much easier to write than a 'story' or 'fic.' Yet like Grace said, because it is a *specific* name, it feels like that small non-threatening thing still has legitimacy in the eyes of Laura Mars fandom.

Ficlet is a funny word, why isn’t it good enough? *feels sad for the poor maligned ficlet*

Actually, the whole big usage of 'flashfic' for fics of around or exactly 1000 words (that's mutated in the last year or so too, so I don't know how it was originally defined in fandom) came about because people were saying that 'ficlet' seemed wrong and dismissive of short stories, as if because they were short, they weren't complete. Cue a round of people playing with the idea of what a flashfic might be, and then the very first ficathon (at least by that name), as far as I know, grew out of that.

(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-11 09:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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2004-12-11 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

I think that people have a bias against short fic, but that drabbles are seen as more acceptable, thus they want that perceieved legitimacy that the label of drabble brings to their fic. Honestly I do. I can't think of any other reason why people would continue to mislabel their fics when they know the correct term.

That's one of my thoughts on it too. That, or just a sort of stubbornness that in a way I can understand, of not wanting to let go of a name once they *thought* they had a word for what they were writing. (as in "I like calling it a drabble! It's a neat word! Stop harshing my mellow, man!")

To me, a 200 word fic where the author set that 200 words as a goal for themselves and edited it to be just perfect is more in the spirit of a drabble than a 100 word fic where the author just wrote a random 100 words without putting any thought into it. But still, neither is a true drabble.

And maybe we do need a word for "story of fixed length" that incorporates all sorts of different lengths. That could help with the problem somewhat, if anybody could agree on whatthat word or phrase should be.

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2004-12-11 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

The sonnet rules were something that I was aware of.

I had no idea that a drabble meant precisely 100 word. I must have been absent that day.

So there you are. It might not be that people are playing with the net down as much as is that they don't know that there needs to be a net.


2004-12-11 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yeah, I get that (see edit to post) -- the usage of the word is spreading faster than the meaning of the word, at times. Both through Chinese Telephone where each person makes a little change and 10 people later it's mutated into something completely different, and through the simpler issue of being absent that day --

by which I mean, if I post a 100 word story that's a slash PWP and call it a drabble, but don't say it's a drabble because it's a 100 word story, you could look at my story and go "Oh, cool, a very short story is a drabble" or "oh cool, a quickie PWP is a drabble" etc. Because words get picked up from context, and sometimes there's not enough context to convey what aspect of the story made it a drabble.

(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-11 09:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-11 10:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-11 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, thank you. Thank you.


2004-12-11 09:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hey, I hate to keep bugging you.. but did you ever get the quilt wallhanging I sent? Do I need to be worried that customs snagged it?

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2004-12-11 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Can I lick you and feed you some strawberries? OH MY GOD. You have said what I have been itching to say for months now.

When I started writing fanfic, I started with drabbles. 100 words, no more, no less. I wrote at least a dozen such drabbles, spaced out over months, and months, carefully thought out, not tossed off like a dribble. I did this because the first fanfic community I ran across after joing LJ was sunday100 (now called open_on_sunday), a slashy BtVS drabble community. The very NAME of the community has the '100' in it, so I took the definition to be exactly that.

Then, a few months ago I saw a zillion people on my friends list referring to three hundred-word things they had written as 'drabbles'. three hundred, five hundred, even, god, a thousand. I was very depressed about it, because it made all the work I did on the one hundred word ones seem wasted.

Thank you for speaking out against the dilution of an admirable form of writing.

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2004-12-11 09:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

My cat's breath smells like cat food.

Well, yes. Ours have cat food breath from time to time as well. The only bad time is when they exit the litter box, do a quick pit stop at the food dish, and then jump up on your lap and purr and shove their urine-smelling asses toward your face. The cat food breath gets you when they purr, and when they do the 180 in preparation for lying on your lap, the litter box smell gets you, too. WHAM. "Hi mommy, pet me, pet me!" Purrrr. Ew. But so cute.


2004-12-11 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Heeee! That was meant to be my best Ralph Wiggum impersonation, to indicate that I am at times a very simpleminded child -- but all my cats' breath does smell like catfood. Also yes, and eww, to the catbox+face combination.

Fred in particular likes to reverse this by racing down the basement stairs when one goes to the bathroom (which is a basementy-type bathroom with a hanging-track door that a cat can walk right under) and trying to jump on one's lap at a most inopportune moment.

(no subject) - chicken_cem, 2004-12-11 10:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-11 10:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

I did know that a drabble was exactly 100 words. That's precisely why I've never written one. I've always been more of a babbler than a drabbler. :P However, I didn't know the drabble-y history from your link so ta for the info. :)

Also, someone should spank the prof that bent the sonnet. Just on principle. I thought that was the sort of thing that the students were supposed to try and then do an, "uh, gee, but it's still a poem, right?" (Why, yes, I did attend complete some courses at a community college *mumble* years ago! How could you tell? *blink*)


2004-12-11 10:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

I didn't know all the drabble-y history either -- I knew it had more or less defined as a form, but not when, how, or by whom, until I went searching for backup tonight. :)

Yeah, the sonnet thing gets me, half funny, half annoyed. The idea is you teach people the formal forms first and get them to at least attempt them, and then let 'em improvise. But when they've played around and improvised, you don't call it by the name of the formal form. Maybe "Variations on a theme"

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