Francine - harvest
I Blame the Dutch mpoetess
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
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.

Page 2 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>


2004-12-11 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

But the meanings of words have always changed over time. To insist that a drabble can only be a story of exactly 100 words, seems to me rather like saying "gay" can only mean a state of happiness.
Generalization is perfectly natural and normal.


2004-12-11 10:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

But when it occurs in language that has to do with language, specifically artforms, it starts to make talking about language a) an occupation to be reserved for linguists and philosophy students b) a pain in the ass.

(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 09:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - chicken_cem, 2004-12-11 11:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 12:36 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 09:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ide_cyan, 2004-12-12 01:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - anatsuno, 2004-12-12 01:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 09:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - chicken_cem, 2004-12-12 10:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 11:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - chicken_cem, 2004-12-12 07:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 07:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - chicken_cem, 2004-12-12 09:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janedavitt, 2004-12-12 06:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 09:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - incasink, 2004-12-14 03:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-14 05:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - incasink, 2004-12-14 11:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-15 05:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - incasink, 2004-12-15 10:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-16 07:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - boniblithe, 2004-12-12 07:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inalasahl, 2004-12-12 08:50 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)


2004-12-15 07:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Sometimes I suspect people have mixed up the concept of 'sonnet' and 'ode' in the less formal, more degenerated use of 'ode.' And even that's supposed to have specific stanza/rhyme-scheme, yes? Though I never actually looked into what the requirements for a formal ode are.

(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-15 05:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-12 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Totally, totally agree. Maybe it's just sour grapes, but I resent people shoving out any old word number and calling it a drabble. When I write one I fight with it, for hours sometimes, to find that elusive word count without sacrificing either language, meaning or story.



2004-12-15 07:54 am (UTC) (Link)

*grumps with you*


2004-12-12 04:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh, thank goodness you said it. **hugs you and makes much of you and buys you various exciting gifts**


2004-12-15 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)

*Anya moment*

Gifts! Sundries! Goods and services!


2004-12-12 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)

I called a two hundred word one a 'double drabble' recently but, actually, yes, that's OK. I sadi 'double'....

I am the kind of weird person who copies other people's drabbles into word, number checks them and writes polite but firm feedback if they're over or under (if they're posted to Open on Sunday, not in their own LJs). You can tell somehow. I've written screeds in praise of them, I've written about 70 of the things...

I love drabbles. I love the pain in the arse that they are. They're 100 words exactly, not counting title. That's what they are, that's all they are.

I don't get why it's even an issue once you've been told what the definition is, though I can quite see why, misused as it is, some people don't realise that the definition isn't, 'a pretty short fic'. When someone's told and carries on raving about it I lose interest or get disproportionately annoyed.

I think I'm trying to say I agree with you and verging on a rant ;-)

(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - janedavitt, 2004-12-12 07:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - zandra_x, 2004-12-12 10:52 am (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-12 06:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Hear, hear! ::applauds::

I have a great deal of respect for those who can write a good 100-word drabble. Although I do not write fiction, I have written haikus and even a tanka, and I know how challenging a set form like that can be, as well as the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when you nail it.

It annoys me that the term "drabble" has expanded to apply to any short fic, but the thing that really pisses me off is the presentation of such a short fic as something the writer just tossed off in a a few minutes, as is. It strikes me as lazy, and it's a bit of an affront to the writers who work hard to make their fic fit the strict 100-word form.


2004-12-15 07:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Haiku have come in for that sort of thing too, actually, though it's more that people have gone for the 5-7-5 letter of the law, and lost the 'nature poem' spirit. I have been guilty of this for humorous purposes myself.


2004-12-12 07:35 am (UTC) (Link)

I am one of the people who was (stress was) using this word incorrectly, completely unaware of its true meaning. Until I read this post, I too believed drabble meant 'anything under 500 words or so'.

I have written two actual drabbles, back when I first started my journal, and I believe I'll still call them that even though I didn't know the true meaning of the word at the time I wrote them, because I worked long and hard at getting each of them to 100 words.

Ironically, when I first saw the word drabble in use--via fandom and Live Journal--and clicked on a few to get a sense of its meaning, I was left with the initial idea that it was a 100 word count story. After seeing the word used so often for short stories up to 500 words or so though, I thought my initial idea of what the word meant had been wrong. Heh.

Now, I'm left with the question of whether to go back to past entries in my journal and edit where I erroneously called ficlets drabbles. Granted, there are only two, but one of them was yesterday, and when I opened my journal page today and saw the title of that post, I cringed. lol

In closing, and the whole point of this reply, thank you very much for pointing this out. :-)


2004-12-15 07:41 am (UTC) (Link)

I don't think the world's going to end or anything, if people don't immediately go back and change every instance of drabble to something else BECAUSE I SAID SO! ;-)

Though, hmm. If I had that much fannish power I wonder what a post on "I WANT A PONY11!!1" might accomplish...


2004-12-12 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)

I shamelessly use "drabble" to suit my needs as they arise, and I'll continue to do so because I like the way the word trips off my keyboard. To me it means something different than the exact meaning. In my head, a drabble is less than a ficlet, and a ficlet is less than a fic. If that's confusing and annoying, well, I'm confused and annoying a lot of the time myself. ;)

::loves you up::


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

A) You get a free pass because you're Circe

B) Hey, at least you say so. It's the folks who say "OMG U ARE OPPRESSING MY FREEDOM OF DEFINITION U H0R I KEEL U!" (nobody who's responded to this post, but for instance some people who've responded to boniblithe and ide_cyan) who drive me bonkers.

(no subject) - circe_tigana, 2004-12-12 09:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - circe_tigana, 2004-12-12 09:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-12 09:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Well, great. Now I'm going to have to be annoyed every time I see someone using "drabble" to mean "short fic." Ta ever so.

*runs to hunt through previous entries and clean up any drabble-related errors*

Also, did anyone else follow the "generalization" link above? Because the following seems to be not only incorrect but also rather offensive, not at all in line with what I've previously learned about the etymology of the word "gay."

The example everyone knows is gay, which originally meant "merry", but because some people are a little too merry came to mean "wanton", and because some people are a little too wanton came to mean "homosexual", which is the sense almost exclusively used now.

Anybody else?


2004-12-12 10:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes, I saw that too, and it annoyed me greatly, for the reasons you list and also because it is a fundamentally flawed analogy.


2004-12-12 10:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!
Writing a drabble often takes me hours, until I managed to squeeze everything I want to say into 100 years. Every time I see someone saying 'it's a bit longer but...' I feel really grumpy, and labelling long fics as drabbles annoyed me, heck, I even found myself using the wrong definition.

Maybe it's because it's so close to the word 'to dabble' that people think it's a throwaway form...


2004-12-15 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)

I'm torn between its resemblence to dabble, and its resemblence to dribble, in terms of what links it in some folk's minds to "short-little-whatever"


2004-12-12 07:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

I am with you one hundred percent. (I also, however, wish the word "ficlet" would just die already. Ugh.)

(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - crickwooder, 2004-12-13 06:15 am (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-13 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

But where did the term drabble originate? I've only heard in fandom and then just was under the impression that it was a extremely short written piece.


2004-12-13 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

There's actually a link up in the main post to a complete description of where the term drabble originated. :D That's where the 'it just is' (which I admit is the 5 year old in me coming out) link goes.

(no subject) - libco, 2004-12-13 07:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-13 07:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - libco, 2004-12-13 07:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)


2004-12-22 07:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Surely there's some allowance for the *quality* of said evolution, though. I'm not suggesting that the first usage of any word is necessarily the best. I *am* suggesting that the generalization of a specific term, when there are already serviceable (and widely-used) words to represent the more general concept, is less than useful to a writing community that uses all of these words in discussion and presentation of works of fiction.

In other words, one can step back and say as a linguist that change is good, yadda yadda, but there's no reason to throw up one's hands as if one is a sociologist visiting a foreign culture that one can only observe and document, and say that it's impossible or not beneficial to try to influence the use of language in one's own daily sphere.

Page 2 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>