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.


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.


2004-12-11 09:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

She was new-agey and strange and I think they actually moved her out of the department cause people were complaining. Bitterly.

But really, this still boggles my mind. It was a fine poem, really. There was nothing wrong with it. It just wasn't a sonnet. Why was that a bad thing? Like you say, strawberry shortcake is strawberry shortcake. If you make it with raspberries, it's no longer strawberry shortcake, though it may taste damned good and be very popular.

*holds head*


2004-12-11 09:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Mmmmm. Raspberry shortcake....


2004-12-11 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

See! And now we have a new phrase that describes the new thing...


2004-12-11 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Of course! That's what new names are for! Humans love to name new things, you would think we'd jump at the chance to name a 500 word fic a ficocchino. Oh man, that's cool, and it makes me thirsty.

(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-11 10:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - amand_r, 2004-12-11 10:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mpoetess, 2004-12-11 11:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - amand_r, 2004-12-11 11:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)


2004-12-11 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

But how much can you vary the dessert you make and still have it be "recognisably" strawberry shortcake? If it's made with a yellow cake, or a biscuit - which is more accurately "strawberry shortcake"? And what if one person recognises both as strawberry shortcake, and one recognises only one? Who determines who is right and who is wrong?

I'm not saying that there's no way to say wht is not strawberry shortcake. But it really isn't always easy to define a thing even if it seems obvious. In a drabble, do hyphenated words count as one? Or two? What if none of the sentences are complete, and the result doesn't make any sense? Does the title count towards the 100? If not, why not?

Also, if the majority of the people using the term agree that it means "any short story of less than 500 words" then doesn't that mean the meaning of the term has changed? It's a recognised fact by linguists and other academic sorts that the meaning of words changes over time (i.e., 'awful' used to be full of awe.) At what point does 'we must use the term correctly' give way to 'the meaning of this term has changed'?

But don't mind me. This is just stuff we used to discuss in grad school. My only real point is that there are no clear cut answers. ;-) Which is good for philosophers, sinceu it gives us job security....


2004-12-11 10:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Lol. And normally, I have no problem with this; I like playing with rules and there were quite a few of the not-sonnets she showed us that I had no problem with. But. One word per line. Of 16 (or fourteen, I forget how many is correct) lines. That is not a sonnet. It's not resemblinga sonnet. You can change one thing, or two things, or even three - but all things? Then it's not desert. It's just food.


2004-12-11 11:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

This is actually where my thoughts were trending too--about the sometimes elusive crux of a definition. A sonnet actually has different forms, but I think the basic idea is that they have a certain similar range when it comes to length, and employ changing rhyme schemes to change the focus in the poem (a shift, a turn, a metaphorical comparison). With a drabble, the key really is length, isn't it? It's not as if it's: "drabble (n): A short piece that hinges on a nature-based metaphor" or something like that.

So that's one good argument for keeping the definition rigid; on the other hand, the idea of a 500-word piece as a drabble doesn't seem too odd...but then maybe that's just because there aren't some other good words yet. We do have word-count ranges for novels, novellas, short stories, etc. Maybe, on the third hand, more logical drabble variations would be, like, how you break up the paragraphs--like, one variation could be "100 words, in three paragraphs, and there must be a dramatic turn in the third paragraph." That could be neat....

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(no subject) - entrenous88, 2004-12-12 06:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - entrenous88, 2004-12-12 06:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
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2004-12-11 09:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

I had... I think it was my sophomore year English teacher, call a poem of mine a sonnet, and while at the time I sort of got what she was saying, and was flattered by her implication that I'd got to the heart of the point/feel of a sonnet, it just... it was in blank verse, man! Er, woman.


2004-12-12 06:13 am (UTC) (Link)

No! Millay is my dead girlfriend!

All right, all right -- we can share. **sniffles**


2004-12-11 11:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

*wanders in from friendsfriends*

I find myself willing to believe that not all sonnets have to have perfect iambic pentameter and Petrarchan or Shakespearean rhyme patterns, but when it comes to sixteen lines instead of fourteen, something is very wrong.

Also, ladycat777, what year did you take that class? I don't remember that "sonnet", so it couldn't have been spring of 1999. The Brandeis writing track... oh, the memories!


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

I think it was fall of 98 or 99. I can't even remember her name, that class was so horrible. . .

And it may've been 14. I can never remember if it's 14 or 16 lines, so that's my goof, not hers.


2004-12-12 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Fall? Definitely a different class than the one I had, then, and probably a different prof than I was thinking of.

I have no idea who you are, but we've probably met, and your interests look interesting. May I friend?

Obligatory return to subject: I find it fascinating that people do want to redefine sonnets and drabbles. I wonder what the purpose of a non-sonnet sonnet is, really?