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

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.)

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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.

zortified

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....

ladycat777

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.

eliade

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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entrenous88

2004-12-12 06:09 am (UTC) (Link)

I'm happy to read a story that's 500 words long that wants itself considered in the drabble form if there are five separate scenes that are 100-words each. I've written and read stories like that, and it's an interesting challenge to relate the narrative in a sequence of related drabbles. But whittling down to 500 words as a whole piece, with no breaks, no rules other than adding one more word to 499 words just doesn't seem so challenging or interesting to me.

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entrenous88

2004-12-12 06:48 am (UTC) (Link)

I've had drabbles where I had to rewrite every single sentence multiple times, but it's so satisfying to finally have the story you wanted to tell, have it read well, and have it come out to exactly 100.

Right on. That's what I love about the 100-word drabble form. There's no way to take it on without some type of revision and re-thinking. I love the idea of rewriting multiple times while attempting to work within the expectations of form. Such a great, rewarding writing exercise.

On that note, it's always very exciting to see people drabbling over a period of time and watch their writing become sharper and more vivid as composing fiction within the parameters of the form inevitably improves their work. And hey, it's doubly exciting when I can see things like that happening in my own work.

Damn, that program sounds annoying. No Microsoft Word on your comp.? I guess the only solution is to write without HTML tags and then put them in at the end, but I completely understand that that coding becomes almost second-nature for those of us who post fic online.