Do you have advice on how to write good drabbles?
THIS IS THE ASK OF MY LIFE. I could spout a million quotes at you, show you examples of great drabbles I’ve read both in fanfiction and outside of it, but there are a few things I’ve learned since starting my 100 drabble writing journey earlier this year that could help:
GIVE YOURSELF A WORD LIMIT
I try to keep myself above 300 and below 1,000 words for a drabble. If it wants to climb above that, then it wants to be a short story or ficlet and should be posted on its own. Sometimes I break this barrier by 100 words or so, and other times the drabbles HAVE demanded more form me (see Chaos (Sirimione) and Never Tamed (Draco x Charlie) as two prime examples). This will keep your mind on the end goal, to keep the little prompt as just a drabble.
THINK OF IT AS A SCENE IN A TV SHOW OR MOVIE
You don’t have to give the audience ALL of the details here. Is it important to know what color the walls are? How long her dress is and who designed it, or the color of her lips? Not always. Some things are better left to the imagination, for the reader to fill in, which makes the drabble all the more appealing.
When you take a single scene out of a movie, it is expected you won’t know all the facts of the plot. Build on what we can infer. (actually this is also my advice for novellas and novels as well, don’t kill me with the way the drapes make you feel, unless it is IMPORTANT, as explained below.)
Let’s use this scene for an example: I suspect most of us recognize this as Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swan in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Savvy?
I apologize I couldn’t resist.
What we have here is a scene in the near middle of the movie. Take it out and it is STILL A GOOD SCENE even though we don’t see any of the character development before or after. Here, we have a drunk pirate, with an accent that tells us what his life before may have been like growing up in the bowels of a ship, where hers is all high society and well-bred manners. Tell me about his tattoos, how his skin is tanned compared to Elizabeth’s showing his life at sea. Talk to me about her hair, unbound and waving in the wind, and her prancing around in her underwear (yes that is her underwear) to explain how she’s still from good breeding but right now none of that good breeding has really prepared her for getting marooned on an island with a drunk scallywag so she’s going on instinct. They talk about life, they sing a well-known song, we get a little information on their history, and a
LOT OF ANGSTlot of interaction between the two characters. There is still a definitive beginning, middle and end, and if I really tried, I could probably write out what happened here in less than 1,000 words. And it would still make sense.
PICK WHICH QUESTIONS YOU WANT TO LEAVE THE AUDIENCE TO ANSWER
Again - is it important to the plot? Yes?? Good! ADD IT. If not, leave it be. Understand what questions you want the reader to ask themselves, and here are some examples to get you going:
- What era? (Regency, Medievil, Victorian, Future, Present, etc.)
- Is this an alternative universe where magic exists? If so, how does that work? Wands? Is everyone magic?
- What kind of building are they in?
- Is it day or night?
- What does the air smell like?
- What are they wearing? (IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE: sometimes explaining each detail of an outfit is important. Sometimes we just need to know if they are wearing pants, or goggles. One item of clothing is usually enough to build a whole picture - short skirt, high heels, leather pants, wallet with a chain, button down shirt, baggy sweater, ripped jeans, pajama pants, slippers, cargo shorts…)
- Are they blind? Hearing impaired or totally deaf? (You would be amazed at how long you can go in a story without revealing these things, and they can be a GREAT plot twist, same as revealing gender or age.)
- How old are they?
- How long have they known each other?
- Do they get along or is this a relationship of convenience?
- What ethnicity are they?
- What country is this?
- What religion do they practice, if at all?
- How would they react to a gunman entering the building they’re in? A late train? Seeing an ex from ten years ago? The snack machine not taking their money, it keeps spitting out their wrinkled bill, so they can’t get that candy bar?
- Has this happened to them before?
- What is their favorite food?
- Do they come from money? Do they come from humble beginnings?
- Did they grow up an only child or one of a dozen?
- Are they street or book smart?
- What are their fatal flaws?
- Which of the seven deadly sins works most accurately to describe them?
- How do they feel about murder?
There are so. Many. Questions. You can ask yourself these with EVERY story, but understanding what is important to tell the story you’re telling RIGHT NOW, is vital.
LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE
I cannot stress this enough. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH.
THIS WILL MAKE PEOPLE COME BACK TO READ MORE OF YOUR STORIES LIKE LITTLE ADDICTS.
This may sound harsh, but really, do you go back and read a book again because you understood everything the first time you read it? No? It works the same for a 750 word drabble someone posted on the internet. You go back to answer those questions, to interact with the author however you can, to revisit the characters and fall into what is comfortable about them or what about them makes you question your own personality or life.
Anon, I truly hope this helps, and if you have any more questions, feel free to ask.