February 13, 2012

Short. Not necessarily sweet.

I've always believed writing is a muscle. You don't use it and it gets stiff and weak. But there are days, in between projects, or when you wake up blue and futless, when exercising that muscle is every bit as daunting as training for a marathon.

That's where the drabble comes in for me.

Writing prompts aren't new -- Figment is providing them right now, and you can find lists all over the internet. Some are open-ended, some are specific, some are one word, some are ideas. You can make whatever you want of them -- unless you're writing a drabble, which comes with a few rules.

Usually, I'm all for breaking the rules when it comes to writing. But the point of a drabble, as originally conceived, is to write something self-contained in just a hundred words.

It's harder than you'd think, but it's also way more fun. When you only have a hundred words to play with, you have to think about each one very carefully.

A group of friends and I like to do, with one of us providing a prompt. Here's a drabble I wrote for the prompt "light":

You thought love would be a weight. Something that would fill you up inside, bleeding into every empty space, filling in the cracks life had made as it broke off pieces of you every day. Love would be a kind of security blanket for the soul, you thought. 
That was before. Before you met him, before he held you, before you fell asleep with the bony heat of his knee pressed into your thigh. Love wasn’t heavy at all. Love made you light, a balloon floating above the streets, but always tethered by his hand, holding tight to the string.

It's vague, it's a little insubstantial, it's not really a story. Which is okay! But you can also write something very close to a story in a hundred words. Here's one I wrote for the prompt "crack":

Mum always said her hearing was brilliant to make up for her shabby sight. An arm’s length away and everything went blurry, but she didn’t need to see far to do the mending and the ironing and get Miss Olivia dressed for the day. 
She didn’t need to see to know what the young master was up to with Margaret, either. He always left the door open a crack, and if she slid to the floor beside it and closed her eyes, she could hear every grunt, every giggle, every smack of flesh. Cheap thrill or not, she’d take it. 

Sort of skeevy, right? But you get (I hope) a picture of a servant in a grand estate, at the turn of the century, finding her fun where she can, even if it's a little icky.

Either of those prompts could have been taken a dozen different ways. And with only a hundred words to bring the prompt to life, I had to choose each word for sound, for meaning, and for rhythm.

Which is ... what we should all be doing with every scene we write. Easier said than done, I know, but a drabble is a perfect place to practice.

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