Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Attack of the Nanodross

Listen up, homies: I hate writing flash fiction. It’s true. I especially HATE penning that most egregious blight on civilisation: the drabble.

Writing an amusing blip of fiction in one hundred words can be a strenuous task. For the writer who thrives on endless tangents, long-winded sentences and paragraphs big enough to house five immigrants, the drabble is my natural archenemy.

So what’s the big deal? It’s only 100 words, after all. Well, in the space of these 100 words, the writer is required to tell a complete story, introduce a fully rounded character and put him through the emotional meat-grinder, be amusing and clever, AND end on an ‘awww’ or ‘ooohh’ climax.

Screw this. The drabble boils down all I despise about airport fiction: the constant reader fellatio. Leaping through hoops to keep the reader grinning like a willing fellatee. Of course we must please the reader, but we should make love to them slowly, not tongue them to climax in one great über-lick.

So, I ask thee: what is wrong with looooooooooooooong sentences that jab the reader repeatedly like a boxer pummelling through the sallow face of his opponent until tears and blood ooze out in gloops of cathartic horror? Must we embrace this obsession with miniaturisation, conciseness and teensy-weensy Twitterpated blah-blah?

What's next? Shrinking novels down to the size of peanuts or stories imprinted on the bodies of centipedes? Isn’t there a danger literature will get so small, we won’t be able to find it?

In Japan, the top ten bestsellers are nano-books – novels delivered in instalments through text messages. Is having a one-second attention span to be applauded? Do these pocket-sized burps of feel-good fiction help disseminate good writing to a wider audience? These are the questions. What are the answers?

I dunno. For now, so long as I have a flash fiction assignment, I will retain my prejudices against the humble drabble until someone enlightens me as to their purpose with a strong argument in the comment box.

While we wait, here is a picture of a nice lady holding a flan.


  1. I've always found that my short stories have their own natural length. Sure I could trim them or expand them but, like the secret ingredient in grannies flan, there always seems to be a perfect amount.
    I like writing drabbles, and that's for me- it's a bit like perfecting a thought concisely for a forum comment.
    I try to come up with ideas where 100 words is the natural, perfect size.
    Is it just me, or do most authors have some of those snippets that don't deserve a longer treatment? Do others feel compelled, they HAVE TO turn them into something more grand?

  2. Derek: Mwahahahahaha!

    Mike: That's an interesting point. It depends how much the author values an idea. I basically treat every idea as being equally valid -- it's pot luck which idea gets more page-time.

    An idea you hold so terribly dear and think is brilliant is not necessarily a great idea. Unless the writing makes it so.

  3. Examples are always useful.

    I wrote, and had published, a drabble where a man hitched a ride on a meteor and surfed the Earth's atmosphere, culminating with the ultimate (and fatal) wipeout.
    I expressed that idea in 100 words.

    Yes, I could have expanded it, explored the technology - including a means to survive the wipeout - had companies commiting espionage to steal other's technology, had rivalries between meteor surfers, and of course add a romance element.
    Wow, a novel already.

    I could have, but none of that lot would have expanded on or added anything useful to the first concept. I'd have been massaging the idea into the existing standard fare of so many other novels.

    Size isn't to do with valuing the idea, it's according to what you want to do with the idea. I just wanted to share it with others.

    Maybe I'm lucky, I have more than enough ideas to write all the short stories and novels I'll ever have time to complete. I don't need to overwork the short, sharp, simple ones.

  4. Addendum:
    The only valid reason I can think of to expand the meteor story would be to use it to explore why some people are willing to risk or actually die for a kick. I'm already exploring that in another project.

  5. Fair enough, but I still think "drabble" sounds like an unpleasant haemarrhoid or a distended kidney stone.

    I remember your drabble. In fact, I have that copy of the Drabbler somewhere on my desk. It was the only thing I got published on the back of Urbis.

  6. 'Drabble' certainly wasn't the word that came out of my mouth when my gall bladder went gangrenous and exploded, I suppose because of a gall stone, which is possibly similar to a kidney stone in some ways.

    Combining dribble with rabble was probably not a good idea for making a name for 100 word efforts.

    I just looked the word up, we can blame it on Monty Python and not Margaret Drabble.

    How about 'concision', if it isn't too much like cirumcission?

  7. I like concision. Nice and technical.

    Where is it referenced in Python? I'm a bit of a Python nut and can't recall it.

  8. Drabble was the name they gave to a a novel writing contest, referred to in their Big Red Book. I found that out on Wiki, I'd not known of it before either.