It’s probably fair to say that my natural instinct is to write long stories. I might start with good intentions of keeping it to a story of four or five thousand words, but next time I look it’s into five figures.
Some years ago, though, I disciplined myself to start writing flash stories — that is, stories of less than a thousand words. Once I was focused on that, it turned out to be surprisingly straightforward. All a matter of paring down the story to the single sequence of events that forms its heart, rather than trying to expand into all its corners. I’ve now had a dozen of them published, besides several more just over the limit.
But that’s not the limit of cutting down length. Recently, I’ve started writing drabble. A growing market, these are stories of exactly a hundred words each — short even by the standards of flash.
This arose out of a couple of challenges on Fantasy Writers.org, to write and submit drabbles to two separate anthologies — with the result that both are packed with FWO members.
The first is a horror anthology about funfairs (carnivals in American) called Festival of Fear.. I don’t write a great deal of horror (even though my first published story was in that genre), but I channelled my phobias (often the best way to write horror) and produced Serpent’s Maw, a brief tale of a gruesome ride.
The second anthology, Rise and Fall, is about the beginnings and endings of civilisations. I submitted three pieces to this and was gratified that all three were accepted. The City at the End of the World is a SF fable of the decay of everything in the universe; Foundation of Empire (yes, the title was a deliberate nod at Asimov) describes the foundation of a new world eerily echoing the origins of Rome; while The God of Time is a poetic vignette of the entire history of a civilisation encapsulated in its god’s eyes.
Both are available on Amazon, as Kindles and physical books, and are packed with stories that shouldn’t challenge anyone’s attention span.
And perhaps that’s ultimately what’s behind the prevalence of both flash and drabble today. It doesn’t take long to read them. You can fit a complete story (or several complete drabbles) into a short bus or train ride, or into a work break.
And drabbles aren’t even the shortest form. Microfiction is a story that can fit into a tweet — and there’s always Hemingway’s challenge that you can write a valid story in six words. One off the top of my head: “She was his everything. He’s lost.”
I certainly haven’t been “cured” of writing longer stories. There are plots that need scope and space and a grand scale, whether their natural length turns out to be short story, novella or novel. But writing flashes, drabbles or even shorter can be a great discipline, forcing me to identify and understand the stripped-down heart of the story and to make every word count — a worthwhile exercise even for writing novels.
And there are plenty of drabble markets out there, so maybe I’ll be trying my hand at a few more this year. Watch this space.