Winter Solstice

The Longest Night of the Year

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I Shrink Therefore I Am
I write drabbles. Quite a lot of them.

A drabble, just in case you don't know, is a story with 100 words exactly. There's even some controversy over that statement - some people consider a drabble to be just a very short fic - but I belong to the camp that a drabble is 100 words, no more or less. The Info Page for supernatural100, one of the drabble communities used to I hang out at, has several excellent links for topics like story length definitions, what makes a successful drabble, and word counters.

I've written up some tips on something else: getting your story to exactly 100 words, no more, no less. This is not written for a specific fandom, so anyone should be able to use it.

This is dedicated to chelseafrew and her supernatural100 community, in appreciation for the inspiration.

Getting Started
Start with a rough draft. Don't count words as you're writing, just get your basic story on (virtual) paper. Make sure it's a complete story, and you've covered everything you wanted to – your perfect piece of dialog, your clever reveal, or your witty punchline. Now feed your story to a word counter.

Save a copy of your rough draft before you make any changes. Even though you may end up liking your finished work better, this is the story you wanted it to be.

Overall Tactics
The trick to writing a successful drabble is that you'll re-read your work in progress several times. Fortunately it's pretty short, so it doesn't take long. You'll read it, change something, run it through the word counter, read it again, change something else, rinse, lather, repeat.

Every time you make a change, read your story again (or at least the part you changed) to make sure your grammar and sentence structure are sound. You'll want to fix grammatical mistakes as soon as possible; especially those that affect your word count.

Three Possible Results
Every time you feed your story to a word counter, there are three possible results:

1. If you've hit 100 words exactly, congratulations! You're done! (Probably. You're still allowed to tweak your story if you want to, but remember that it will probably affect your word count.)

2. If you've managed to come up with a complete story that's under 100 words, excellent work. That's a fun problem to fix. Consult the section on "Fleshing It Out."

3. Odds are, unless you've already done substantial trimming, you've come in over 100 words. If your word count is completely out of the ballpark; say, over 200 words, look at your story and decide if you can stand to trim half of it away. If you can't, you may want to just call it a failed drabble and publish it as a double drabble (200 words) or a ficlet instead of a drabble. You can try again next time. Otherwise, consult the section on "Trimming It Down."

Trimming It Down
Now comes the pain of having to trim some of your precious words out of your drabble. You may have to trim seven words, or you may have to trim seventy-seven words. I'll start with advice for trimming larger numbers and work my way down to trimming just a few words.

1. Try to keep the number of characters in your drabble to one or two, unless you have a group of people you can refer to collectively ("the children", "the zombies".) You can spend an awful lot of words explaining who's talking or doing jumping jacks or whatever, but if there are only two people, you can usually assume that the dialog or action is switching back and forth between them.

2. The best way to trim down a large number of words is simply to get rid of entire sentences. Read your fic again, only stop at every sentence. Then imagine that sentence is gone. Does the fic still work? If it does, delete that sucker.

3. Look at sections of sentences. If you've said "they passed him on the road, and he swore a blue streak at them as he shook his fist and his face turned tomato red" could you say "they passed him on the road, and boy was he mad"? It all depends on your story – if the mad guy is the point, you should probably leave the description in, but if he's just roadside flavor, it may have to go. If you say “and the shocking thing, believe it or not, was that he wasn’t wearing pants” could you say “and the shocking thing was that he wasn’t wearing pants”?

4. Assume your audience knows the canon characters. A drabble is not the place to introduce them. Don't waste a sentence, or even a word explaining that Angel is a vampire or Clark is from another planet unless that's the entire point of the drabble.

5. Look at your roadside details – even if they're not at the side of the road. Don't have your characters watching the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street" if they could be watching "Halloween" unless, of course, that's the whole point.

6. With conversations, if it's otherwise clear who's talking, consider leaving out some of the "he asked" / "she answered" labels altogether. I'm not talking about dialog-only (although that can be fun too), just don't feel compelled to label every sentence of dialog with the identity of the person doing the talking, especially if it's otherwise obvious that he's asking and she's answering.

7. People don't always talk in complete sentences, so your characters don't need to either. Unfortunately, you may spend more words than you save having characters talk in character. "And then she was like you know." is great flavor but communicates almost nothing. Just like in real life.

8. Read your fic again, only this time look at verb tenses. Do you say "Sam was running"? Could you say "Sam ran" or even "Sam runs"? Verb tenses can affect how dynamic or passive your fic is. Make sure they're consistent throughout the fic.

9. Contractions are your friends. "We are sure that Mary is dead" can be written as "We're sure that Mary's dead" and you save two words. Be sensitive to the fact that some characters don't use contractions; spend the extra words to keep Teal'C in character.

10. Be aware of non-descriptive words and read your fic again with that in mind, looking specifically at the way you've said things. "We're going to go to the store" is seven words. "We're going shopping" is three words, yet they say the same thing. "We're sure that Mary's dead" could just be "We're sure Mary's dead," without losing anything.

Fleshing It Out
So you got lucky on your first draft, or you trimmed a 10-word sentence out of a 104-word fic, and now you have the pleasant task of making your fic longer. This usually isn't hard, but here are a few tips anyhow.

You've already told your story, so look at these extra words as a gift, allowing you to make this little sliver of a world you've created a little more real.

1. Throw in a few adverbs and adjectives. If you have "Dean slumped in the chair" use a word or two to describe the chair. Is it plastic? Badly-upholstered? Uncomfortable? Oversized? Plaid? Highbacked? Is it a rickety wooden chair? Or a comfortably overstuffed chair? Adding a simple word can add vast dimension to what your reader visualizes. But say you don't care about the chair. You could instead describe how Dean slumped. "Dean slumped painfully in the chair" or was it gratefully? Patiently? Or perhaps "Dean finally slumped in the chair." Or you could say that "Dean slumped in the chair, exhausted." You could even describe an action in addition to slumping. Did he slump in the chair, grinning? Bleeding? Snoring? Laughing? Now if you can do that much with a person slumping in a chair, imagine what you can do with what you've just written.

2. Go back to your rough draft, especially if you've made a lot of changes, and check to see if there's anything you liked but cut out that you can now afford to put back in. You did save your rough draft, didn't you?

You've got your 100 words, but you've actually got a few more words to play with. How's that, you ask? Well, your drabble needs a title, doesn't it? And you can probably get away with having a description, too. Now, obviously you can't work the title or the description into the main story, but you can use them to enhance what you've already got. You don't have to have a title or a description if you don't want to, and I've seen plenty of drabbles that don't have them -- this part is optional.

Is your story humorous? Then pick a title that's just as humorous. (Or go with something dead serious, for contrast.) Or foreshadow your dark!fic with a dark title. Titles of books, songs, poems, movies, well-know sayings are fodder for titles. Even better, go with close but not quite, like "A Tale of Two Kitties".

Descriptions are cheating a little, but not really. Your description can be a line from your story, or, like the title, a line from a book, song, poem, movie, a well-known saying … or simply a description of the story. There’s nothing wrong with “The car gets a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.” Just don't write a description that says, "I'm really bad at writing descriptions.”

Remember that your title and description shouldn't be vital to the drabble, but they can enhance it. Like the cherry on top of a sundae.

The End
If you're having problems writing drabbles, either getting them to 100 words or the more creative aspects of drabbling, the best thing you can do is read other drabbles. There are plenty of drabble communities out there (try looking for the number 100 in the LiveJournal community name), and their members have kindly posted lots and lots of examples for you to read. Just like any other fics, be sure to leave a review for the ones you liked.

There's one last thing to do. Go back and read your drabble one last time, and make sure that you like it. It may be exactly 100 words, and grammatically and technically perfect, but if you don't like it, then what was the point? Writing a drabble forces you to weigh the value of each and every word in a way that writing longer fics doesn't. Hopefully, you were able to create a little gem of fanfiction that's something you can be proud of.

If you found this useful, I'd love to hear from you.

Good luck!

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I've been searching the net for Dean/Jo fics, and only discovered drabbles today! And I must say, I love them. And though I'm more off a reader than a writer, I'm definitely going to give it a try with your helpful hints! Now I just need a word counter and I'm off!

I'm so glad you (a) enjoy reading drabbles -- they are fun, aren't they? -- and (b) chose to read and comment on my advise. I'd started to think nobody had read it!

Thanks for your advice - it definitely gave me the courage to try! If you want, you can check out my attempt at my lj.

Aww, thanks for the warm fuzzy. And nice job on the drabbles.

I'm a n00b to this fandom (and to writing fandom stuff in general, really!) and this was really good - lots of good points, well put, and some great ideas!

Will definitely put some of that to good use and you never know, might see my first efforts up soon ;)

Thank you, and good luck!

I couldn't possibly tell you how i ended up here but hurray that i did!

This totally helped me so thank you babe!


I'm glad that you found it useful. Thanks!

I found this really helpful, thanks for posting it! ^_^

I've never really written fandom stuff all that much, and this makes me want to go write a drabble or five. :P

Drabbles are like popcorn -- you can't write just one!

Glad you found this useful, and thanks for letting me know!

Okay, that does help on drabbles. I've been wanting to do them for a while. Now I found the community, but I don't know where to find the challenge, like what's this week's challenge? I'm a bit confused on navigating on supernatural100. Yes, I'm knew to LJ.

I'd be happy to help.

First you go to the community page, here:

Then you look for posts by the community mod, chelseafrew.

She usually posts new challenges every Monday (this will vary from one community to the other.)

This is an example of a challenge post:

Make sure you read and follow the community rules on what they allow and what they don't. The "User Info" page is the best resource for that, which I suspect you've already found, or else you wouldn't be reading this post! In the case of Supernatural100, that's here:

Many communities will expect you to put fics under a cut -- not so much an issue with drabbles, because they're so short, but spoilers and any foul language, romance (some people don't want to read particular ships), sexual situations, and disturbing imagry should all be put under a cut. I put everything I write under a cut, even G-rated 100-word drabbles.

Instructions on cuts can be found in LiveJournal's FAQ here:

You may also want to check out 100_ghosts, a competing Supernatural drabble community.

This is really more than you were asking for -- I have a mental image of you shaking your head at the computer saying "I knew that." I hope it helps, and happy drabbling.

Yay, thanks for the tips! I've been writing fic for about a year now, but I'm pretty new to drabbling and I've become addicted! I'm responding to the challenges every week and looking for different drabble communities so I'm going to check out 100_ghosts! Thanks again!

I'm so glad you found this helpful!

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You're certainly welcome! I'm glad you're finding it useful, and look forward to reading more of your drabbles soon.

Do you know about castle100? Weekly prompts for Castle drabbles, run by hazel_eyes_86, one of our fellow castleland cohorts.

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Those were really quite good! You have a knack for drabbles; keep up the good work!

I completely agree about their addictive quality; I find that once you've gotten yourself into the right mindset (and clearly you have), they just soar.

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