NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog from August 5th, 2016
I don’t usually write gratis (out of principle this is one of my jobs) and I don’t usually write fast enough for commission, but I made an exception this week. I saw an open call for ‘drabbles,’ which are little hundred-word stories. Collections of them are surprisingly common, this particular one had a Hallowe’en theme. So I gave it a try. It seemed like a challenge. It took nine seconds to write and another eleven to edit. My home internet connection is a little slow so it took about fifteen seconds to send the submission by email.
I like the little story that I came up with, but I am not fond of the form. When laid out in textbooks the drabble looks as weird and arbitrary as the sonnet. But it isn’t — because the sonnet is not a set of arbitrary rules — poetic forms are made for the ear (and that mid-century America Literary critics couldn’t hear shows no problem with the sonnet, or any other form, but a problem with tin-eared critics).
Waltzes have value because when we hear them we have a background in waltzes, we know the dance.
The same is true with poetic forms. The cultural baggage is an aspect of the aesthetics and the meaning. Whoever is experiencing the art provides part of the meaning by knowing other things in the form. No one (or no one In-the-Know at least) has to count the beats to know the waltz, and no one has to count the lines to know the sonnet. They are just part of the world we live in.
The drabble, however, is just an arbitrary bit, it doesn’t have any distinction resulting from rhythm or repetition. So a reader wouldn’t know what it is without counting the words, and there isn’t any reason why a story with 100 words would differ in anyway from a story with 102.
Art has to have restraint, but the restraint has to have meaning for the both the one who experiences and the one who creates. Which is to say you ought to know that you are reading a drabble, while you read the drabble, but there is nothing inherent in the drabble that would let you know this.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on the drabble. I like what I wrote. I have read some by others that I liked. Maybe the discipline of word-counting is good practice. And, if one is reading a book of drabbles, one is likely to acquire a drabblish sensibility. The form does have a meaning in the context of an anthology, if not on its own.
And, reservations aside, I do look forward to seeing the other pieces by the other contributors, when the book is published. And when it is I’ll post a link so that you may judge for yourself.