One of the greatest challenges of reporting for KYW Newsradio was the 45 second time limit on our reports. If my recorded piece came out to 55 seconds, I needed to go back to the script and find 10 seconds of copy to cut. I despised the limit, because I felt forced to boil an often complex story down to meaninglessness.
But it taught me how to determine what was absolutely essential in a story, and how to ruthlessly cut the rest. This process, I know, can be applied to fiction. And it was with that mindset that I set out to write my first drabble.
A drabble, I have come to learn, is a story of 100 words. Precisely 100. Not 99, nor 101. I thought perhaps the term was related to the novelist Margaret Drabble, but according to the Wikipedia entry for drabble, its roots lie in Monty Python:
the 100-word format was established by the Birmingham University SF Society, taking a term from Monty Python’s 1971 Big Red Book. In the book, “Drabble” was described as a word game where the first participant to write a novel was the winner. In order to make the game possible in the real world, it was agreed that 100 words would suffice.
The purpose of the drabble is brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space.
So I tried my first drabble. It was a great exercise in paring down, in brevity. The first draft was 176 words, nearly double the limit, and it took about four more drafts to get down to 100. Here is the result. One hundred words!
His supervisors at the Centers for Disease Control said only he — with steady hands, solid nerves, absolute control of reflexes — was capable of the task. He grinned.
The strain that had killed millions had been identified, isolated, reduced. He was to transfer the remaining drops to a vial that would be sealed and locked away, vault within vault.
But the supervisors had not foreseen the wisp of dust that floated under his bio-suit mask and settled into his right nostril at the very moment of the transfer.
That’s the thing about reflexes, he thought as he sneezed. Ultimately, they’re autonomic.
After working for three years on a novel that ended up at more than 100,000 words, telling a story in just 100 words was invigorating. Give it a try.