First, some prologue. While ordinary readers commonly think in terms of pages, publishers, editors, and writers typically talk in terms of words. Magazine editors and the like pay by the word. You may know that Charles Dickens was famously loquacious because his novels were originally serialized, and thus he got paid more to spout off gibberish like “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (I mean, seriously, dude, it couldn’t have been both.)
The short reason for this is that you can more or less make any amount of words fit various page lengths. Sure, if I put one or two words per page, it would look preposterous, but for the most part there’s a lot of wiggle room. Imagine if I was getting paid by the page. Then I (or my editor, or whoever) just double-spaced the document, suddenly I’d be getting paid twice as much. Or if I changed the margins, or increased the font, and so on and so on.
So it’s easiest for professionals to talk in terms of words. Now, the various lengths of fictitious works are generally also determined by word length, which also has a lot to do with pay and the market and so forth. Long story short, if I try to submit a 40,000 word short story to GQ, it’s probably going to take up their entire magazine, even if they make the font like 6.
So, without getting into the nitty gritty, and knowing that there are exceptions to every rule, and age differences, and so on and so forth, caveat emptor, here’s a good rule of thumb for word lengths:
more than 50,000 words – novel
20,000 – 50,000 words – novella
2,000 – 20,000 words – short story
less than 2000 words - microfiction
Microfiction (again with certain caveats and the like) is a fairly modern phenomenon, and is generally considered a pretty hot commodity. I could pontificate on this matter – it probably has something to do with the rise of Twitter and the decline of attention spans – but I don’t really know anything about it for sure, so I won’t wade too deeply into that pool.
Anyway, microfiction is all the rage, and, like trying to cram as much data as possible into a 140 character tweet, some people revel in the challenge of cramming as much story as possible into the smallest space possible. You may have enjoyed some of the recent two sentence horror stories that have been floating around FB and the like, for instance.
Which leads us to our word of the day. A drabble is a somewhat unusual piece of microfiction in that it consists of exactly 100 words. As hard as it is to get a story under a certain word count, it is increasingly difficult to get it to meet an exact, hard limit.
For instance, with the word “limit” I just hit my 500 word minimum for this blog post, but I still have more to say. If I were writing a drabble I’d have to go back and cut, or maybe even change one word to two, or two words to one, and so on, to hit that exact 100 mark.
|Such a creepy cover. Too bad it's out of print. Sigh...|
A drabble was actually my first published work. “Clockwork Offal,” a rather nasty little piece of work that finally exorcised one of my worst demons, was featured in the sadly out-of-print ANOTHER 100 HORRORS anthology. If any reviewers are interested in reading my drabble (along with 99 others from some great authors) let me know and I may still be able to hook you up with a review copy. Ordinary readers, sadly, shall have to suffer, unless I can work out a deal I’ve been trying to put together with the owner of the now-shuttered Cruentus Libri Press.
Oh, incidentally, I would be remiss in not mentioning that our good friend Jake Bible writes a drabble every Friday. In fact, one of his novels was written entirely in the form of drabbles. Fascinating, fascinating stuff and you should definitely check it out.