|See also:||Fan Fiction, flashfic, ficlet, commentfic, drawble, Story Length, 155 words, 221B,|
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Traditionally, a drabble is a piece of fiction that is exactly 100 words long. However, it is not uncommon for people to label any extremely short piece of writing a "drabble". This is known to irritate some readers, while others consider the distinction unimportant.
Origin and Early History
The term itself comes from Monty Python's 1971 Big Red Book, which declared the drabble a word game in which two to four players compete to be the first to write a novel.
Drabbles emerged within British science fiction fandom in the 1980s; the Birmingham University SF society is credited as being the organization that set the length at 100 words. The form remained popular throughout the decade, and the British science-fiction publisher Beccon put out three books of drabbles in aid of charity between 1988-1993. The third book, Drabble Who, had a Doctor Who theme and presumably many of its 100 drabbles could be considered fan fiction.
A fan in 2008 posted: "Hey. I am a British science-fiction fan. Under no circumstances do I use the word "drabble" except in its original, precise, meaning of a "story of exactly 100 words" with a title of up to 15 words, hyphens to-be-argued-about. I'd be banned from Novacon." 
Drabbles in Media Fandom
Media fandom picked up on this in the early to mid-1990s.
In 1994, the Star Trek: TNG zine, Data Base, published four drabbles by Kate Orman, complete with illos by Debbi Neher. They were introduced by this statement: "A 'drabble' is a very short piece of fiction of exactly 100 words."
In mid-1996, in the letterzine Late for Breakfast #29, the editor explained drabbles: "A drabble is a short story comprising exactly 100 words, (excluding the title) and several mainstream books of them have been published." "Late for Breakfast" #29 included several examples: a Lone Ranger/Tonto one, a Sherlock/Watson one, and a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea one.
An example of a Sentinel drabble posted in March 1997: Study.
The main variation was (very briefly) called a "drobble" -- a freeform round-robin where each participant would post 100 words (exactly) to the ongoing story. Each story was eventually collated and posted to the Due South Archive with "DSX list" as the "author". By this point they were just being called "drabbles" again, for convenience's sake.
Due South fans spread drabbles into other fandoms, but despite a couple of determined attempts in Highlander (and possibly in Sentinel), the list-wide round-robin form never really caught on anywhere else, and soon fell out of fashion in Due South as well.
By the early 2000s, drabbles were being written in many large media fandoms. The mainstream press article And now, ladies, just for yourselves... When Harry met Garry, written in 2001, mentions drabbles.
Variations in Word Length
Many fandoms and communities encourage posting of round number variations -- stories in exactly 200 words (sometimes called double drabble, drouble or droubble), 300 words (trabble, tribble or trouble), etc. The multifandom LiveJournal communities femslash100 and remixthedrabble use special symbols to designate various wordcounts on posts.
At least as early as 2000, there were 55-word challenges in Harry Potter and Farscape fandoms. The dribble, a specific form of 55-word story, was invented by Ismenin with LotR RPF in October 2005 and was briefly popular in the related fandoms of LotR FPF and The Faculty and was the theme of a challenge at the hobbit_smut community in November/December 2005.
Drabbles can also be posted in sets of 100s to tell more of a story than can be told in just 100 words. (100x2, 100x3, 100x5, etc).
Drabble Challenges and Communities
Wednesday100, a Smallville community started in March 2003, may have been the first LiveJournal community to offer a weekly prompt challenge that participants answer with 100-word drabbles. The community grew from an entry posted by dammitcarl on Livejournal. A partial list of the many LJ comms dedicated to drabbles is available at the community profile page.
Flashfiction communities and challenges often use 100 as the minimum wordcount for allowed story posts. The Fanfic100 challenge, begun in October 2005, provides a table of 100 prompts which must each be answered with at least 100 words. Many related challenges have followed this model, including drabbles100, in which participants must write 100 stories of exactly 100 words each.
Drabble communities can take on an entire fandom (supernatural100), a specific pairing (snarry100, harryron100), a specific character (snape100, draco100, harry100), or a specific genre (movie_100, tv_100).
Some authors use the term 'drabble' to mean any short story they write that they tossed off, as opposed to stories they were more serious about. These long-format drabbles can be a thousand words or more, depending on author. Fans who believe the word 'drabble' should only apply to stories of exactly 100 words may prefer to call other very short stories ficlets, snippets, or vignettes. Fans who take drabble-writing seriously may resent the suggestion that drabbles are written without much effort or care.
Pros and Cons
Some readers find drabbles and other very short forms to be unsatisfying to read and have complained that their popularity in recent years is related to an increased dependence on instant feedback since the shift from mailing lists to LiveJournal. According to this argument, authors write drabbles so that they can post frequently and receive a lot of comments, and the trend discourages them from writing the epically long fics that were more common in the past. Posting a lot of drabbles to an active community can be viewed by the community as spam. The merlinxarthur community changed its rules after frequent daily drabble posts to "No more than one post a day (i.e. within 24 hours), five posts per week."
Other readers (and writers) enjoy drabbles for their succinctness and brevity. Telling a complete story in only 100 words is a considerable challenge, and some writers enjoy the drabble form because they enjoy rising to that challenge. Some fandoms have awards for drabbles like The Merlin/Arthur Drabble Awards in Merlin fandom. Many prolific writers of drabbles also write longer-form stories.
- When Size Matters: Story Terminology as Determined by Word Count (2004)
- The Art and Soul of Drabbling; Archive by velvetwhip (2008)
- Works tagged Drabble at Archive of Our Own.
- Prillalar's Drabble-matic - To build your own Instant Drabble, just fill in the blanks.
- Jane Carnall's comments at Insane Journal
- Saved email dated July 1997, worded to indicate that "drabble" was a familiar concept to the list
- I can't find any emails confirming the term, but I distinctly remember "drobble", and that people stopped using it really fast.
- femslash100 user profile, The wordcount categories at remixthedrabble.
- 55 word challenges from the SmutScape mailing list. Accessed Oct. 28, 2008.
- Untitled LiveJournal post by Ismenin, Oct. 18, 2005. A copy is archived here.
- HELP, LiveJournal post by Elanor Gardner, Nov. 18, 2005 A copy is archived here.
- HOT JEWELS fic listing by Elanor Gardner, Dec. 7, 2005. A copy is archived here.
- For example, McTabby's Cat's Birthday Drabblethon Accessed October 2, 2008. A copy is archived here.
- For example, see comments to Drabble - Redefnitions on many levels by DragonScholar in Fanthropology, June 1, 2005; A Guide to Terms by Gisho in SavetheDrabble, Oct. 21, 2005 (archived here); and When Size Matters: Story Terminology as Determined by Word Count by Rana Eros in Fanfic Symposium, Dec. 6, 2004.
- Such a beautiful day for a new rule, 18 May 2009. (Accessed 31 March 2010). A copy is archived here.
- merlinxarthur Community Profile. (Accessed 31 March 2010)
- Meta: Drabbling, 21 March 2008. (Accessed 26 August 2010). A copy is archived via WebCite.