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See also: Fan Fiction, flashfic, ficlet, commentfic, drawble, Story Length, 155 words, 221B, Vignette, MastoDrabble
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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.

The word "drabble" has also spawned a number of related terms to represent variations on the 100 words theme, such as double drabble (or double) to refer to a fic of exactly 200 words, and pentadrabble to refer to a fic of exactly 500 words.

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.[1]

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.[1] The form remained popular throughout the decade, and the British science-fiction publisher Beccon Publications 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.[2]

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." [3]

Drabbles in Media Fandom

Media fandom picked up on this in the early to mid-1990s.

Doctor Who fan fiction group alt.drwho.creative was established in 1993, the same year Drabble Who was published, and drabbles were a popular form for most of its active history. The group's annual awards, presented from 1998 to 2005, always included a separate category for "Best Drabble".

A very early media example of drabbles, these by Kate Orman in Data Base v.2.2, a Star Trek: TNG zine. Orman probably introduced the fans in this zine to the form because she was familiar in them in the Doctor Who fandom.

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.

On the Due South adult mailing list, DSX, drabbles and drabble variations were being posted at least as early as July 1997, and probably for months before that.[4]

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.[5]

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.

Because drabbles are so short and accessible, they are often posted on social media platforms. On Tumblr it is common to write drabbles as responses to ask requests or post them in text posts. Often writers collect multiple drabbles and post them as a single work on a fanfiction site, rather than having to upload many short works.

Variations in Word Length

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).

example of a "7x7" from Paula and Steve Go Down the Pub

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.[6]

A similar style, one featuring 155 word stories began in the The X-Files fandom in November 1998. Another one began around 2010 for Sherlock Holmes; it was called 221B.

The Blake's 7 fandom includes "7x7s," stories that are exactly 49 words long. The "7" part of these fanworks references that fandom's title.

At least as early as 2000, there were 55-word challenges in Harry Potter[7] and Farscape fandoms. The dribble, a specific form of 55-word story, was invented by Ismenin with LotR RPF in October 2005[8] and was briefly popular in the related fandoms of LotR FPF and The Faculty[9] and was the theme of a challenge at the hobbit_smut community in November/December 2005.[10]

Drabble Challenges and Communities

A drabblethon is a ficathon composed entirely of drabbles: this can be an enjoyable way of taking part in a ficathon without the usual time commitment.[11]

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, Archived version (WebCite) 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, wk_100), a specific pairing (snarry100, harryron100), a specific character (snape100, draco100, harry100), or a specific genre (movie_100, tv_100, Comicdrabbles).

Drabbles, Drabbles Everywhere was a site with a focus on drabbles.


100 words

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.[12] 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 complained that their increase in popularity was 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.[citation needed] Posting a lot of drabbles to an active community can be viewed by the community as spam. The merlinxarthur community changed its rules[13] after frequent daily drabble posts to "No more than one post a day (i.e. within 24 hours), five posts per week."[14]

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.[15] Some fandoms have awards for drabbles like The Merlin/Arthur Drabble Awards in Merlin fandom.[1] Many prolific writers of drabbles also write longer-form stories.[citation needed]

Fan Commentary

A drabble is like a sonnet. It has rules. The rules make it an art form. It should have exactly 100 words.

This has been around since the old fandoms, of live journal and newsgroups.

Ficlet. Flashfic. Those are short things.

A drabble is 100 words. [16]

I think drabbles are good for me because there is a strict line that says, "This much and no more". I don't have to spend time worrying about whether I should have written more for this scene, or fleshed that out more; I literally can't. More often than not, I need to take things out.

Some writers probably dislike that restriction, but for me, it frees me up to just focus on the story I can tell within the parameters of the form.[17]

Meta/Further Reading

Other Resources


  1. ^ a b http://www.ansible.co.uk/writing/drabbles.html
  2. ^ http://www.meades.org/drabble.html
  3. ^ Jane Carnall's comments at Insane Journal
  4. ^ Saved email dated July 1997, worded to indicate that "drabble" was a familiar concept to the list
  5. ^ I can't find any emails confirming the term, but I distinctly remember "drobble", and that people stopped using it really fast.
  6. ^ femslash100 user profile, The wordcount categories at remixthedrabble.
  7. ^ 55 word challenges from the SmutScape mailing list. Accessed Oct. 28, 2008.
  8. ^ Untitled LiveJournal post by Ismenin, Oct. 18, 2005. A copy is archived here.
  9. ^ HELP, LiveJournal post by Elanor Gardner, Nov. 18, 2005 A copy is archived here.
  10. ^ HOT JEWELS fic listing by Elanor Gardner, Dec. 7, 2005. A copy is archived here.
  11. ^ For example, McTabby's Cat's Birthday Drabblethon Accessed October 2, 2008. A copy is archived here.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Such a beautiful day for a new rule, 18 May 2009. (Accessed 31 March 2010). A copy is archived here.
  14. ^ merlinxarthur Community Profile. (Accessed 31 March 2010)
  15. ^ Meta: Drabbling, 21 March 2008. (Accessed 26 August 2010). A copy is archived via WebCite.
  16. ^ Tumblr post by ussjellyfish, published February 8, 2023 (Accessed April 17, 2023).
  17. ^ Post by enchantedsleeper, fandom.ink. Published March 3, 2023 (Accessed April 17, 2023).
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