Practicing the art of writing microfiction: The drabble

Microfiction has gained notable popularity among early 21st-century writers. This trend might be attributed to the shortened attention spans of modern readers who multitask on smartphones and tablets. Alternatively, it could be that microfiction presents a compelling challenge for writers to hone their skills in crafting concise narratives.

Personally, I relish the art of writing concise compositions. Crafting polished prose within a strict limit of 336 words is a joy, but I also find pleasure in creating even more concise pieces, such as fifty-word mini-sagas and one-hundred-word drabbles.

For those unfamiliar, a drabble is a vignette precisely one hundred words long. The term was coined by the whimsical minds behind Monty Python’s Flying Circus. As described in Monty Python’s Big Red Book (1971), it originated as a word game for 2–4 players where the first to write a novel would win. Given the absurdity of completing a novel in such a short span, the drabble was conceived as a miniature novel to make the game feasible in real-time.

In the realm of drabbles, the author is permitted up to fifteen additional words for the title and their name.

I add my twist to the drabble by pairing it with an image, creating a rich tapestry of visual and textual storytelling. For example, here is a piece inspired by a Chagall painting:


By Richard La Rosa

I rush into my SoHo apartment, glancing briefly at the clutter of masterpieces bathed in murky light, before fixing my gaze on the Chagall on the bricked-up window.

Stolen for my art-forger brother a hundred years ago it was created, like all the other paintings, with an extraordinary oil paint made by a Hungarian witch.

A witch whose genetic imprint is stamped in my own art-thief eyes.

Focusing my eyes on the painting, actually my escape hatch, I reach into Chagall’s 1913 Paris to take my brother’s hand.

The past becomes present just before the future unbecomes.


Richard La Rosa is an American writer.

You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

M Train

Patti Smith has conversations with inanimate objects.

She has a daily routine of going to Café ‘Ino—a regular spot in her Greenwich Village neighborhood—where she sits at the same table and orders a proletariat breakfast of brown toast, a small dish of olive oil, and black coffee. Smith writes of this after waking from dreams of a laconic cowpoke—an imaginary muse I picture in the likeness of her long-time friend, Sam Shepard—who tells her it’s not so easy to write about nothing.

Sam Sheppard and Patti Smith

Smith is a poetic tour guide in New York City, stopping to chat with a bust of Nicola Tesla that loiters like a lone sentinel outside the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. She’s having trouble writing, off balance, moving back and forth from lethargy to agitation. Tesla, a statuary catalyst that coaxes rumination into words, tells her she’s “misplaced joy and without joy we are as dead.”

The café in New York is home base but she’s not always bound there. Her memories take her to French Guiana and the ruins of the Saint-Laurent prison—which she photographs with a Polaroid camera—and to Hermann Hesse’s house in Montagnola, Switzerland, and wherever else she wishes.

Patti in the border town of Saint-Laurent du Maroni in French Guiana

Her rambling memoir contains Polaroid photographs she’s taken over the years during her travels: Snapshots of Frida Kahlo’s crutches leaning against a wall in Casa Azul; the Arcade Bar in Detroit, Michigan; an incense burner resting atop the gravestone of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa in Japan. And always there are stories that go along with the photographs.

One of my favorite tales tells of a time she is sent on a clandestine midnight mission to Reykjavík to meet with the elusive Grand Master of chess, Bobby Fischer—who greets her with paranoid conspiracy rants that morph into a duet of singing Buddy Holly songs.

M Train is just the sort of book I like to savor slowly…while dipping biscotti in coffee and taking periodic breaks to delve into my own journal in my own favorite café.

Patti’s table at Café ‘Ino


Richard La Rosa is an American writer currently staying at the Hôtel Rembrandt in Paris where he’s writing about diving bells and butterflies. His next destination is the Père-Lachaise cemetery, where he’s delivering flowers for Jean-Dominique.

You can connect with 336 Journal on Facebook and follow the author on Twitter and Instagram.

Martians Unprepared For Trump Mars Mission

When American President Donald Trump announced his ambitious plans for a Mars mission during his first term, my instincts as a journalist led me straight to the source—though this source was orbiting Earth in a spaceship. The Martian ambassador, a wiry figure with an otherworldly aura, answered my Skype call, looking both annoyed and flustered.

“We weren’t expecting you people to visit Mars for at least fifteen years,” they snapped, annoyance crackling through the connection like static. “We’re not ready.”

Beside the ambassador, stood a pilot and an anthropologist, both with expressions that could only be described as galactic exasperation.

“We can’t yet protect ourselves from your viruses,” the anthropologist chimed in, her voice carrying the weight of countless microbial concerns. “And we’re just learning about the effects of Martian viruses and microorganisms on human physiology.”

The pilot, apparently not one to miss a chance for a sarcastic jab, leaned forward. “We also haven’t received the funding your leader promised for the construction of his 200-storey luxury hotel in our capital city,” he said with a smirk.

“He’s joking,” the anthropologist cut in, rolling their eyes. “Earth people are presently much too xenophobic for a successful first contact. Also, we build our cities underground.”

The word “xenophobia” hung in the air and I couldn’t help but recall the many films that have showcased humanity’s fear of aliens and the unknown. In District 9, for instance, aliens are segregated and mistreated, a grim reflection of human prejudices. And then there is Arrival, a recent movie that shows the paranoia and mistrust that greet visitors from another world, echoing real-world anxieties. Even the classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial underscores how quickly fear can turn to hostility.

Curious about their intel, I ask the Martians if they had monitored the conversation Trump had with astronaut Peggy Whitson earlier this year while she was aboard the International Space Station.

“Actually, we heard about Trump’s plan while listening to NPR over the radio,” the ambassador replied. “My crew prepared a skit for the folks back home. Do you want to see it?”

I nodded, unable to resist the promise of extraterrestrial satire. The pilot’s skin began to ripple and shift, turning a familiar shade of orange as he morphed into a perfect doppelgänger of the current American president.

“Tell me, when are we gonna go to Mars?” he demanded, his parody an uncanny mix of Alec Baldwin’s Saturday Night Live impression and the real deal.

The anthropologist, now resembling Dr. Whitson, sighed dramatically. “You already approved a timeline for the mission to safely launch in 2033.”

“Well, we want to try and do it during my first term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

“But, what about the construction of your golf course on the sun?” she retorted.

“We’ll be doing that at night so nobody gets burned,” the pilot shot back, his face a study in deadpan seriousness.

As the two Martians shifted back to their natural forms, they high-sixed each other, laughter echoing through the ship. Their comedic timing was impeccable, in contrast to the absurd reality unfolding back on Earth.

Yet, beneath the humor, the real challenges and expenses of mounting a mission to Mars loomed large. NASA estimates that a manned mission to Mars would cost upwards of $100 billion. The technical hurdles are equally daunting: ensuring safe passage through deep space, developing habitats that can protect astronauts from cosmic radiation, and finding ways to produce food, water, and oxygen on the barren Martian landscape. Not to mention the psychological toll of a years-long mission in the claustrophobic confines of a spaceship.

The ambassador’s concerns weren’t just bureaucratic griping; they were grounded in the harsh realities of interplanetary exploration. Every step forward requires meticulous planning, technological innovation, and international cooperation—a far cry from the slapdash, spur-of-the-moment decisions that seem to characterize much of modern politics.

As our call ended, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this Martian skit, as humorous as it was, captured a deeper truth about humanity’s place in the cosmos.

We may dream of the stars, but we still have a lot of growing up to do before we’re ready to reach them.

Charlie Chaplin Crashes My Interview With Pola Negri

I’m at the café with Pola Negri, the femme fatale from the Kingdom of Poland who appeared in German films such as Die Augen der Mumie (1918) and Mad Love (1921) before she made her first Hollywood film in 1922. Charlie Chaplin joins us at the table.

“I met Charlie at the Palais Heinroth,” Pola tells me.

I know the place well as it’s the swankiest hot spot in Berlin. Pola says that Charlie entered unrecognized, conspicuously underdressed among all the swells in evening dress.

Charlie remembers it like this:

“I was guided by the Palais Heinroth manager to a table located at the most obscure part of the room and I’m surprised by a slap on the back and a voice calling out my name.”

It’s Al Kaufman of the Lansky Corporation.

“Come over to our table,” says the manager of the Famous Players studio in Berlin. “Pola Negri wants to meet you.”

Negri laughs at the memory.

“A little man with a sad sensitive face fought his way up to our table. Were it not for his odd appearance, so dapper and so pathetic. He had such a strange physiognomy, with tiny feet and an enormous head that made him seem top-heavy. The only physically attractive thing about him were his hands, which were never without a cigarette.”

“Pola was so beautiful,” Charlie remembers. “Beautiful jet-black hair, white, even teeth and wonderful coloring. She was the centre of attraction.”

The silent screen star blushes.

“What a voice she has,” he says, traveling back in time to the moment. “Her mouth speaks so prettily the German language. Her voice has a soft, mellow quality, with charming inflections. Offered a drink, she clinks my glass and offers her only English words, ‘Jazz boy, Charlie.’”

On Christmas Eve of 1922, Charlie gave Pola a large diamond that he intended to set within an engagement ring. However, in March, he announced to the papers he was too poor to marry her and she ended their engagement.

Stan Laurel Crashes My Interview With Charlie Chaplin

I’m in a pub with Charlie Chaplin and he’s regaling me with one version of his history. He says he was born into poverty amid the squalor of South London on 16 April 1889—the same year that the Moulin Rouge opened in Paris. Charlie’s birth took place in a gypsy caravan as it was traveling through Birmingham. His mother, Hannah, would never tell Charlie who his father was or if she even knew.

The funny thing about this interview is that Chaplin’s lips are moving but no sound is coming out. Of course, he’s a silent movie star, I should have expected a dumb show. Fortunately, there are subtitles in my mind.

Chaplin started as a music hall performer among comics and mimes and magicians and mesmerists, performing before booze soaked audiences that watched the acts through a haze of tobacco smoke. At eighteen, he joined Fred Karno’s burlesque of mimes and acrobats. Karno, a theater impresario and comedian, was known as the father of the custard-pie-in-the-face gag—and Charlie was still with Fred Karno’s Army in the autumn of 1910 when the touring company left Southampton aboard the SS Cairnrona and crossed the Atlantic bound for Canada.

Not surprisingly, a piano crashes through the ceiling above and crushes our table, depositing an unkempt Stan Laurel at our feet. I’m reminded of Slim Pickens riding an atomic bomb at the end of Doctor Strangelove.

Stan dusts the ceiling plaster from his suit and says, “I was Charlie’s understudy and room-mate for the tour. When we reached the shores of Quebec, we were all on the deck of the [converted cattle boat], sitting, watching the land in the mist.”

Suddenly, Charlie ran to the railing, took off his hat, waved it and shouted:

“America, I am coming to conquer you! Every man, woman and child shall have my name on their lips—Charles Spencer Chaplin!”

“We all booed him affectionately and he bowed to us very formally and sat down again.”