TT: Drabbling in Feghoots

The Thursday Tangents Collection

JANE: Today I’m happy to announce the return of my long-time collaborator, Alan Robson.  As we promised, we said we’d resume writing Thursday Tangents as soon as we had something we wanted to Tangent about…

Alan, I’ve lost track.  How long did we write the Thursday Tangents?  How many Tangents were there before we ran out of things to babble about?

ALAN: We wrote 356 tangents over a period of six years. Goodness me!

I collected some of them in a free ebook.

JANE: Wow!  I’d forgotten we’d been so chatty.

One of the things we talked about was your plans when you retired.  One of these was finally having time to write.  From our various e-mail chats, I know you have kept your promise to yourself, even if you haven’t quite yet written the Great New Zealand Novel.

In fact, it was one of your stories that made me decide we needed to Tangent once more.  When you sent me a “drabble,” I admit, I had no idea what to expect.

What is a drabble?

ALAN: A drabble is a short story of exactly 100 words, not including the title. Hyphenated-words-are-argued-about.

 A drabble is not 99 words, and it’s not 101 words, it must be exactly 100 words. It turns out to be surprisingly hard to cram an entire story into that number of words. It requires an awful lot of self-discipline together with very careful word choice and sentence structure, so it makes a really good writing exercise. There’s a very strong sense of accomplishment when you finally get it to work.

JANE: Why is it called a drabble?

ALAN: The form derives from a Monty Python sketch and it is named for the English novelist Margaret Drabble, though I doubt if she knows that her name has been borrowed for that purpose. It’s also a real word, believe it or not. It means to make something wet and dirty by dragging it through mud.

And it’s worth 10 points in Scrabble.

JANE: When you sent me your most recent drabble, I was quite taken with it.  Would you like to share?

ALAN: I’d be happy to. But before I do, I’d like to go off on a tangent, if I may, and explain that in British English, the word “Ass” simply means a silly person. It has none of the ruder connotations that it does in American English. So bearing that in mind, here’s a drabble about…

An Ass on an Asteroid

The asteroid called Ceremony was an amorphous lump of rock that tumbled end over end in its orbit.  I wasn’t looking forward to landing my spaceship on it, particularly with untold billions of people glued to their television sets watching my every move.

Delicately I manipulated the thrusters to match my orbit with Ceremony. When I was satisfied, I cautiously lowered the ship to a perfect landing. I switched the engines off, opened the hatch and stepped down onto the dusty surface. Then I announced triumphantly to the waiting billions, “I am the very first person to stand on Ceremony!”

JANE: Tah-dah!

What I love about this story is that it is more than a punchline for a joke (although it certainly qualifies as a joke as well).  It has a main character, a plot arc, even a dramatic climax.

Did you find it hard to squeeze all of this into so few words?

ALAN: Writing the story wasn’t that hard in itself. I’m getting reasonably proficient at creating a proper story structure and, in this case at least, the punchline dictated how the story had to work. The first draft came out at about 150 words and took something like thirty minutes to write. Then the hard work began. I had to trim and cut and re-write and juggle so as to edit it down to the required word count. That took about four hours.

JANE: Given the pun at the end, your drabble can also be considered to be a feghoot. Two birds with one stone!

Feghoots are humorous short stories that resolve with a pun.  Unlike a drabble, they don’t need to be only 100 words, so they can sneak up on you.

I learned about feghoots from my buddy, David Weber, who loves them.  One memorable night a few months after Roger’s death when I couldn’t sleep, Weber set out to break my dark mood. To do this, he told me dozens of feghoots, one after another.  It worked.

ALAN: Ferdinand Feghoot was the hero of goodness knows how many stories written by the anagrammatical Grendel Briarton who, under his real name of Reginald Bretnor, was a respected science fiction author and critic. The name of the form derives from the name of the hero of course, and the only rule is that the story must end with a terrible pun.

Feghoots were published intermittently in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction starting in the 1950s. They soon became wildly popular. Isaac Asimov and John Brunner and many other authors also contributed to the form. The very best feghoots were so terrible that you really wanted to scoop your eyes out with a spoon after you’d read them so that you wouldn’t have to read any more.

Reginald Bretnor died in 1992 and Ferdinand Feghoot appears to have died with him, which I think is a great shame.

JANE: I’d love to hear another of your drabbles.

ALAN: I can do that. Here’s one I wrote about:

The Revolting Crew

The mighty spaceship ploughed through the void between the stars. The crew were near to mutiny and the captain was deep in angry conversation with the artificial intelligence in charge of supplies.

“What happened?” he demanded. “Come on, Marie, you stupid machine. How could you allow such a situation to arise? How did you expect us to travel five hundred light years with no toilet paper?”

“What is it to me?” said Marie haughtily. “I have no need for toilet paper.”

The captain buried his head in his hands. “What am I going do?”

“Let them use cake,” suggested Marie.

JANE: That made me laugh out loud, which brought Jim in from the other room so he could read it.  And he laughed.  Congratulations.

ALAN: Thank you. If you’d like to read a few more of my drabbles you can find them on my website.

In all fairness, I probably ought to point out that, although my drabbles tend to be rather feghhootian (because that’s the way my mind works), drabbles don’t always have to be humorous. Gene Wolfe, Brian Aldiss and many other respected authors have all written drabbles that are dramatic and thoughtful and sometimes quite deep. A drabble is just like any other fictional form and therefore it can be used for any legitimate fictional purpose. That’s part of the beauty of it.

JANE: I may need to dabble in drabble one of these days…

3 Responses to “TT: Drabbling in Feghoots”

  1. Beverly Martin Says:

    Wonderful! Thank you both for posting this Tangent! I smiled, I chuckled and I laughed out loud. I hope to see more feghoots and drabbles.

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