On Writing a Merlin Drabble

Last night, I had an idea for a drabble.

Well, that’s not quite right. It might be more accurate to say that an idea for a drabble that had been kicking around in the recesses of the mind finally announced itself as being ready.

I like writing drabbles — a short story of 100 words, that is — for a couple of reasons. Writing a drabble gets the creative juices flowing in the morning. Writing a drabble occupies in a creative way the time spent on the train in the morning and/or evening. And I let writing a drabble, because I tend to write drabbles on fannish topics, scratch the fannish itch I sometimes feel.

This particular idea? Merlin. I’ve written a few Merlin drabbles; nothing fancy, just random ideas. I like the series, I even wrote and submitted an outline for an original Merlin novel to the publisher handling the property.

I usually work off a drabble community — like the Merlin-inspired Merlin100 — and their drabble prompts; twenty seconds in the morning before leaving the house, and I can see what the latest prompt is, and using that prompt becomes a creative challenge on the train into work.

In this particular case, however, it was a story title I had, but not the story to go with it. Until, as I was closing up Michael Moorcock’s Doctor Who novel, The Coming of Terraphiles, and crawling under the covers, the story that fit that title came to me.

“Crisis In Infinite Camelots.”

Obviously, it’s a title inspired by DC Comics’ Crisis On Infinite Earths. The story that title could produce should be somewhat obvious — imagine that the Merlins of different versions of the Arthurian legend came together for one cataclysmic story! Arthurian fanwank!

I slept on it, and I had the Merlins mostly figured out this morning.

On the train, I pulled out my clipboard and a blue gel pen, and I started writing. Let’s take a look at my first draft, and then we’ll look at how I edited it and reworked it into the finished piece.

“Who are you?” the kid with scruffy hair wanted to know.

“Why, isn’t it obvious?” said the man with the pointed hat and the long white beard.

“Not to me,” said the man with the metallic skullcap and the trim beard in his high-pitched voice.

The unkempt, unwashed man in woad paint mumbled, but no one understood his language.

The burly man with a red beard harrumphed. “None of you are me, and none of you should be here!”

A clean-shaven man in a tweed jacket frowned. “You can’t all be me, surely? I know I’m to be ginger and Merlin someday, but this is ridiculous!”

I put my pen down, took a look at what I’d written, and I decided it didn’t entirely suck.

I then scratched out the fifth paragraph entirely. I decided the second paragraph needed to be more obvious in which Merlin it was, so I wrote another word above the line where it went. And the man wasn’t “in woad paint,” he was “adorned in woad paint.” This resulted in:

“Who are you?” the kid with scruffy hair wanted to know.

“Why, isn’t it obvious?” said the animated man with the pointed hat and the long white beard.

“Not to me,” said the man with the metallic skullcap and the trim beard in his high-pitched voice.

The unkempt, unwashed man adorned in woad paint mumbled, but no one understood his language.

A clean-shaven man in a tweed jacket frowned. “You can’t all be me, surely? I know I’m to be ginger and Merlin someday, but this is ridiculous!”

Feeling much better about these edits, I counted the words. I came up with 89 words, a full eleven short.

But what to add?

In case anyone can’t tell, the Merlin in the last paragraph is meant to be the eleventh Doctor portrayed by Matt Smith in Doctor Who; we learned in the seventh Doctor story “Battlefield” that at some point in his personal future the Doctor will be Merlin. According to Marc Platt’s novelization, the Merlin Doctor has red hair; in Paul Cornell’s Doctor Who novels he is known as “Muldwych,” and he appears in Peter Anghelides short stories “Good Companions” and “Revenants.” (I’ll note that in Peter David’s Doctor Who story “One Fateful Knight” it is the eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann, that is Merlin, but McGann doesn’t have red hair. ;) )

My first instinct was to go back to that excised paragraph with the red-haired Merlin, which I meant to be a post-Matt Smith Doctor-as-Merlin. So I wrote this at the bottom of the page as a possibility for somewhere in the tale:

A burly man with sporting a bushy red beard bellowed “Impossible!”

But I didn’t like this. No one but me would know who this was. There would be no audience resonance.

Maybe a new last line? I wrote this:

Sorting this one out, the Doctor mused, would take some work.

I didn’t like this either. I wasn’t naming who any of the Merlins were; why make absolutely explicit who one of the Merlins was?

During the work day, another idea came to me. It was devious, and I liked it a lot. At the train station, waiting for the train home, I pulled out my clipboard and wrote this in red pen:

A wizened old man, his drawn face impassive, said nothing.

And I giggled like a bedlam escapee. :)

When the train arrived and I took a seat, I pulled out a blank sheet of paper and wrote a new draft, incorporating the changes I’d made in the morning, the new sentence I’d just written, and some wording changes. At the top of the page I wrote “Crisis in Infinite Camelots.” And what I wrote was this:

“Who are you all?” the boy with scruffy hair wanted to know.

“Why, isn’t it obvious?” said the animated man with the long white beard and the pointed hat.

“Not to me,” said the man with the metallic skullcap and the trim beard in his high-pitched voice.

The unkempt, unwashed man dyed in woad paint mumbled, but no one understood him.

A wizened old man, his drawn face impassive, said nothing.

A clean-shaven man in a tweed jacket frowned. “You can’t all be me, surely? I know I’m to be ginger and Merlin someday, but this is ridiculous!”

I counted once more. I knew I would be in the neighborhood — 100 words plus/minus two. I counted up and came up with ninety-nine. One little tweak, and…

“Who are you all?” the boy with scruffy hair wanted to know.

“Why, isn’t it obvious?” said the animated man with the long white beard and the pointed hat.

“Not to me,” said the man with the metallic skullcap and the trim beard in his high-pitched voice.

The unkempt, unwashed man dyed in woad paint mumbled, but no one understood him.

A wizened old man, his drawn face impassive, said nothing.

A clean-shaven man in an anachronistic tweed jacket frowned. “You can’t all be me, surely? I know I’m to be ginger and Merlin someday, but this is ridiculous!”

And with that, I felt quite happy. :)

It’s not the greatest story in the world. It’s not meant to be. It was just a silly little idea that had lodged itself in my brain, until said brain finally worked out how to dislodge it.

And if you’re stumped on who any of these Merlins are, if you ask nicely I might tell you. :wizard:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *