Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Constrained Writing

“What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure.” –Samuel Johnson

I find writing a coherent sentence is a fun but challenging endeavor—even on days when words are flowing freely. However, I have recently discovered that some authors go out of their way to make the writing process more difficult. I am talking about constrained writing. This is a technique in which the writer, bound by certain conditions, is forbidden from using certain things. I can only imagine the amount of effort that the authors expended in order to accomplish their goal. Here are a few examples:

Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright is a 50,100 word novel written without using the letter, “e.”

The French novel La Disparition, by George Perec also does not include the letter “e.” Perec’s novella, Les Revenentes, on the other hand, uses no other vowel except for “e.”

Another French novel, Le Train de Bulle Part by Michael Thaler was written without verbs.

In Never Again by Doug Nufer no word is used more than once.

In Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish, the first chapter only uses words that begin with the letter “a,” while the second chapter incorporates the letter “b,” and then “c,” etc. Once the alphabet is finished, Abish takes letters away, one at a time, until the last chapter, leaving only words that begin with the letter “a.”

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (Therdor Geisel) uses only 50 different words. According an article I read, Geisel did this on a $50 bet with Bennet Cerf.

For more information on this genre, visit Absolute

It’s embarrassing to admit that I have not read any of these books other than Green Eggs and Ham. However, next time I’m in the library, I hope to find at least one of these examples. I’m curious to know how readable they are.

Have you read or written anything using the constrained writing technique?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Samuel Johnson, constrained writing, Gadsby, Dr. Seuss, Geisel, Cerf, Nufer, Abish, Perec, Thaler,


Morgan Mandel said...

Well, some people enjoy taking challenges. It's probably a good exercise for their minds, but I'm not sure if they're very good reads.

Morgan Mandel

Christine Rose said...

Talk about embarrassing... I'm a fantasy author who hasn't read The Lord of the Rings! **gulp!**

(but my co-author/husband has... even the Silmarillion)

Still! No excuse!
(I'm actually reading it now)

Krista said...

Does leaving out adverbs count as a constraint? It sure feels like one...=)


Marvin D. Wilson said...

Ha! loved Krista's comment. Fascinating post and subject. I was unaware of those classics being written "constrained" - how interesting. I imagine it HAS to cast a certain spell over the reader that they are unaware of - makes the read somehow "different" you know - on a sub-conscious level.

Buy Essay said...

I haven't tried constrained writing because I am into academic essay jobs. But I have always taught of writing a 333 word essay using only the letter m, i, e and n. Do you think it's possible?

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world