Constrained writing
Constrained writing is a literary technique
Literary technique
A literary technique is any element or the entirety of elements a writer intentionally uses in the structure of their work...

 in which the writer is bound by some condition that forbids certain things or imposes a pattern.

Constraints are very common in poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

, which often requires the writer to use a particular verse form.

The most common constrained forms of writing are strict restrictions in vocabulary
A person's vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge...

, e.g. Basic English
Basic English
Basic English, also known as Simple English, is an English-based controlled language created by linguist and philosopher Charles Kay Ogden as an international auxiliary language, and as an aid for teaching English as a Second Language...

, copula-free text
E-Prime is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be. E-Prime does not allow conjugations of to be , archaic forms E-Prime (short for English-Prime, sometimes denoted E′) is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be. E-Prime does...

, defining vocabulary
Defining vocabulary
A defining vocabulary is a list of words used by lexicographers to write dictionary definitions. The underlying principle goes back to Samuel Johnson's notion that words should be defined using 'terms less abstruse than that which is to be explained', and a defining vocabulary provides the...

 for dictionaries, and other limited vocabularies for teaching English as a Second Language or to children. This is not generally what is meant by “constrained writing” in the literary sense, which is motivated by more aesthetic
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste...

 concerns. For example:
  • Lipogram
    A lipogram is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting of writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided — usually a common vowel, and frequently "E", the most common letter in the English language.Writing a lipogram is a trivial task...

    : a letter (commonly e or o) is outlawed.
  • Palindrome
    A palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of units that can be read the same way in either direction, with general allowances for adjustments to punctuation and word dividers....

    s, such as the word “radar
    Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

    ”, read the same forwards and backwards.
  • Pilish
    Pilish is a style of writing in which the lengths of consecutive words match the digits of the number . The following sentence is an example which matches the first fifteen digits of :...

    , where the lengths of consecutive words match the digits of the number π.
  • Alliterative
    In language, alliteration refers to the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of Three or more words or phrases. Alliteration has historically developed largely through poetry, in which it more narrowly refers to the repetition of a consonant in any syllables that, according to...

    s, in which every word must start with the same letter (or subset of letters; see Alphabetical Africa
    Alphabetical Africa
    Alphabetical Africa is a constrained writing experiment by Walter Abish. It is written in the form of a novel.A paperback edition was issued in New York by New Directions Publishing Corporation in 1974 with ISBN 0-8112-0533-9...

  • Acrostic
    An acrostic is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. As a form of constrained writing, an acrostic can be used as a mnemonic device to aid memory retrieval. A famous...

    s: first letter of each word/sentence/paragraph forms a word or sentence.
  • Reverse-lipograms: each word must contain a particular letter.
  • Anglish
    Anglo-Saxon linguistic purism is a kind of English linguistic purism, which favors words of native origin over those of foreign origin. In its mild form, it merely means using existing native words instead of foreign ones...

    , favouring Anglo-Saxon words over Greek and Roman words.
  • Anagram
    An anagram is a type of word play, the result of rearranging the letters of a word or phrase to produce a new word or phrase, using all the original letters exactly once; e.g., orchestra = carthorse, A decimal point = I'm a dot in place, Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort. Someone who...

    s, words or sentences formed by rearranging the letters of another.
  • Aleatory
    Aleatoricism is the incorporation of chance into the process of creation, especially the creation of art or media. The word derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice...

    , where the reader supplies a random input.
  • Chaterism Where the length of words in a phrase or sentence increase or decrease in a uniform, mathematical way as in "I am the best Greek bowler running", or "hindering whatever tactics appear".
  • Univocalic poetry
    A univocalic is a type of constrained writing that uses only one vowel-letter . It can thus be considered a lipogram, excluding the other four vowels....

    , using only one vowel.
  • Bilingual homophonous poetry, where the poem makes sense in two different languages at the same time, thus constituting two simultaneous homophonous poems.
  • One syllable article
    One syllable article
    A one-syllable article is a type of constrained writing found in Chinese literature. They take advantage of the large number of homophones in the Chinese language, particularly when writing in Classical Chinese...

    , a form unique to Chinese literature
    Chinese literature
    Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novels that arose during the Ming Dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese...

    , using many characters all of which are homophone
    A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose and rose , or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms...

    s; the result looks sensible as writing but is incomprehensible when read aloud.
  • Limitations in punctuation, such as Peter Carey's book True History of the Kelly Gang
    True History of the Kelly Gang
    True History of the Kelly Gang is an historical novel by Australian writer Peter Carey. It was first published in Brisbane by the University of Queensland Press in 2000. It won the 2001 Man Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize in the same year. Despite its title, the book is fiction and...

    , which features no comma
    A comma is a type of punctuation mark . The word comes from the Greek komma , which means something cut off or a short clause.Comma may also refer to:* Comma , a type of interval in music theory...

  • Mandated vocabulary, where the writer must include specific words, chosen a priori, along with the writer's own freely chosen words (for example, Quadrivial Quandary
    Quadrivial Quandary
    Quadrivial Quandary is a word game and a form of constrained writing. The challenge is to write a single sentence that contains all four words from a daily selection. Success is determined by how well the composition illustrates the meaning and idiomatic usage of each mandated word, while obeying...

    , a website that solicits individual sentences containing all four words in a daily selection).

The Oulipo
Oulipo is a loose gathering of French-speaking writers and mathematicians which seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques. It was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais...

 group is a gathering of writers who use such techniques. The Outrapo
Outrapo stands for "Ouvroir de tragicomédie potentielle", which translates roughly as "workshop of potential tragicomedy." It was founded in London, in 1991, and it seeks to mine the potentialities of stage performance, using new or preexistent constraints...

 group uses theatrical constraints
Theatrical constraints
Theatrical constraints are various rules, either of taste or of law, that govern the production, staging, and content of stage plays in the theater...



  • Gadsby
    Gadsby (novel)
    Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter "E" is a 1939 novel by Ernest Vincent Wright. The plot revolves around the dying fictional city of Branton Hills, which is revitalized thanks to the efforts of protagonist John Gadsby and a youth group he organizes.The novel is written...

    is an English-language novel consisting of 50,100 words, none of which contain the letter “e”.
  • In 1969, French writer Georges Perec
    Georges Perec
    Georges Perec was a French novelist, filmmaker, documentalist and essayist. He is a member of the Oulipo group...

     published La Disparition, a novel
    A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

     that did not include the letter “e”. It was translated into English in 1995 by Gilbert Adair
    Gilbert Adair
    Gilbert Adair is a Scottish author, film critic and journalist. He won the Author's Club First Novel Award in 1988 for his novel The Holy Innocents. In 1995 he won the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize for his book A Void, which is a translation of the French book La Disparition by Georges Perec...

     as A Void. Perec subsequently joked that he incorporated the “e”s not used in La Disparition in the novella Les Revenentes (1972), which uses no vowels other than “e”. Les Revenentes was translated into English by Ian Monk
    Ian Monk
    Ian Monk is a British writer and translator, based in Lille, France.-Biography:Since 1998, he has been a member of the French writing group Oulipo. Among his works in English are the books, Family Archaeology and Other Poems and Writings for the Oulipo...

     as The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex.
  • The 2004 French novel Le Train de Nulle Part
    Le Train de Nulle Part
    Le Train de Nulle Part is a 2004 French novel by French author Michel Dansel, though the book is authored under the pen name Michel Thaler. An example of constrained writing, the novel is written without a single verb.In the novel's preface, Thaler called the verb an "invader, dictator, usurper of...

    (The Train from Nowhere) by Michel Thaler was written entirely without verb
    A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

  • Experimental Canadian poet Christian Bök
    Christian Bök
    Christian Bök is an experimental Canadian poet. He is the author of Eunoia, which won the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize, and which has been said to be "Canada's best-selling poetry book ever."-Life:...

    ’s Eunoia
    Eunoia (book)
    Eunoia is the title of a set of univocalics by Canadian poet Christian Bök, which consists of chapters written using words limited to a single vowel...

    is a univocalic
    A univocalic is a type of constrained writing that uses only one vowel-letter . It can thus be considered a lipogram, excluding the other four vowels....

     that uses only one vowel in each of its five chapters.
  • One famous constrained writing in the Chinese language
    Chinese language
    The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

     is The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den
    Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den
    The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den is a famous example of constrained writing by Yuen Ren Chao which consists of 92 characters, all with the sound shi in different tones when read in Mandarin....

    which consists of 92 characters, all with the sound shi. Another is the Thousand Character Classic
    Thousand Character Classic
    The Thousand Character Classic is a Chinese poem used as a primer for teaching Chinese characters to children. It contains exactly one thousand unique characters. It is said that Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty commissioned 周興嗣 to compose this poem for his prince to practice calligraphy...

    in which all 1000 characters are unique without any repetition.
  • Cadaeic Cadenza
    Cadaeic Cadenza
    Cadaeic Cadenza is a 1996 short story by Mike Keith. It is an example of constrained writing, a book with restrictions on how it can be written. It is also one of the most prodigious examples of piphilology, being written in "pilish"....

    ” is a short story by Mike Keith
    Mike Keith (mathematician)
    Mike Keith is an American mathematician, software engineer, and author of works of constrained writing....

     using the first 3835 digits of pi
    ' is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter. is approximately equal to 3.14. Many formulae in mathematics, science, and engineering involve , which makes it one of the most important mathematical constants...

     to determine the length of words. Not A Wake is a book using the same constraint based on the first 10,000 digits.
  • Never Again is a novel by Doug Nufer in which no word is used more than once.
  • Ella Minnow Pea
    Ella Minnow Pea
    Ella Minnow Pea is a novel by Mark Dunn, copyrighted in 2001. The full title of the hardcover version is Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogramatic epistolary fable, while the paperback version is titled Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters....

    is a book by Mark Dunn
    Mark Dunn
    Mark Dunn is an American author and playwright. He studied film at Memphis State University followed by post-graduate work in screenwriting at the University of Texas moving to New York in 1987 where he worked in the New York Public Library whilst writing plays in his free time.Among the...

     where certain letters become unusable throughout the novel.
  • The last chapter of Ulysses
    Ulysses (novel)
    Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature,...

    by James Joyce
    James Joyce
    James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

     contains no punctuation at all.
  • Alphabetical Africa
    Alphabetical Africa
    Alphabetical Africa is a constrained writing experiment by Walter Abish. It is written in the form of a novel.A paperback edition was issued in New York by New Directions Publishing Corporation in 1974 with ISBN 0-8112-0533-9...

    is a book by Walter Abish
    Walter Abish
    Walter Abish is an Austrian-American author of experimental novels and short stories.-Biography:Abish was born in Vienna, Austria to Adolph and Frieda . At a young age, his family fled from the Nazis, traveling first to Italy and Nice before settling in Shanghai from 1940 to 1949...

     in which 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".
  • Mary Godolphin
    Lucy Aikin
    Lucy Aikin , born at Warrington, England into a distinguished literary family of prominent Unitarians, was a historical writer.-Family and education:...

     produced versions of Robinson Crusoe "in Words of One Syllable".
  • Theodor Geisel
    Dr. Seuss
    Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer, poet, and cartoonist most widely known for his children's books written under the pen names Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg and, in one case, Rosetta Stone....

    , also known as Dr. Seuss, wrote the well-known children's book Green Eggs and Ham
    Green Eggs and Ham
    Green Eggs and Ham is a best-selling and critically acclaimed book by Dr. Seuss, first published on August 12, 1960. As of 2001, according to Publishers Weekly, it was the fourth-best-selling English-language children's book of all time....

    using only 50 different words on a 50 dollar bet with Bennet Cerf.
  • The Gates of Paradise
    The Gates of Paradise
    The Gates of Paradise is a novel by Polish writer Jerzy Andrzejewski published in 1960. The novel consists of 40,000 words written in two sentences, with nearly no punctuation, making it an exercise in constrained writing. The second sentence contains only four words "And they marched all night"...

    is a book by Jerzy Andrzejewski
    Jerzy Andrzejewski
    Jerzy Andrzejewski was a prolific Polish author. His novels, Ashes and Diamonds , and Holy Week , have been made into film adaptations by the Oscar-winning Polish director Andrzej Wajda...

     where the whole text is just two sentences, one of which is very long.
  • Zero Degree
    Zero degree
    Zero Degree is a postmodern novel written in 1998 by Tamil author Charu Nivedita, later translated into Malayalam and English.The novel uses a non-linear narrative structure and often shockingly sexual and/or violent content, jumping between phone sex conversations, torture scenes , love poems,...

    is a postmodern novel written in 1998 by Tamil author Charu Nivedita, later translated into Malayalam and English. Keeping with the numerological theme of Zero Degree, the only numbers expressed in either words or symbols are numerologically equivalent to nine (with the exception of two chapters). This Oulipian ban includes the very common word one. Many sections of the book are written entirely without punctuation, or using only periods.

External links

  •, site with many pieces of constrained writing by Mike Keith.
  • Eunoia by Christian Bök.
  • From Never Again, an excerpt from Never Again by Doug Nufer
  • Mike Schertzer, in Cipher and Poverty (The Book of Nothing), created a three-level acronymic poem. Beginning with a name a verse was created for which the name was the acronym. This verse was then expanded, and then again. The final verse is 224 words long (which means the previous verse, its corresponding acronym, contains 224 letters).
  • Spineless Books, an independent publishing house dedicated to constrained literature.
  •, a community website for short stories that adhere to various literary constraints.
  • Quadrivial Quandary, a community website that challenges participants to write a single sentence containing all four words in a daily selection
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