Constrained Writing

(left hand side of keyboard) Ferret sex at great rates
(right hand side of keyboard) Buy my puppy milk, LOL
(home row of keyboard) Galahad has a Flash SSD
(top row of keyboard) We owe it to you to pepper your puppy

This is when an author writes in an atypical pattern. The reasons for this can vary, from Leaning on the Fourth Wall (if it's related to the story in some way), to keeping certain plot points and twists hidden to the very end (e.g. avoiding gender pronouns for a Samus Is a Girl twist; see The All-Concealing "I") to simply being a stylistic choice. Some types of self-imposed challenges include writing in a particular metre, or making each line a letter longer than the one that preceded it; writing in code (e.g. replacing words with ones that appear a few places afterwards in the dictionary); avoiding certain common letters (the correct term for this is a lipogram, by the way; E is the most commonly used because it's the most commonly used vowel in several languages); using words that display some sort of complex pattern (e.g. making large chunks of the story alliterative or in palindromes); drabbles (stories of precisely 100 words) and many more.

Remember this applies to any challenge imposed on the author by themselves, so normal deadlines and schedules don't count, though improvising with limited resources or using a particularly strict time limit does (see NaNoWriMo for one example).

The alternative name "Oulipo" is from a group of French writers who were dedicated to this style of writing. The Other Wiki also has an article on the concept.

Some authors might adopt this as a Signature Style. Unconventional Formatting can be related. When this is used within an otherwise normal piece of writing to show something specific then it is Painting the Medium.


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  • Older Than Feudalism: In the 6th century B.C., Lasos of Hermione wrote a hymn to Demeter without using the letter sigma, of which a fragment still survives.
  • A Void (and La Disparition, its Gallic original) leaves out the letter E, and also has well recieved translations in most other European languages.
  • Gadsby: A Story of Over 50000 Words Without Using the Letter "E" by Ernest Vincent Wright.
  • Mike Keith has rewritten Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven with the limitation that words must have the same number of letters as the corresponding digit of pi. Read it full here:
  • Le Train De Nulle Part is a French novel with no verbs.
  • In her first Lythande short story, "The Secret of the Blue Star", written for Thieves' World, Marion Zimmer Bradley carefully tried to avoid referring to the gender of the magician Lythande to conceal the Twist Ending that Lythande is a woman. She did slip up at one point, however:
    Lythande drew from the folds of his robe a small pouch containing a quantity of sweet-smelling herbs, rolled them into a blue-grey leaf, and touched his ring to spark the roll alight. He drew on the smoke, which drifted up sweet and greyish.
  • David Langford's "A Surprisingly Common Omission" is a drabble written without using the letter E.
  • Harlan Ellison once sat in a department store window for five hours, with the challenge being that he write a 500+ page novel in that time-frame. And pulled it off. In addition, he's written several short stories in this manner, with other people providing written prompts just before he starts. One of his better-known storefront stories, "From A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet", is a series of 26 short, disturbing proto-Creepypasta vignettes (one for every letter of the alphabet) written over the course of eight hours in the front window of a science fiction bookstore.
  • NaNoWriMo's idea is to write a novel with at least X words in a month. The default value of X is 50,000, but some people go for up to million words.
    • Similarly, Script Frenzy is a challenge to write 100 pages of script.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, there's flash fiction, short stories under a certain length, and "drabbles", stories exactly 100 words long.
  • Dr. Seuss:
    • He wrote The Cat in the Hat as a challenge to write an interesting story using a very small vocabulary of words which a 6 year-old should know.
    • Reportedly Green Eggs and Ham was a challenge to create an interesting children's story using no more than 50 different words.
  • Eunoia, by Christian Bok, is a collection of poetic prose. Each entry only uses words that use a single vowel. (The word "eunoia" itself is the shortest word in English that uses all five vowels).
  • Isaac Asimov wrote Insert Knob A In Hole B live on television (although he admitted he saw the challenge coming and prepared for it). The preparation time was a few minutes before the show started.
  • Jim Butcher wrote Codex Alera on a bet that he could write a story using what he thought were two terrible ideas: The Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon.
  • Poul Anderson wrote the essay "Uncleftish Beholding" in which he described basic atomic theory and the periodic table in a manner as if English had never adopted any French, Latin, or Greek vocabulary but instead only used its Germanic roots:
    Some of the higher samesteads are splitly. That is, when a neitherbit strikes the kernel of one—as, for a showdeal, ymirstuff-235—it bursts it into lesser kernels and free neitherbits; the latter can then split more ymirstuff-235. When this happens, weight shifts into work. It is not much of the whole, but nevertheless it is awesome.
  • Alphabetical Africa is a novel in 52 chapters, beginning with only words that start with 'a', and then 'a' and 'b', up to chapter 26, where all the alphabet can be used. From chapter 27 to 52, the letters words can start with recede back to 'a'.
  • 2002: A Palindrome Story is a story written with exactly 2002 palindromic words.
  • In The Three Musketeers, Aramis mentions that he has written a poem with each line consisting of only one syllable.
  • Around 1800 German poets were hotly debating whether or not one should write sonnets in German (it being a form originally created in Italian and according to some better suited to the Italian language). Johann Heinrich Voss, best known for translating The Iliad and The Odyssey into German hexameters, was in the "against German sonnets" camp, but in order to show that he did this as a matter of choice, not because he was unable to write proper sonnets, he wrote the Klingsonate (roughly: "tinkle sonata") in 1808, which consists of three parodistic sonnets. In the first, each line consists of one syllable; in the second there are eight lines of three syllables each and six of two syllables; the third has lines of eleven syllables each and uses a lot of Italian words.
  • In the Gene Wolfe short story My Book, the narrator is writing a book starting with the last word and working backwards.
  • The Czech author Jan Werich wrote "a constrained tale using monosyllabic words, or a praise of the Czech language".
  • As explained in an afterword, The Squares of the City by John Brunner is based on a chess game (specifically the 1892 world championship game between Wilhelm Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin), with key characters representing various pieces and their interactions representing their positions; when a piece has the potential to take another piece, this is echoed in the story with one character being under threat from another, and when a piece is taken, the corresponding character is "taken out of the game" by death or imprisonment.

  • In Wonderful Town, Ruth says that the letter "W" fell off her typewriter after she wrote her thesis on Walt Whitman, making herself "the only author who never uses a 'w.'"


    Web Original 
  • What If?: After being asked what the most inconvenient word to type on an old cellphone would be (it's "nonmonogamous", which makes you hit the 6 key 16 times in a row), Randall has some fun with sentences that can only be typed with the left or the right hand (on a standard QWERTY keyboard). He also puts together some sentences that can only be typed using the home row or the top row. He comes up with some very rare sentences (which are also hilarious.)
    (left hand) Ferret sex at great rates Alt Text 
    (right hand) Buy my puppy milk, LOL
    (home row) Galahad has a Flash SSD
    (top row) We owe it to you to pepper your puppy
  • Rapping Without The Letter E is pretty self-explanatory

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Oulipo, Lipogram