Prior to we discuss the principle of constrained writing and inform you how it works, let me ask you this: Have you ever opened a brand-new blank document to compose, gazed at it for far too long, and after that realized you have no ideas, that your mind is as blank as the page youre trying to write on? What if you could double or triple the variety of concepts you have, not by doing something extra, however by taking something away?
Thats what constrained writing is about: removing alternatives so that you can actually be more creative.
What IS Constrained Writing?
” Constrained writing” is a literary strategy where you develop rules and limits for your writing. Haiku is a popular kind of constrained writing. Its a kind of poetry that originated in Japan, and its structured with three lines of 5, seven, and five syllables respectively.
Constrained writing is most typical in poetry, however authors have actually used the type. There are several “lipogram” books, novels composed without a particular letter.
Another, more recent example is Mark Dunns Ella Minnow Pea, released in 2014, about a statue that mysteriously begins losing its letters. As they vanish from the statue in the unique they vanish from the book as well, therefore the writing ends up being more constrained as the story progresses.
But lipogram is simply one way to constrain your writing, and as tough as it is, its not the most typical. Other forms of constrained composing include the following:
The truth is that all writing is constrained by something, whether its the limitations of the story, the limitations of the skill of the author, the limits of the marketplace, or the limitations of the kind.
Instead of rebelling against the restraints, set your own! This is particularly handy if youre stuck, if you cant believe of what to compose next.
When you set restrictions for your writing, you might find you develop not fewer ideas but double or triple the number.
5 Ways to Use Constrained Writing to Become a More Creative Writer
Constrained writing can help you generate more ideas, but how should you constrain your writing? Here are five concepts:
1. Set a word count goal.
Were relieving into constraints with something lots of authors do, not always in an effort to constrain their writing but as a goal to develop to. The book is a form, however, and while it is a form that is really loosely specified, a book is generally over 65,000 words and under 120,000 words.
To utilize this restraint, very first check out our word count guide to find typical word counts for different categories. Then, set your goal and begin composing your way up to it. The tough part for this restraint will can be found in the editing process, when you have to cut your story to make it suit your word count!
2. Choose a category.
Shawn Coyne, the creator of the Story Grid framework, defines category as a set of reader expectations. As a writer, you might do even worse than to set your restriction based on the readers who will one day check out, and hopefully take pleasure in, your book.
3. Constrain your setting.
How can you get your story to happen in the fewest variety of areas possible?
This constraint is particularly beneficial for brief fiction, where you are already constrained by length and dont have the space to establish various settings. Its also critically crucial for screenwriters (or authors who would one day like to see their book became a movie), considering that every brand-new place increases the spending plan of the movie.
When it pertains to brief stories– and particularly composing contests– constraining your setting isnt simply an enjoyable difficulty. Its useful. After evaluating prize-winning stories, Ive found practically all of them take place in simply one to two scenes. That indicates not only are just one or 2 locations all you need to tell a great story, however you need to only have one or two areas.
To Generate More Ideas, Set Your Own Constraints
Some writers have this belief that sounds something like this: “Its my writing. I can create brand-new types to inform the story I want to tell and attain aesthetic perfection.”
I truthfully used to have a belief like this. Possibly it came from rebelling against all those crazy Renaissance poetry kinds I found out in college (thanks, Dr. Willis!).
What occurs when you rebel versus the restrictions is that you can quickly discover yourself stuck, gazing at a blank page.
Any type of type. Poetry kinds, with their specific structures and patterns of rhyme and rhythm, are restrictions. They include limericks, sestinas, sonnets, and villanelles, the latter of which I studied (and even composed a few of) back in Renaissance Lit, English 207 (thanks, Dr. Willis!). These all have very strict balanced, rhyming, and length limits. However, every kind of writing, whether its short stories, feature-length screenplays, or even novels, has specific constraints.
Acrostics. In an acrostic, the first letter of a verse, area, or sentence need to include a letter that forms a pattern. Ancient Hebrew poetry enjoyed acrostics, and lots of ancient Hebrew poems follow each letter of the alphabet.
If you can write anything, its very simple to compose nothing. Restraints make you creative.
Length restrictions. Six word stories are a form of constrained writing, as are most type of poetic kinds.
4. Constrain your cast.
How can you inform your story with the least number of characters?
As an editor, Ive frequently provided the recommendations to cut characters or perhaps combine them with other characters. Why? Because its hard for the reader to find out a great deal of brand-new characters, develop an accessory to them, and after that begin to root for (or hate) them. This is one reason we enjoy unique and TV and even film series a lot. It permits us to follow characters for longer periods rather than just one book, movie, or episode.
If youve ever seen a one- or two-actor play you know how effective a story following just a couple of characters can be. Pair this with a setting constraint and youll have much more fun!
5. Constrain your timeline.
How short an amount of time can you focus your story on? Can your story occur in a particular year or month? Or even just one day?
This is what made the series 24 so intriguing, due to the fact that all the action of the story occurred in just twenty-four really extreme hours, broken up into twenty-four episodes.
Perk: Narrative Device
A narrative device is a particularly effective method to constrain your writing.
Maybe your story is told all in letters composed to someone “off-screen.” This is how Frankenstein, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or perhaps The Martian are written (this is called the epistolary device).
Or possibly your story is only discussion, perhaps even a story being informed to another person. This is how Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness and many of William Faulkners Absalom, Absalom! are composed.
Maybe you have a character who is telling the story to the reader, perhaps even composing the story down to you, the reader, like Salman Rushdies Midnight Children or Herman Melvilles Moby Dick.
Or the author is “translating” another book into the readers language, although that story does not actually exist, like The Princess Bride by William Goldman or How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.
Narrative gadgets are an excellent way to utilize constraints to make your story more fascinating.
Youre Already Using Constrained Writing. Now Just Make It Official.
Everybody is constrained by something. You may be constrained by the limitations of your type, by the marketplace, by your skill level, and even your own creativity.
By taking the initiative to set your own restraints, you in fact provide your imagination more to work with, and youll find you come up with more concepts, not fewer.
So stop attempting to prevent restraints. Instead, set them yourself and let the ideas circulation.
How have you constrained your writing, knowingly or unconsciously? Let us know in the remarks!
Write a story utilizing a constrained timeline, in this case: one minute. Can you make the entire story take place in simply sixty seconds?
Practice using this constraint for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, publish your practice in the remarks section. And if you post, make certain to critique three of your fellow authors.
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book
Crowdsourcing Paris, a reality adventure story embeded in France. It was a # 1 New Release on Amazon. You can follow him on
There are numerous “lipogram” novels, novels composed without a specific letter. They include limericks, villanelles, sonnets, and sestinas, the latter of which I studied (and even wrote a few of) back in Renaissance Lit, English 207 (thanks, Dr. Willis!). Every kind of writing, whether its short stories, feature-length screenplays, or even novels, has certain restraints.
Set your objective and begin composing your method up to it. When it comes to short stories– and specifically writing contests– constraining your setting isnt just an enjoyable obstacle.