1. WizMystery
    Offline

    WizMystery New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2011
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0

    Constrained Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by WizMystery, Aug 12, 2011.

    In my welcome thread, I posted about being a fan of the idea of constrained writing. Searching through the site it doesn't seem that there are too many, if any, examples of constrained writing. What does everyone here think of this? Do you think of it as a cheap gimmick, or do you think of it as an interesting hook that can further the point of a story?

    Like some gimmicks, I think it can be used very effectively. I've been trying to take academic concepts to translate them into experimental forms for practice (I have one really satisfying short story that I'll have to upload once I can post in the short story forum) and so far I find it fascinating and fun to do. My goal is to eventually write an entire novel on the foundations of multiple constraints - set in a deterministic universe where the most unlikely factors control all who live.

    EDIT: Woops, didn't realize wiki links aren't allowed.
     
  2. proserpine
    Offline

    proserpine Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    69
    Likes Received:
    2
    I think it is very interesting, in theory. It would be a fun challenge to think outside convention, and would definitely flex your skills as a writer.

    I think the difference between gimmick and hook would be how effectively it was used, if it actually contributed something to the story, and how skillful the writer is.

    If I heard of a book that employed a constrained writing technique, I would be intrigued, but I would feel cheated if the story were contrived, and driven by the constrained writing instead of enhanced by it.

    It sounds like it could become very comical, like a Sesame Street episode brought to you "by the letter R!".

    Good luck with your writing.
     
  3. WizMystery
    Offline

    WizMystery New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2011
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    What would you consider "driven by" and what would you consider "enhanced?"

    If it were the gimmick on it's own, like 3D movies, it would of course be bad, minus its experimental value. But if it drove the story in tandem to a theme, wouldn't it also be enhancing it?
     
  4. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,722
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    What exactly is "constrained writing"?
     
  5. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Google is your friend.
     
  6. J.P.Clyde
    Offline

    J.P.Clyde Prince of Melancholy Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2011
    Messages:
    979
    Likes Received:
    44
    Location:
    Underground
    And sometimes answering is just as friendly. :)

     
  7. the1
    Offline

    the1 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2011
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    Much friendlier :D
     
  8. proserpine
    Offline

    proserpine Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    69
    Likes Received:
    2
    "Driven by", as in "dictated by" or "powered by"- choosing a word, plot, or phrase because it fits your theme instead of being a natural choice. "Enhanced", as in "adds to" your novel in a way that is not contrived or unnatural.

    To put it another way, I'm sure someone could tell a story well using constricted writing techniques. However, if it is too constricted, you could cramp the entire story. One would need to choose the rght method for the story for it to work better than simply writing a story in an unconstricted fashion.
     
  9. joanna
    Offline

    joanna Active Member

    Joined:
    May 25, 2010
    Messages:
    429
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Boston
    One of the things I love about writing is that it's so freeing. I have a wide open space that I can fill with whatever I want. So, I don't like the constrained writing style personally. I've tried it and it's never enhanced my stories, only made them more forced.

    But some authors worked well with it. I heard an author wrote an entire book without using the letter 'e.' (If anyone knows what book this is, please let me know.)
     
  10. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
    Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.

    Google is a much faster way to get answers, especially to simple questions like this, and should become your first instinct. If your first instinct is to post the question, that's a habit you really should dispose of.

    Still think it's friendlier to feed a bad habit?

    Back on the actual topic, writing within constraints is, at the very least, a good way to improve your writing skills. For example, flash fiction constrains your word count and trains you to be concise, eliminating wasted words.

    As an exercise I set up for myself, I wrote a short piece about a man discovering his wife's infidelity, without allowing myself to report his thoughts or feelings. It became an exercise in showing, and I learned the value of balancing showing with telling instead of just using one or the other.
     
  11. skeloboy_97
    Offline

    skeloboy_97 Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2010
    Messages:
    181
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Australia
    Google answers all my questions :p
     
  12. J.P.Clyde
    Offline

    J.P.Clyde Prince of Melancholy Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2011
    Messages:
    979
    Likes Received:
    44
    Location:
    Underground

    Sometimes I do both. I ask a question and look it up. To get two sources of opinion. Factual. And someone with experience and knowledge.
     
  13. ithestargazer
    Offline

    ithestargazer Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2010
    Messages:
    303
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    the big M, Australia
    There are so many books using constraints and I'll agree with Cog in saying Google is the way to go. People have written novels without verbs, using only local vernacular, not including grammar or punctuation, not using vowels, etc etc. Look them up - you may get inspired.
     
  14. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    I guess I'm wondering why, other than as a writing exercise or for word count requirements (ie, flash fiction), anyone would want to write this way. Like the book with no 'e' - why on earth would I want to read such a thing, let alone write it? Unless one considers writing in first person a constraint, or something like that (but I don't think that really is, is it?). Just sounds too 'artsy-clever' for me. Or maybe I'm just more of a 'meat and potatoes' type of writer ;)
     
  15. Manav
    Offline

    Manav Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2010
    Messages:
    839
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Imphal, India
    I like those type of writers :)

    Seriously, a book without the letter 'e'... the author won't need a plot, because it won't matter to me, for I'll be distracted too much by his/her technique/constrained writing.
     
  16. Killer300
    Offline

    Killer300 Active Member

    Joined:
    May 1, 2011
    Messages:
    1,064
    Likes Received:
    37
    Okay, a book written entirely in vernacular? Tell me the name NOW! That sounds like a great exercise in balancing slang and fancy vocabulary. These others sound... beyond my skill level to say the least.:)
     
  17. chronicler
    Offline

    chronicler Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2011
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    book is called Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright
     
  18. WizMystery
    Offline

    WizMystery New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2011
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    See, it's the exact opposite for music. You're encouraged to be contrived and choose notes that fit into a schematic instead of writing "what sounds good." I know music is not the same as literature, and I can't really say "natural" is the lesser choice, I think the niche "music theorists who also read a lot" market would really enjoy something like this.

    I'll keep the latter in mind - It does make sense to keep questioning "is this better or worse" while writing.
     
  19. popsicledeath
    Offline

    popsicledeath Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    1,037
    Likes Received:
    71
    I forgot about this thread! I find the worst way to attempt to have a conversation and share knowledge is to tell people to just go away and google something. Especially because then I see people just winding up with their own definitions of things, and then they're discussing something else entirely, because we all won't come to the same definitions or conclusions about the same things (even if it's reading another person's definition). Isn't it easier to have a worthwhile discussion when we learn what OUR definitions are, so then we aren't just discussing terms set by others, but what WE know and need to know.

    So, basically, instead of discussing what someone is doing in their writing and why, it's basically just asking for validation of one's own choices to do something based on external definitions given by links that aren't allowed, despite all googling and going to the same wiki for answers, which.

    Oh, really, a deterministic universe where the most unlikely factors control all? In an attempt to create constrained writing? Ummm, seriously, I think the next logical question really was 'what is constrained writing' but perhaps with a 'to you' added, because, sorry, the wiki page hasn't given me any clue wtf the OP is talking about.

    I love that we exist in a place where asking clarifying questions is an invitation for others [in this case presumed leaders of a community, no less] to exclude others from the conversation as they're told to go get caught up to speed on their own. Wild times, my friends.

    Yes, indeed, everyone go google the definition for discussion, then maybe let's have one ;)
     
  20. ithestargazer
    Offline

    ithestargazer Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2010
    Messages:
    303
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    the big M, Australia
    I'd suggest reading Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. It isn't written entirely in vernacular though it's the best written example I know of.
     
  21. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    I agree, it sounds like something people to just to make themselves look important and "artsy". especially in extreme cases like no verbs, no e's :eek: and so on. if you can't make your story stand out in any other way I guess it's the only option left available... :rolleyes:
     
  22. popsicledeath
    Offline

    popsicledeath Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    1,037
    Likes Received:
    71
    I've noticed this is occurring a lot lately (or perhaps I've just started noticing it more). I see many new generation of writers, even ones being published in reputable places, who seem to have their fiction so filled with gimmicks it's a bit shocking to me (and I'm not usually known as the conservative, traditional type!).

    It reminds me of the hipster scene, where it's not enough to just be cool, you seem to have to TRY to be cool, and then of course deny you were trying to be cool as you soak up the attention from your efforts.

    It seems increasingly similar with a lot of new fiction I'm seeing, where it's trying so hard to be edgy and different and cool, with weird formatting and gimmicks left and right and hyper-stylized, all seeming to not serve the story, but bringing attention to the author... who then usually dismisses the attention with scorn--I'm an artist, it's all about the story!--as they soak up the praise, thrive on the debates over whether their gimmick is necessary, and then go on to do equally self-serving things in their writing.

    It has me dubious, personally. If someone is wearing a ton of perfume or cologne, I naturally question what type of person tries so hard to ensure everyone can smell them and what real smell they're actually hiding. So to with this 'constrained writing' and other types of look-at-me writing I keep seeing. I wonder whether I really want to read and support the type of writer who thinks it best to draw more attention to themselves and not the story, and what they're really hiding. Usually what they're hiding is a weak, uninspired story under several layers of gimmicks and perfume.
     
  23. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    You're right, it seems a lot like they just want to draw attention to themselves, and not actually doing it because the story would benefit from it. As you say, it's probably just a trick to distract people from the fact that the story itself isn't very interesting or even well written. I especially liked the comparison of putting too much perfume on to hide the natural smell :D
    I don't see any harm in using this kind of technique as an experiment, for a short story or a poem, something you keep to yourself and which serves only for exercising your brain. (even if I don't see the purpose, personally, but some people might do :rolleyes:)
     
  24. Melzaar the Almighty
    Offline

    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2010
    Messages:
    1,792
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    UK
    If we take "constrained" writing to mean anything with a constraint on it, then basically all writing is constrained in some way if you don't just splurge out whatever from your head. I'm guessing since people have mentioned things in vernacular as well as just weird playing around things, this is the case.

    The theme and style are going to be different story from story if you don't write from a template, so you'll always have to be checking yourself against something. You'll find if you're describing well and thoroughly a set of guidelines emerging: keywords you can use, and words you absolutely cannot. So if you were writing something set in a dreary council estate you'd shy away from ever using warm words, colours, descriptions, weather patterns, moods, etc, unless you specifically wanted to break it, or to highlight how even something a sunny yellow colour has also become a dull grey in that location. Not being allowed to mention the colour red just because you'd wreck all the carefully constructed imagery in a story sounds like a constraint to me. :p Just one all good writers should naturally adhere to anyway.
     
  25. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Well, maybe "artificial" should come into the mix then. Certainly, one has to write within some constraints if the story is to be any good at all. Otherwise it becomes, as you say, just a splurge of words, and meaningless. So, constraints beyond just plain good story-telling. Again to use this 'no e' example - how does that contribute to the story? It doesn't. It can't, because it does the one thing most writers never want to do - takes the reader out of the story. It's merely an artistic contrivance, nothing more.
     

Share This Page