Unreasonable constraints – lipograms

It’s a well-known fact that writers are crazy masochists.  So crazy and masochistic, in fact, that they often put silly limitations on the words they use when writing.

Dr. Seuss did it with Green Eggs and Ham, written using just 50 words.  Ernest V. Wright wrote his novel Gadsby without the letter e, in a style known as a lipogram.  But as Robert Cass Keller pointed out, that’s easy, and it’s been done. Why not really challenge yourself?

So he suggests removing a few more letters.  Eleven, to be exact: BGJKPQVWXYZ.

My writing group’s assignment for the week:   write a 500-word piece of flash which uses the constraint suggested by Keller as equivalent to an axed e: a total lack of the letters ZQJXKVBYGWP.

I of course waited until the last minute and then got suckered into teaching another class (because really, who needs planning periods?), so I only wrote about 200 words.  It was tough; characters can’t laugh or cry or punch people or shrug or even just think to ask why. 

I’m not sure where exactly my story is even going, but I’ll post what I have here for your reading enjoyment (or not).  Maybe I’ll finish it someday – with or without the entire alphabet.

At Sea (Lipogram)

Hermione sat on a small raft, no smile on her face. The sides of the craft rose from the sea to surround her, some canteens, a container of rations, and Dan, the other one left.

Hermione hated their situation.

She hated Dan more.

Not that he noticed. He sat and smiled. Hummed and trailed his hand off the side. Didn’t care he and she could die.

“It’s so calm out here,” he said to her. “I could remain here for months.”

Hermione clenched her hands at her side. One thrust and he’d irritate her no more. She didn’t need much force at all. Instead she said, “Is that so?”

He motioned his hand at the stuff around them. “I’m content. If I die….” He smiled at her. “It has to occur sometime.”

“I can’t die,” she said. “Not me.”

“All creatures die.”

“Not me,” she said a second time.

Dan nodded, then turned to the sea.

“I tell the truth.”


“I am!”

“It doesn’t matter, does it? Us out here – either die or not. I can’t alter that.” He fell silent, his hand in the sea.

Hermione seethed. Such consent to their situation infuriated her.


  1. Cool idea! Can I use it for my blog? (With proper credit of course! :)

  2. Sure! Stewart’s running the group on Scrib, if you want to jump in for the next contest. They’re every two weeks and the winner gets $10.

  3. I can’t believe you managed this! God, it’s hard enough with the whole alphabet at my disposal, even with my wanton adverb useage!

    I’m impressed. Oh, and also, if you don’t see my reply to your comment on my blog, you should really check out Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. It’s got issues a-plenty and the blurb doesn’t do it justice.

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