The list below is the second half of Zoe’s original dossier of info, sent to kickstart our structure/content discussions. Some of it was new to me. Other things I’ve employed without ever knowing that there was a given term for what I was doing. I enjoy using ‘mandated vocabulary’ for instance, thinking of it as a bit like what Auerbach is reported to have done with his long-running paintings, by leaving a deliberate problem, such as a smear of paint, at the end of each session in the studio, so that he had a something to deal with when he came back to the easel. I find using set words that you have to use, gets you thinking creatively about how to guide your meaning around the word, or indeed to change the course of your meaning to include it – often with greater breadth than your solipsistic starting point.
Other Constrained Writing
- Lipogram: a letter (commonly e or o) is outlawed.
- Palindromes, such as the word “radar”, read the same forwards and backwards.
- Pilish, where the lengths of consecutive words match the digits of the number π.
- Alliteratives, in which every word must start with the same letter (or subset of letters; see Alphabetical Africa).
- Acrostics: first letter of each word/sentence/paragraph forms a word or sentence.
- Reverse-lipograms: each word must contain a particular letter.
- Twiction: espoused as a specifically constrained form of microfiction where a story or poem is exactly one hundred and forty characters long.
- Anglish, favouring Anglo-Saxon words over Greek and Roman words.
- Anagrams, words or sentences formed by rearranging the letters of another.
- Aleatory, 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, 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, a form unique to Chinese literature, using many characters all of which are homophones; 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, which features no commas.
- 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, a website that solicits individual sentences containing all four words in a daily selection).
The Oulipo Group
The group defines the term littérature potentielle as (rough translation): “the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy.”
Oulipo was founded on November 24, 1960, as a subcommittee of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique and titled Séminaire de littérature expérimentale. At their second meeting, the group changed its name to Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or Oulipo, at Albert-Marie Schmidt’s suggestion. The idea had arisen two months earlier, when a small group met in September at Cerisy-la-Salle for a colloquium on Queneau’s work. During this seminar, Queneau and François Le Lionnais conceived of the society.
La disparition or A Void
Perec’s novel La disparition, translated into English by Gilbert Adair and published under the title A Void, is a 300-page novel written without the letter “e,” an example of a lipogram. The English translation, A Void, is also a lipogram. The novel is remarkable not only for the absence of “e,” but it is a mystery in which the absence of that letter is a central theme.