Constrained Communication

Constrained WritingThere are many games and exercises that have to do with constraints placed on conversation or writing. These can be just for fun or to spark your creativity.


A lipogram is a kind of writing that avoids utilizing particular symbols. As you look at this paragraph, can you catch a particular symbol that is missing? It is a common symbol, so it is difficult to impart information without using it. Wright, an author, did a book, Gadsby, that contains 50,000 words but not that particular common symbol. To accomplish his work, Wright had to actually impair a crucial part of his typing tool. An additional book, La Disparation, or A Void, also avoids that particular symbol. You may want to try producing paragraphs using this approach, or trying to talk out loud with a companion this way. It’s fun!

Reverse-Lipograms (The E Game)

Hate the above game? Here’s the antidote: everything requires e. Impossible? Note the passage being read: e’s are everywhere. Attempt the above game yourself, then the E game, before deciding whether one’s harder.


To write in E-Prime, exclude all forms of the verb “to be.” Use this as an exercise in making your speech or writing more powerful, similar to the practice of excluding the passive voice. You can debate whether this practice improves your writing or not, but it makes for a good game anyway. Try to have a conversation or edit something you have written according to the rules of E-Prime.

Basic English

Thing ExplainerYou can learn and have fun by trying to talk or write about things that are not simple using only the most-used words in the English language. Charles Kay Ogden created Basic English, a simple form of English using only the 850 most-used words, to be a language anyone can use. Basic English has helped people teach English as a second language, and helped George Orwell create Newspeak, the language used in 1984. Writing or talking in Basic English sounds funny, but it can help people understand things that are not simple. Randall Munroe has created drawings with notes that explain not-simple tools using only the 1,000 most-used words in the English language. His book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, uses drawings with notes to explain things like the Space Car for the Red World (Mars rover). He has a tool that you can use to see whether something you have written uses only the 1,000 most-used words.

Alphabetic Conversation

Players carry on a normal conversation, but the first word of the first player’s first sentence must begin with the letter A, the second player’s with B, etc.

  • “Aren’t you glad it’s not raining?”
  • “But it might rain later.”
  • “Could even storm.”
  • “Don’t think so.”
  • “Even later tonight?”


Players take turns composing alliterative sentences in alphabetical order, e.g., “Arbitrarily, Amanda ate apricots and almonds.” Each sentence must consist of at least five words, and must be grammatically correct. Optional rules include the requirement that the sentence make sense, and the option of using one- or two-letter words that are not alliterative.


EunoiaA univocalic is a type of constrained writing that uses only a single vowel for a sentence, story or poem. For instance, the sentence, “A man can ban all paragraphs that lack A as a standard hallmark,” contains only A and no other vowels. Christian Bök’s book Eunoia is made up of five chapters, one for each vowel, which are all univocalics. Here is Bök reading from Chapter I:


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