CategoryConstrained Writing

In 2006 I wrote 255 stories, making it two years in a row without missing an update. Even if a couple of those updates were on Pacific time. Ahem.

This year, barring catastrophic brain injury, we’ll hit 1000 stories (and, even less meaningfully, 1001). We’ll also see the debut of the Anacrusis book, Ommatidia, although our impending move isn’t going to make that any easier to finish than the hecticity of the past six months. Tomorrow morning I’ll post the last completed six-word story from the initial round of submissions. More about that in the next paragraph.

The six-word stories were fun! Since Anacrusis has apparently outlasted and now I need a new paragraph for the FAQ, I’m going to make the offer permanent. Send me a six-word story, and I’ll probably write the other ninety-five, for as long as I’m doing Anacrusis. No guarantees on when and I probably won’t mess with the pennies, but you will get credit in the popup text. I really can’t think of a smaller thank-you for doing my work for me. Wait, no! Let’s talk about pennies again.

People have talked about an Anacrusis wiki. I’ve talked about a blink-fiction community. I’ve also talked about my general distaste for authoritative canon, then put the lie to that by refusing to finish six-word stories about my canon characters. Finally, I’ve got just sitting around right now.

What if I started a new wiki, as a host for both information on recurring characters and new 101-word stories by people like you? It’s pretty arrogant for me to launch a new site and say “humans! Discuss the amazing things I have created!” It’s also silly of me to try to host stories, since I think all the Anacrusis readers interested in constrained writing of their own already have perfectly serviceable blogs or story journals.

That said, things like the stories I repost from the comment feed, timeline conjecture and the Millicent Resurrection Army suggest there’s a demand. The basic concept here is to throw open my canon and offer you tools to create new canon of your own. Given the opportunity, would you contribute?

Sumana and Leonard are getting married, and that is joyous and perfect, and is it okay if I’m a little bit thrilled to see the particular format in which they told us about it?


California game update

My uncle John offers a rhyming take on Atlantis, and my mom gently reminds me that of course I didn’t invent the form: both “California” and the game were inspired by a picture book she read us when we were young, called Whose Mouse Are You, by Robert Kraus.

Also, saved from the LJ comment thread:

Will:Where is Atlantis? Under the sea.

What’s under the sea? Not you, and not me.

Well then, where are we? The internet.

How’d we get there? Zeroes and ones.

What do those stand for? Video fun.

What is flypaper?

Me: Sweetness that kills.

David: What can’t be killed?

Scott: Everything dies.

Josh: Why do they die?

William: They run out of time.

Beth: What is time?

Kevan: Memory. [Then, because of a crosspost:] Curse you, time!

Ken: What time is it?

Stephen: It’s hamburger time.

David: Do hamburgers rhyme?

Scott: Not on my dime.

Me: OKAY NEW ONE. What is a curse?

Scott: Bad karma, realized.

William: How is it realised?

Ken: Through the teachings of the Maharishi.

Beth: What is the Maharishi?

Me: A teacher of hunger.

Scott: Where is the hunger?

David: In the bowels of the cursed…

Which seems like a neat place for a cutoff.

How many is seven?

A game to play while walking

I call this the California game, but it doesn’t actually have to rhyme.

What is noir? A story about losers.

Who are the losers? They didn’t win.

Who are the winners? The writers of history.

What is a history? Lies that come true.

What kind of words come true? Magic ones.

So for a noir story you make up people who know magic, then write about the ones who don’t.

Your turn. Where is Atlantis?

Man, all I post lately is little link blurbs, but I have to plug this: Holly’s amazing crossword-based constrained-writing project and PhD thesis is finally going online! Two stories in and I am already jealous of her ideas, in both format and content.

Okay, let’s be men for a minute. 101 words isn’t much of a challenge anymore. I’ve been cramming stuff into that space for almost two and a half years and, like a man who plays Tetris every day, I pretty much know what is going to fit where.

I don’t want to change that constraint on Anacrusis because, while challenge is an important part of a constraint, it’s not the only part. It’s an easy selling point; it’s a convenient finish line on days when I’ve got very little material. Besides, I like the form and I’m not done playing with it. But the fact remains that as a device, the word limit has lost much of its ability to stir up ideas.

So. Something new, with occasional interruptions, starting today.

Cool constrained-writing idea: Two Lines, Two Stories, One Day, where two guys trade first sentences and then have to write the rest of a short story. Some of the sentences are great! The stories themselves tend to lean a little hard on sting endings, but they’re still fun.

So I already put my bragging rights at stake in the Iron Game Chef contest, which means I need to design a game. This year involves not only the standard time limit and ingredient requirements, but a set of rules limitations as well. It’s a timed constrained game writing exercise! It’s a good thing those all make me gasp with excitement, because I’ve only got six days left and I haven’t so much “started.”

So here’s where I’m thinking of going. This isn’t an opinion poll–I’m going to make the game that I believe in the most; I just want to have a sketch-record in case I come back to some of these later. You’re welcome to steal anything here and make your own game, of course.

  • Enemy of the People: Two groups of players work in tandem, able to communicate only via a shared map. One plays a group of Navajo scouts in 1360 AD, the other a modern-day group of archaeologists, both trying to unravel the mystery of the abandonment of Mesa Verde–the former group via the spirit world, the latter via science. The game is played on a strict time limit, because once the sun goes down, the mystery starts to reveal itself in a supernatural, lethal fashion…

    Ingredients: Anasazi disappearance, 1300s. “Entomology,” “Accuser” and “Companion.” Multi-meaning die rolls and pregenerated characters.

    Problems: Huge and clunky. Not sure I can do this without a very coordinated pair of GMs, which I don’t want.

  • We Are Rock Stars: 1998, California. Brilliant geeks search for identity and social acceptance while struggling not to let their offbeat interweb startup get washed away in the tide of venture capital–or see the tide recede.

    Ingredients: Dot-com boom, late 1990s. “Entomology,” “Wine” and “Invincible.” Multi-meaning die rolls.

    Problems: InSpectres probably does this as a subsystem, and better.

  • Alexandretta: Merchant caravans roam the highways and seaways of a young and exotic island empire, racing to clinch deals, watching (and affecting) the wash of supply and demand to maximize their profits.

    Ingredients: Loosely based on the heyday of the Silk Road. “Wine,” “Companion” and “Accuser.” Color-based resolution and custom card deck.

    Problems: I don’t know anything about economics. Also, not sure this is actually a role-playing game.

  • Welcome to the New World: Accused criminals are denied trials and sentenced to hard labor at a lunar prison colony where all light is blue, and visible colors a jealously guarded luxury. The prisoners’ desperate secret is that only they can produce the physically inexplicable property of color–and only by their suffering and death. Lethal, oppressive horror.

    Ingredients: “Wine,” “Companion” and “Accuser.” Color-based resolution, obviously. Historical basis: pick one.

    Problems: I’m not sure I have the balls for this, and I don’t know anybody who would actually want to play it.

I’m kind of scaring myself, right now, by leaning toward the last one. I’ll pick for real tonight.

I keep meaning to talk about Vocabulary Notebook! Why haven’t I talked about Vocabulary Notebook yet! Ack!

So basically Jeiel (and, sometimes, his cousin Mia) checks the Word-of-the-Day lists at MW or NYT or wherever and finds a cool word, and writes a story using it. I think this is a fantastic illustration of an inspiring constraint–he starts every story with a limitation and the seed of an idea, and they’re different every time.

Jeiel’s stated that VN was inspired by Anacrusis, which is very flattering (and is how I found the site in the first place). This isn’t a sneaky back-pat loop, though; the stories he writes are good, and they’re getting better.

David Flora steps up with a terzanelle of his own–ignoring word count, but with fantastic use of full-line rhyme as a substitute for repetition and slick iambic pentameter (in which terzanelles are really supposed to be).

Fixed-format poetry was just one more subgenre of constrained writing, which is probably why I find old forms so much more interesting than those of modern and postmodern poetry. Constraints like the terzanelle provide so much opportunity for innovation, as Holly and Flora have just demonstrated. I still think the best explanation of the value therein comes from’s FAQ:

“Constraints set additional challenges to the writer. Writing to a constraint is like solving a puzzle. Graceful solutions have a pleasing feel – like watching the moves of a chess master – on top of their value as stories.”

I’m always delighted to rediscover that my friends are masterful, in some way or many.

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