A Novel Idea

When you impose constraints on writing then it becomes more of a challenge and that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because it encourages you to think of alternatives and this improves your writing and writing stamina.

Imagine writing a sentence or paragraph without using the letter ‘e’.

It doesn’t sound that hard to do until you have a stab at it. Give it a go and see.

Someone has tried to do this but not just a sentence or two but a whole novel of 50,000 words without once using the letter ‘e’.

Ernest Vincent Wright wrote Gadsby in 1939 and look all you want but you won’t find a letter ‘e’ anywhere in his book.

Now that’s pretty impressive stuff considering that ‘e’ is the most commonly used letter in the English language.

Let’s not beat around the bush here, this is absolutely amazing!

A piece of writing that intentionally misses out a particular letter of the alphabet is called a lipogram.

Wright’s lipogrammatic story is about fictional city called Branton Hills, which is revitalised as a result of the efforts of its new mayor, John Gadsby, and a group of young people.

What’s more impressive is that he did this on a typewriter and obviously not a computer. He said,

The entire manuscript was written with the E-type bar of the typewriter tied down; thus making it impossible for that letter to be printed. This was done so that none of that vowel might slip in, accidentally; and many did try to do so!

The book’s copyright lapsed in 1969 and it can now be purchased as a print on demand book.


Has anyone else set themselves the challenge of writing a whole novel?

In 1969 Georges Perec wrote La Disparition, which left out the letter ‘e’ and he did so writing in the French language. This book was remarkably translated into English in 1994 by Gilbert Adair, who renamed it A Void (as the direct translation would have been The Disappearance).

Anyone else?

In 1957 James Thurber wrote a children’s book called The Wonderful O where the letter ‘o’ is deliberately omitted.

Why not challenge yourself and your students to write a sentence, paragraph or story bereft of one of the vowels? Here are some attempts where the use of the letter ‘i’ has been banned.

To get more inspiration then take a look at the superb book by Mark Dunn – Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively  lipogrammatic epistolary fable.

Then there is a brilliant book called Eunoia which is an anthology of univocalics by Canadian poet Christian Bök where each chapter uses only one vowel.

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