In the spring of my senior year at Harvey Mudd College, I took an excellent fiction writing workshop class taught by Prof. Sal Plascencia. The class focused on constraint-based writing, so for each of the assignments there were numerous rules and regulations, some of which were individual and based on our previous work. I found it to be an excellent experience, since I had always told myself I wanted to be able to write fiction, but I had never actually managed to produce anything. Over the course of the class, I created three works that I feel confident in sharing.

I think that New Year’s Day is by far my best work so far.

  • Opportunity for Study: 300 words, does not include the letter e. Setting: fantasy.
  • The Garden: 1,500 words, constraints below. Setting: science fiction.
  • New Year’s Day: 3,000 words, constraints below. Setting: real-world, historical.

Constraints for The Garden

  • Must be exactly seven pages in length
  • Fictional events described must all take place within a seven-hour window
  • Prohibited words: second, minute, hour, instant, moment, while (as a noun), forever, eternity, day, morning, noon, afternoon, afternoon, evening, night, time
  • Elements which may not appear: the Sun, the Moon, watches, clocks, cellphones, computer clocks, hourglasses
  • No characters may die during the story

Constraints for New Year’s Day

  • Must not be in the third person
  • Must have a title
  • At least four senses must be used (e.g. taste, touch, smell, etc.)
  • At least one historical allusion must be made which allows placing the story within the fictional timeline of its universe
  • At least 20 words must be dedicated to an extended description of the body
  • At least two foreign or newly minted words must be used
  • A texture must be described through figurative language
  • A character may not be alone at the start of the story
  • There cannot be a dream state lasting longer than 50 words
  • There can be no zombies or any communicable diseases
  • Something broken or something sticky must be described
  • No supernatural or science-fiction nomenclature may be used (e.g. witch, magic, etc.)
  • Must take place between 1962 and 2002
  • Prohibited words: hate, blood, sweat, tears, silence, strange, heart, smile, smirk, world, sigh, beautiful, perfect
  • Limited words: numbers (8), colors as adjectives (2), adverbs ending in ly (7), suddenly (1), eye (3), hair (1)
  • At least one adverb ending in ly must be used to modify a verb in a surprising way