I learned recently that Green Eggs and Ham was the result of a bet. His publisher bet Dr. Seuss couldn’t write a story in 50 words or less. Green Eggs and Ham uses exactly 50 words. I had an initial jaded reaction to that news. What the hell? That was one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books. Come to find out he wrote it under restrictions just to win a stupid bet!
I’m embarrassed to say I ranted about that in my head for several minutes, before I realized we do things like this all the time when we write. When I used to write a page a day about any random thing, I recall often limiting my parameters just to see what I might get. One that stands out is I wrote about a guy pulling over at the side of the road and peeing. That was it. I decided not to let anything else happen. I was just going to fill a page with the description of the action. There was no greater meaning to his peeing, there was nothing he contemplated while he peed. No one drove by and caught him. Now the results probably wouldn’t be interesting to read to anyone but me (and they certainly wouldn’t make for a bestselling children’s book!) but it turned into an inspired piece of writing memorable to me. How dare I even consider that Dr. Seuss wrote that dizzying, fun story with any less than his usual zing?
More likely that bet was just a fun gag between them, but Dr. Seuss got to thinking about it. Maybe he started Green Eggs and Ham and his instincts already had him using a small set of words and repeating them. What if I did try to write a book with only fifty words, what would happen? Far from that book being a contrived work designed to win a bet, in the mind of Dr. Seuss, that silly bet led to inspiration and gave us a classic children’s book.
I don’t have many examples as extreme as the peeing one, but the more I think about it, a lot of what I write is the result of eliminating options and tightening my parameters. In Courting Her, I wanted Kimberly to reveal her dominant nature not until their third date, so I had to have their first two dates in the book but I also had to get through them very quickly. So I limited myself, not to an exact word count, but I definitely strived to keep those first two dates extremely brief on the page without letting them feel too short. They ended up three paragraphs. Anyone else have personal examples? Also wondering if there are other famous works anyone knows of that were written under similar types of restrictions?