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Writing Prompt 12: Alphabetical writing

30 June, 2008

I love this prompt, which involves writing a story within the constraint of following alphabetical order. That is, the first word of each sentence follows alphabetical order. This prompt can lead your imagination into new places.

WARM-UP: First try this warm-up to start thinking alphabetically.

Write no more than 3 sentences, following an alphabetical order.

You can go for strict word-by-word alphabetical order: Ann brought Cate a delightful elephant, funnily gigantic. And so on…

Or you can be flexible, working in other words as well: Alex bought a cosy but deadly egg flipper–ghastly. He was involved in juvenile crime but kept a look so mild when his neighbour opined about prison being too qualmish for the rascals who stole his television, right under his nose one vacuous night. What excited Alex was being not only a youthful offender but a most zealous one.

Now you’re ready to try something more ambitious, a 26-sentence alphabetical story or poem.

How to structure the alphabetical story/poem
  • The first sentence or main clause must start with a word that begins with ‘A‘, the second with a word that begins with ‘B‘ and so on. You can try to create a coherent story or comment within the alphabetical constraints, or you can simply freewrite a stream of alphabetised consciousness.You can use this exercise as a warm-up in a writing group, by creating a story out loud as a group, with each member in turn contributing the next sentence. The story can be totally spontaneous or the group can agree on a conflict and the characters before starting.
  • Don’t make things too hard on yourself. Use a word starting with ‘ex’ instead trying to find one starting with ‘x’.
    You can use articles before the alphabetical word, of course. E.g., ‘A new toy?’, she asked, dubiously prodding the contraption. ‘An organisational triumph,’ he said with a mad grin.
  • Go for variety in the length and style or construction of your sentences. Use description, exposition, and dialogue. Don’t take the lazy route and start each sentence with an adverb or adjective: Angrily, Sue stared at him. Bitterly, he stared back. Cruelly, she ate the last doughnut in front of him. Devastated, he turned away. You can use sentence fragments as needed. E.g., Unblinking, I thought some more. We, the world and myself were alike. Very much so, as it turned out.
  • Want more flexibliity? Place your alphabetical words, still in sequence, but anywhere in a sentence or main clause. E.g.:Anyone can be a star. At least that’s what I thought before the battle started in our little group for the main role. How catty everyone became. Even Deborah, my best friend, started criticising my acting ability. Everyone was jumpy and I knew fur would fly on audition night.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 May, 2012 1:18 pm

    I just happened across this post and realized that I am not as original as I thought. Here’s mine ( where I ask people to do the same thing. Posted within is my own 26 word story, though I used more than 3 sentences to get there.


    • 26 May, 2012 2:36 pm

      I guess this exercise may be the original example of flash fiction. Seeing your example, I think the exercise does work better broken into several sentences because doing so can create a plot, a story.


  2. Marsha permalink
    3 July, 2008 8:48 am

    I hope others have a look at your poem, Hidden Meanings, to see what’s possible within the constraint of an alphabetical sequencing. You make it seem easy! Marsha


  3. noahthegreat permalink
    2 July, 2008 1:19 am

    Hidden meanings


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