One-Syllable Word Writing Exercise Examples
Many creative writing teachers have their students practice one-syllable writing exercises. The students are asked to craft a paragraph using only one-syllable words. As a training device, this monosyllabic drill is useful for young writers to sharpen their skills. At the same time, though, it introduces them to the overarching idea that informs this exercise, that being spare can be incredibly effective in connecting with an audience.
Simple Words Can Speak Volumes
The best real-world example of this notion is Donald Trump, a person who has become known for his terse speaking (and Tweeting) style. He began driving this point home better than anyone before he even became the 45th President of the United States. In October 2015, "The Boston Globe" famously broke down the speeches of 19 different presidential candidates. The paper determined that Trump uses simple words that can be understood by a fourth-grader, according to a Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
Shortly after that piece was published, Evan Puschack, a YouTube personality who hosts a weekly web series called Nerdwriter, took a deeper dive into Trump's discourse. Puschack analyzed Trump's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel in December 2015, which came in the wake of his call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
Puschack examined the minute-long response that then-candidate Trump offered up to Kimmel, who had asked him pointedly if it was "un-American and wrong to discriminate against people based on their religion." Puschak discovered that 78% of the words Trump responded with were one-syllable. Out of 220 words, 172 of them were one syllable. The takeaway: More uncomplicated sentiments have greater resonance with a broader audience. While it can be fun to finesse flowery text, readers respond better when you cut to the chase.
Try Your Hand at Streamlining Your Thoughts
As a writer, when you're limited to relying strictly on basic, monosyllabic words, the constraints cause you to come up with more creative uses of language. Naturally, any word limit also results in tighter, more thoughtful writing. Alas, though, the task is harder than it sounds. Give it a try. The charter is straightforward: Write a paragraph using only words with one-syllable. Write about anything you choose but make sure to keep the word count to 100 words or less.
The One-Syllable Writing Exercise in Action
In 2013, a writer named Eric John Baker put this postulation to the test by posting a piece of flash fiction on his blog that he wrote exclusively using one-syllable words. As you'll see from the excerpt below, his writing has an immediacy that makes it easy to read.
I know she saw me. I heard the noise, turned, and our eyes locked. Her teeth were bared, like a dog’s.
She meant to hit me.
In court, Barb tells the judge I “ran out.” She says she could not stop in time. Blah blah blah. It was pure chance she hit me, of all the scum on Earth, she says. Or, she tells the judge, it was guilt. That is, I ran out in the street to snuff it on a car hood from guilt for what I did to Gail, and by pure luck it was her car hood.
A sampling of writing students tried a similar exercise. After putting together paragraphs using monosyllabic words, a few students shared their observations. "I thought I’d give this a shot," wrote one student named Steve, whose paragraph is pasted below. "It was fun, you have to rephrase things, and it warps it to sound like poetry, but interesting nonetheless." Another student named Jude weighed in and said, "I went just a couple words over and just can’t find ones I’m willing to take out I’m not sure if it’s coherent: it’s really restrictive to just use one-syllable words. I had no idea!"
In a town on the edge of a wood, a small boy stood in front of a shop. At the shop, they were to hand out free treats, which he felt a great need for.
Once he got one, he ate it in haste.
May I please have one more? asked the small boy when he was done.
No, said a girl.
But I am not full, the boy said in a sad voice.
She frowned and with a nod of her head, gave her okay. The small boy filled with joy and with a laugh, held out his hand.
We need to not lose our minds as we go forth in style. Do not look back on change, see no loss, dream with eyes wide open. To attain that which is most high one, must fall, let it not be you or I, and let us rise and grow to rise above it all. Come to the Zen, stay calm and push the bad to the side, come straight through to the core and be at peace, stay at peace and be the one. Find your self do not lose yourself, and know, now that you are found, you were lost even when you did not know.
"Dear God," she wrote, "I have been good all my life. I lived in a way I thought you would want. Be it man or beast, I treat all with love. But I ask, is life how it should be? And," she went on, "Why did you leave?" She paused on the next words. "Did you leave me?" she asked in her head, "or did I leave you?" She threw the note and pen to the hard floor and cried. "Who left who? Do I have a soul? Is this life all there is?"
She feared the truth she knew.
The man showed great care and love for those near to him. Though he held all the world, he kept no thing as his. What he had he gave to all, and he gave all that he had. Life, he held not dear. His fear was not for things that fade, neither in death nor pain, but for the love of his dad he moaned and groaned in his heart. Do not leave me! Though he knew the void was not in vain, for the great love had for all he would gain. Head raised up high to the sky, with gasps of breath, he cried and cried, Why have you left me? To where have you gone?
When the sun hung so low first thing, the day could not be good. They flinch when it strikes their eyes, wish for shade and cool black night.
"Did you hear it?" said in low tones. A strange echo, all through the hours the sun hung high. Day-to-day life stays the same, but the sound is changed.
The sun’s not set for three days.
Dry land asks with a raspy gasp, "why?"
The beasts and birds don’t see, but you can just sort of breathe. Heat.
Her will is done. in the first dark since, the sky let out a sea of rain. We dance, we sing, we praise her grace.
John left school and went to sea. He had a good mate who taught him how to tie knots and things. His first trip was to Caen in France and he had a few drinks of wine in a bar and sang a song which was nice. On the way back to the boat he fell off the kerb and broke his wrist. It hurt a lot when the nurse put it in a splint. A man took him back to the boat where his boss told him never to drink wine in France as he thought it was crap!
The boy sat on the dock and wept.
He cried for the loss of love. A tear in his heart so big it seemed too much to bear.
He glanced up at the fish in the lake and wished to be with them. To be free with them for a few days is all he asked for. To not think about the life he must face. He would not go back to the house. Not back to the home where he knew her. Where her bones would be lain. Not back to the house where his mom had died.
He had been out of jail for two weeks when he took the small girl from her yard. He cut her hair to look like a boy. She was found at a car wash the next day. She was not hurt, she was fine. She went home with her mom and dad and all was joy. God heard all the pleas for her.
The cops found out that he was a thief and had shot a man to death, then took the girl. When the cops caught up with him, he put a gun to his head and “BAM.” Dead.
The last time I saw him he was my hero. Now he was just a man. He was still my dad, but not my friend. His power over me was gone. I did not seek his favor and that fact made each of us wary of the other. The old rules and words did not work, my way or no way. Now he sought me out and it was too late for me to come home to his way. The path of my life has been about my way and on my road to peace with him.
She’d grasped hold of it last night. It had been spot on. But in a flash, it was gone to who knows where. It should have been dealt with when she thought of it then. But now it will have to wait, ‘cause it’s just not there. Where did it go, that flash in the night? To a dark space in her brain, to a blank slate in her mind, or to the void in her soul? She does not know where they go or how to call them back, these thoughts that fly in and out of her head.