These days, in the age of soundbites, we challenge ourselves to tell stories in no more than 140 characters (on Twitter), or no more than six words (see the Six Word Memoir project). Here’s a challenge from Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Geisel, that I was intrigued to learn about at the Dr. Seuss exhibit, and that might be a little harder: Write a story using only 50 words, i.e. the same 50 words.
He, in fact, did just that: He bet his publisher $50 that he could write a story using no more than 50 words, and then he did it, writing his bestseller Green Eggs & Ham. Not only did he write it with 50 words, all the words have only one syllable, except for one: “anywhere.” And all this in 1960.
Many of his books are based on a list of 220 beginner words, which makes them easy to read for children. Another secret: They are often written in anapestic tetrameter, a cadence easy to follow for young readers.
I loved these two insights into the craft of Dr. Seuss, and maybe one day I shall challenge myself to learn more about rhyme and rhythm, and consider the simplicity or complexity of the actual words I use.