Doug Nufer’s book Never Again has only just come to my attention, despite being published in 2002 (apparently). As the title hints, Nufer uses any given word only once—never again. I only read enough of the book to see how this constraint would work, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.
Most of Never Again‘s narration has a kind of dreamy, stream-of-consciousness feel to it, not least because of the inability to use any pronouns more than once. And there’s a clear reliance on synonyms, especially during dialogue exchanges. I imagine Nufer did most of his writing with a thesaurus handy.
I tried a much, much smaller version of this exercise—Nufer’s book is 163 pages—as a writing prompt in my flash fiction class. The students didn’t seem to think it was so tough to do for a paragraph or two, but I was really challenged by it. As my scene got longer, I had to continuously cannibalize sentences I’d written earlier in order to keep writing. I would ask myself, Do I really need that “is” in the third sentence? Could I use it better down here?
While I can’t recommend the book (having only read a few pages), I can highly recommend the exercise. It makes you think very carefully about word choice, and keeps you from automatically assuming that the first word to pop into your head is the best one.