Write Bites: How to Write… a Riddle

riddle

I’m everywhere, but nowhere when you need me
I’m soft and white, but you wouldn’t pet me
One of my names means the speed of a piece of music, but I’m not an instrument
I come in a cute, little package, but I’m not a snack.
I can clean up a mess but I’m not a maid.

What am I?

The answer is at the end of this post!

Riddles are a lot of fun to write, but they are also very tricky! It is difficult to pick clues that don’t make the answer too obvious or too difficult.

First, pick the answer. It might sound silly to pick the ending first, but you have to pick it before you come up with the clues! It’s easiest to create a riddle about something simple and concrete, like an apple. A very specific answer (like a Granny Smith apple from the top of a tree in Australia) will be difficult to describe, as will an abstract answer (like eating). These aren’t impossible to make riddles for, but to start off, you might want to choose something tangible (means you can actually touch it) and simple.

Next, brainstorm ways to describe your subject.

  • Use all five senses! How does it look, sound, smell, taste, and feel?
  • Think outside the box! Use things like puns, pop culture, and historical references to describe your subject. For example, in a riddle about apples you might make a hint about the Garden of Eden (“I am not Adam’s favorite food” for example) or a hint about all the different types of apples (“I’m related to crustaceans, grandmas, computers, and fancy parties”)
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to look up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus.
  • Think about the function of your subject. How is it used? What does it do? Where do you find it? It’s like playing twenty questions!

Then, based on your brainstorming, make up some clues. This is the tough part—striking a balance between too easy or too difficult for someone to guess. The trick is to use a combination of clues that are very literal (describing the object) and ones that are more abstract (can easily refer to something else). For example, in describing an apple, you might say “I’m like a clown’s nose, shiny and red.” This clue gives the guesser information—many apples are shiny and red—but maintains some mystery because the guesser will start thinking about other objects like a clown’s nose instead of foods like apples.

Notice above how I said “I am like a clown’s nose. That’s a simile. Riddles are a great place to practice literary devices like similes, metaphors, and personification. Personification is especially useful because it is descriptive while still befuddling your reader since it treats objects like humans! For example, in our apple riddle, we could add a clue that goes: “I dance gracefully in the breeze until someone rudely picks me up and sticks me in a basket.” When you read the first part of that clue, you might think the apple is a person!

When you write a riddle, you can write the clues in either first person (“I”), or third person (“it”)

Now test out your riddle on someone! Is it too easy for them to solve it? Then make the clues more difficult. Are they too stumped? Add an easier clue at the end. It’s hard to tell the difficulty of your riddle until you test it!

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