Lari Don: How to create riddles with children

I’ve been making up lots of riddles recently, in partnership with the sphinx character in my new Spellchasers trilogy, and I’ve been sharing what I’ve learnt in riddle-writing workshops with young riddle fans.

If you want to create riddles with a group of children, here are some tips:

Start with the answer

If you’ve made up lots of clues, don’t use them all in one riddle. Choosing three or four is probably enough.

Writing riddles can be easier than answering them, because you start with the answer and work backwards!

So, choose an answer for your riddle. Don’t make it too complicated – choose something your audience will be familiar with. A riddle is easiest to write if the answer is a noun, ideally an object rather than an idea, something that you can describe.


List all the facts you know about your chosen answer

If your answer is a spider, your facts might include:

  • lots of legs,
  • lots of eyes,
  • spins webs,
  • eats flies,
  • some people are scared of them (I’m a little nervous even writing this list...)

 

Make up tricksy clues from those facts

The clues can be wordplay, eg for a snake:

I always eat with a fork, never a knife or spoon

or statements which seem impossible, eg for a fire:

if you feed me, I grow (which makes sense)

if you give me a drink, I die (which doesn’t seem to make sense – until you know the answer, of course!)

 

or clues can be apparent contradictions, eg for our spider:

I spin beautifully, but I can’t dance

 

Laying out clues with the structure:

I am this, but not that; I do this, but not that 

can be very effective.

Make it riddle-shaped

It can be fun to make your riddle sound poetic, so look for possible rhymes or puns

If you’ve made up lots of clues, don’t use them all in one riddle. Choosing three or four is probably enough.

Which are your favourite clues? Which are funniest or strangest or most beautiful?  Which fit best together?

It can be fun to make your riddle sound poetic, so look for possible rhymes or puns as you select and arrange your clues. But riddles also work fine as a simple list of clues, followed by ‘what am I?’

Only one answer!

Now look carefully at your riddle.

Is the answer true for every line?

Does the whole riddle lead (in a winding fashion) to just one answer? If there are several possible correct answers, tweak the riddle to cancel out all the answers you don’t want.

For example, I once wrote a riddle mentioning no legs but a tail, and scales, and a fork, hoping for the answer ‘a snake’, but got the perfectly reasonable answer ‘a mermaid’ (because the fork could refer to Neptune’s trident as well as a forked tongue) so I added a line about ‘moving over the ground’ to cancel out the watery option.

Test your riddle on someone

If they get the answer too fast, make the riddle less obvious. Try taking out the easiest clue, or putting the hardest clues at the start and easier ones at the end.

If they don’t get the answer at all, put in a simpler clue (near the end!)

If they give an answer that fits the riddle perfectly, but isn’t the answer you had in mind, add another clue to cancel out that answer.

 

And those are the simple secrets of creating a tricky riddle! 

If any keen young riddle-masters would like to send their shiny new riddles to me (you can contact me through my website below) I’ll see how fast the Spellchasers sphinx Atacama can solve them!

 

Liked this guide from Lari? Check out her blog series taking young writers step by step through the process of story writing. 

Enter the DiscoverKelpies fan art competition for the chance to win an exclusive Spellchasers prize bundle! Author Lari Don will judge the shortlisted entries and pick her favourite. Winners will receive the full Spellchasers trilogy – that’s The Beginner’s Guide to Curses, The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away and The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat – along with a print of their artwork, signed by Lari Don. Find out more at the DiscoverKelpies website!

Lari Don

Cover of Spellchasers: The Shapeshifter's Guide to Running Away
The second novel in Lari Don’s new Spellchasers trilogy for 8-12 yrs – The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away - is out now, published by Floris Books.

You can find out more about Lari’s books, workshops and author sessions on her website.