Image source: 『妹さえいればいい。』アニメ公式 on Twitter
Creative writers have an assortment of writing tricks to improve their skills. But, who would have thought word games was one of them?
In A Sister’s All You Need, our protagonist Itsuki Hashima is a light novel author who specializes in stories about little sisters. Throughout the day, he spends his time working on his craft. But, interesting characters often visit him at his home, like his editor, fellow authors, and his younger brother. In the first episode, Itsuki and a few of his colleagues get together for a small party and it turns into a storytelling game.
The premise this game is no more than a lateral thinking puzzle where one person comes up with a mystery story and the players try to solve what’s happens through asking a few “yes” or “no” questions. However, what’s remarkable about this in this series is one brief line of dialog: (roughly translated) “Authors will play this game at parties with original questions to hone their creative writing skills.” Think about this for a moment. What’s happening is we’re seeing four characters test their creative writing skills with a word game. In a sense, the writing skills of the person creating the story is being put to the test in a game.
For instance, Istuki’s story is no more than, “A man marries an ugly woman who can’t do any house work. Why is that?” While it may seem like story has a few layers at first, because the other characters fundamentally understand Itsuki, they answer the question without posing any “yes/no” questions themselves: It’s the man’s younger sister. So, Itsuki’s story becomes a display of his writing preferences, not necessarily his writing skills.
In turn, though, a fellow author named Haruto Fuwa poses a story that’s quite clever. In fact, in just a few sentences, he’s able to craft a story that has a solid opening, middle, and closing and still has a word play mystery for the other characters to solve.
The story revolves around an author who broke a deadline. Yet, the twist is this writer’s editors are glad he did. So in this story we see the opening: An author broke his deadline; middle: The author goes to his publisher; and end: The editorial team is glad the author broke the deadline and we have to solve why the editors are happy. The thing is, the entire mystery revolves around the Japanese word for deadline (shimekiri). While the common translation for shimekiri in the publishing industry is “deadline,” the word also refers to a lock. Since Itsuki and the other characters at his small party are authors and friends, they go to the “deadline” meaning first.
So, when it dawns on Itsuki that the editorial team in the story is happy this author broke the shimekiri, he goes to the next possible solution. The shimekiri in Haruto’s story isn’t referring to a deadline, but rather a lock. When we realize this the story then becomes a different three part story.
Opening: An author goes to see his publisher and discovers the editorial team locked in a room.
Middle: The author breaks the lock (the shimekiri).
End: The editorial team congratulates the author for breaking the lock.
It’s a real testament to Haruto’s writing prowess because he lures you into his story with a simple premise. And like Itsuki, we also want to know what happens with this author and editorial team and how they get out of the situation they’re placed in. However, the level of writing in the story goes one layer deeper by using an intriguing play on words surrounding the Japanese word for “deadline” to create the mystery.
Image source: 『妹さえいればいい。』アニメ公式 on Twitter
That’s the key to the lateral thinking puzzle for authors: The story not only has to be captivating, but it has to force the other players to analyze every facet of the mystery. And we see this with Itsuki and company as they try to parse out exactly what happens in this story. They are in essence asking the fundamental questions of 1) who’s doing what, 2) why they’re doing it, and 3) how they’re going to do it. These are very simple questions, yet in this simplicity we see the train of logic the characters are going through. Their first instinct is to go to the word “deadline” and ask about the author. But, as they get more information, we see Itsuki begin to ask detailed questions about the entire situation. Finally, when all the pieces fit together, we get the true meaning of the story.
When it comes to developing your writing skills, this lateral thinking puzzle is amazing because is puts us in the position of the author and reader. Thus, seeing it at play in the first episode of A Sister’s All You Need shows us these characters are very serious about their writing skill. Granted, some of the characters are better than others. But, that’s the beauty of the game, it forces you to improve your craft.