How to Write a Riddle
It’s pretty tricky to invent a riddle. Most of the time, people simply repeat riddles that they’ve heard from elsewhere. But if you want to write your own riddle:
- It’s a good idea to start with a pun. Think of a word that has multiple meanings, ideally very far apart from each other. For example, the word “wing” could mean the flying appendage of a bird or bat, but it could also mean part of a building like a hospital. These two meanings are very far apart, so a riddle using that pun would be difficult to solve.
- Next, you can craft a riddle around your pun. Try to make it something that gives people a misleading mental image. For example, you might say: “In each of my wings I hold thousands of books.” Initially, the listener will imagine a giant bird carrying lots of books, but in fact this is leading them away from the real answer, which is: a large library.
When to Use Riddles
Since riddles are word games rather than rhetorical devices, they don’t really play much role in creative or formal writing. Like jokes or folk songs, they operate on their own rather than serving any particular external function. However, riddles do sometimes occur in stories, especially adventure stories. As we saw in section 3, riddles can be used as tests for the hero’s cleverness and intelligence. Thus, they might be valuable in fantasy stories. Otherwise, though, riddles nearly always stand on their own and are not part of a broader writing project.