Exquisite Corpse – Writing Style

Dig Your Own Corpse

The exquisite corpse is a technique that can be used as an icebreaker, a game, or just a way to bump a roomful of writers out of a rut. In general, the technique involves “blind” collaboration in generating sentences—a bit like “Mad Libs” for big boys and girls. To lead an EC activity, first break a sentence structure into parts. For example: Article, Noun, Prepositional phrase, Verb, Adverb, Prepositional phrase. Then, have each writer write the first item. Next, fold that piece of paper underneath, so that the first part cannot be read.

Then pass the paper on to the next writer, and write the next segment. Fold the paper under, pass, and move on. Rinse and repeat until you’ve finished. Now unfold the papers and read the sentences that you’ve generated. Some will be funny, some will be duds, and usually a couple will be rather striking and intriguing. After generating your sentences, you can move on to other activities. Pick two favorite generated sentences and let the writers each create a poem that uses one sentence at the beginning and the other at the end. Let the writers pick a favorite sentence and use it to start a short story. You can even use this activity with actors, generating sentences and then picking one to use as the basis for an improv scene.

There are infinite twists and turns that can be used with the activity. Give each writer a word to drop into his/her writings (this can generate a series of sentences that seem oddly linked). Give each writer a photo or image to connect to his/her additions. If you do this with a group on a regular basis, save the class’s favorite sentences for incorporation in more challenging writings. As the group becomes more familiar with the activity, you can move on to tougher constructions such as gerund and participial phrases. For that reason, this can even be a useful learning activity for a class studying grammar.

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