Creativity · Writing

Playing Exquisite Corpse [Creativity]

Human skullsI’m sure the title got your attention, but this isn’t a post about horror or forensics. Exquisite Corpse is actually a game focused on creativity. Think of it as a creative exercise that can be done with either words or images. It’s actually quite fun to play and the outcomes can range from amazing to hilarious to occasionally awful. The point, though, is to have fun and see what you can come up with.

First, a little background on the game to provide context. It was originally invented by surrealists (big surprise) as a parlor game, but later evolved into something more enriching. There’s some debate on when it was actually invented. Some claim it was in 1925, but others argue that it was played as early as 1918.

So how does one play?

Basically, a player writes on a portion of a piece of paper – maybe a word or a sentence – then folds the paper over so the text is either completely hidden or only a few words are visible. They then pass it to the next person who adds their Hands folding a piece of paper.contribution, covering their text, then passing it to the next. This can go on for as long as the players want, or until they run out of paper, but once finished the entire page is revealed.

It doesn’t have to be on a single piece of paper. Each player can have their own page and take turns writing something, write at the same time, or even work in a collaborative manner where each player writes one word after the other. Another alternative is to take an already written page of text, cut it up into individual words, phrases, or sentences, then piece it together in a new way. Like a jigsaw puzzle of words.

There aren’t really any hard rules, other than to piece something creative together from bits and pieces of input.

In a way, it’s sort of a precursor to Mad Libs, which is another fun word game. When playing Exquisite Corpse the participants can begin with a topic or subject in mind so everyone stays on the same general path or they can leave it open to whatever comes to mind.

I’ve played it both ways and I sort of prefer having a topic to begin with and allow for the next player to see the last few words I wrote. I find that often ends with something more tangible, a short-short story or vignette. You can also assign each player a certain type of sentence, so one person would be in charge of writing dialogue, another action, another a bit of narrative, and so on.

However, playing without any topic or idea of what the other players are writing can be fun, as well. The results are often surreal (which fits the original idea of the inventors) and occasionally hilarious. For what it’s worth, a bottle or two of wine can help to spark the creativity of the players.

There’s also an alternative version of the game, often referred to as Picture Consequences, that relies solely on drawing. Like Exquisite Corpse, there are different ways to play. Players can follow the basic rules outlined in the Corpse version, or for a more collaborative effort, they can all draw on the same piece of paper at the same time. For example, they could agree to draw a person, then each player focuses on one portion of the anatomy. One does the left arm, another does the right leg, and another works on the head, and so on.

Drawing from a game of exquisite corpse.
By DIYLILCNC – Exquisite Corpse, CC BY-SA 2.0,

In the illustration shown here, the players started with a prompt, the word “sparse”. It’s interesting to see how different people interpret the word, how it sparks specific images in their imaginations.

If you really want to see how creative your group is, you can combine both games. One group works on a story with the exquisite corpse method, then once finished, hands it off to another group who illustrates the story. Imagine the possibilities.

Regardless of how the final product turns out, it’s a fun exercise and something anyone of any age can play. Next time you’re stuck inside on a rainy day, play it with your partner, your kids, a group of friends. You only need two people to play, but the more the merrier.

If you want to give it a try, check out the online version at


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