Exquisite Corpse 2.0: 4 Apps for Collaborative Story Writing

As a child, I was a huge fan of a collaborative story writing game that I later learned was also a favorite of the Surrealists. The gist of the "exquisite corpse" game: write a sentence on a piece of paper. Fold the paper so that only the last word or phrase can be seen, and pass the paper around in a circle. Everyone gets a chance to add a line or two to what becomes a story composed by the collective, rather than by a single author - a story created together, but separately, in secret.

Collaborative storytelling like this works well with paper and pencil, to be sure, but there are a number of apps that meld exquisite corpse with tech.

Folding Story

Folding Story is a website that lets you read, create, or contribute to these collaborative stories. You can select the stories to add to based on whether they're old or new, near the beginning or near completion. There are limitations to the number of characters you can contribute (180) and to the time you get to respond (4 minutes). You can follow other users to see their updates, and mutual followers can send each other private messages. The stories are scored, based on the scores of each individual line contributed, and there's a leaderboard for the site as well. You can read my ReadWriteWeb article here.

Exquisite Corpse: A Poetry Game

Exquisite Corpse is another web-based app based on collaborative poetry-writing. Rather than opening up a story to anyone, Exquisite Corpse asks the person who's kicking off the story to contribute the opening sentence, set the number of lines, and then give someone's email address. That person receives an email notification, prompting them to add a line and, if required, give the contact information for the next person who should receive the message.

Exquisite Corpse Project

The Exquisite Corpse Project recently ran an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, but I like this idea a lot (in part because I've toyed with the idea of building the same sort of thing). This exquisite corpse game uses Twilio (which I've written about here) to create a way to build the story via text-message.

Google Docs

None of the apps described above are necessarily ideal for a classroom setting. In all fairness, none of them were designed with that in mind. And while they could probably be tweaked for those purposes -- something that I do believe Folding Story has seen happen -- it may be that teachers want more control over who and how the collaborative storytelling works.

One easy way to create your own exquisite corpse project would be to utilize Google Docs. Using a Google Form, you can prompt students to contribute a line apiece, then assemble the story based on their input. To help identify the beginning and end of the story, you can select students to kick things off and ask them to tag their contribution with a radio button.

Why Exquisite Corpse?

The Surrealists argued that a game like exquisite corpse tapped into the power of collective creativity. And while certainly their arguments for collaboration aren't the same as educators who want students to work together on projects, I think the game could be used in interesting ways in the classroom. Part of the fun of exquisite corpse is that when a group writes a story together like this, the tale is full of hilarious juxtapositions. As such, it's a great opportunity about why some stories "work" in terms of their narrative cohesion and some stories don't. It's also a good time to point to some of the formulaic elements of storytelling -- in plot, conflict, and character. It might also be worth asking students how moving the game from paper to computer (or cell phone), from participants passing notes around a circle to submitting sentences to strangers online might shape how a story unfolds.


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