Archive for the ‘Invention Exercises’ Category

This is a collaborative writing game called the exquisite corpse. Each person in the group should take out a sheet of paper. Begin by writing a line or sentence, whatever comes to mind. Fold the paper so your line is barely covered. Pass the paper to your left. As you receive new paper, keep adding lines and folding over. By the time your paper returns to you, you will have a collaboratively authored text.

Rationale: The exquisite corpse is a surrealist technique that works for writing and also for collaborative visual art.  You will likely end up with a strange text that you could not have authored by yourself. Also, since many of the lines are not “yours,” you may feel more comfortable about revising them and trying different techniques to reshape the lines.

The best reason for doing this though is fun. It really is a game and should be treated as such. Many people do not value the play that is part of writing. It’s fun to race through creating a collaborative text. This can also be a great party game if you have friends who write. Keep making exquisite corpses and sharing with each other.

For Later: Read and reread the text you have. Blog about what you think it means. Revise it to make it make more sense or play up your interpretation of the meaning. Revise to make it more strange or wild. Break lines to make it a poem. Fill out phrases to make a story. Invent characters who speak the text in dialogue. The possibilities are endless.

Adapted from A Book of Surrealist Games edited by Mel Gooding


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First, write down a statement declaring your mental state: angry, hopeful, shocked, ecstatic, catatonic despair etc.

Now, write a text that simulates a mental state other than the one you declared. You can invent a character in this state and write in the first person.

Insanity is a fun state to choose…

Write for ten minutes, actively focusing on being in the mental state you are depicting.

Rationale: When we write, we often receive the direction our mind naturally inclines toward, which is a passive mental state. Freewriting or Automatic Writing harnesses this; letting the mind lead us where it will and separating mind from consciousness.

Affecting a mental state other than the one we declare in this exercise can be useful for inventing new writing or pushing characters in new directions even as we create them. It forces us to be active while still being inventive.

For later: Weave a character in this mental state into a story or play or invent a situation for the condition of your character.

This exercise is adapted from A Surrealist Book of Games, edited by Mel Gooding.

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Take the full name of someone you love. Using only the letters of that persons name, create a short text.

When I do this assignment, using say, my mother’s name, Kathleen Halle, I begin by making lists of words, from basic words like “a,” “the,” and “at” moving on to bigger words like “lean,” “hell,” or “ate.” Try to exhaust this word game first, and when you have a list populated with different parts of speech, start writing phrases and sentences.

Spend about 20 minutes making the list of words and beginning your text. Shoot for about 100 words your first draft.

Rationale: Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities when encountering the blank page. This assignment gives us a way of severely limiting those possibilities (and possibly hinting at subject matter). Richard Hugo and Brian Kiteley, just to name two authors, advise working with a constraint like this to focus your writing. Caught up in the rules, our mind often unconsciously slips in what we really want to say, and in surprising ways.

For later: If you own Scrabble, take the game out, grab the letters you need from the name, and make new arrangements. Defamiliarizing the letters will help you eye to find things you couldn’t by looking at the name in its usual order. Making paper letter squares is fine if you don’t have Scrabble. Add in the new words or rearrange existing phrases or sentences to change your original draft.

When you revisit the text, you can be strict and adhere to the tenets of the original assignment or more forgiving, changing words and whole sentences.

Credit: This assignment is from the introduction to Brian Kiteley’s book The 4 am Breakthrough.

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