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“Write an Exquisite Corpse” is not code for ChatGPT or murder! The Exquisite Corpse is an uncensored writing style that is independent of AI and all about automatic human reactions.

exquisite cadaver collaborative writing
exquisite corpse collaborative writing

Exquisite Corpse: A Collaborative Writing Excercise

The Exquisite Corpse technique is also known as ‘Exquisite Cadaver.’ Now how this term came about is discussed later!

While ChatGPT brings its own set of advantages to the writing process, Exquisite Corpse is a writing style that stands on its own, independent of AI prompting. The beauty of this technique lies in its ability to tap into the collective imagination and creativity of a group of participants.

The Exquisite Corpse Drawing Game

The groups I’ve used this exercise with span art students and corporate clients. It works with groups of two or more so it’s very versatile.

Exquisite Corpse is a lot of fun as an ice-breaker because it can demonstrate spontaneous synchronicity when you don’t direct it for specific storytelling purposes. For example, you can direct towards synchronicity by asking training participants to describe their mood, what they hope to achieve in a session and to give a word of advice to colleagues. The group output inevitably adopts a rhythm as a result of the common goals that emerge.

Collaborative Drawing and Spontaneous Synchronicity

‘Spontaneous synchronicity’ in the exquisite corpse drawing game refers to the strange harmony that emerges. This happens when participants, without prior coordination, contribute to a shared artwork. Each person adds a section without seeing the entirety. This then results in unexpected, yet cohesive, compositions that showcase spontaneous collaboration and artistic synergy.

Starting an Exquisite Corpse: A Collaborative Writing Adventure

Two or More Participants for an Exquisite Cadaver

Welcome to the Exquisite Corpse, a collaboration that sparks creativity and nurtures connection!

  1. I’ve written three lines but have folded the paper over my first two lines to hide them from you. But the third line that is visible to you, says ‘The sky can turn green and the sun black, but…”
  2. Now you continue from the sentence you can see. Complete the sentence without thinking about it too much. Add your three unique sentences.
  3. Then fold your paper over so that only your last line is visible to the next person.
  4. Now pass the folded paper to the next person so that they can continue from your last line. Continue until everyone has contributed.

The Origins and Influence of Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism

Exquisite Corpse is an innovative writing technique that grew out of Surrealism. The Surrealists brought about a major artistic and literary revolution to tap into the depths of the subconscious. In other words, the dream and raw response spaces. Early 20th-century Surrealists were led by visionaries like André Breton. They embraced the subconscious, chance, and the exploration of the unknown.

Exquisite Corpse emerged as a unique technique within the surrealist movement. It allowed artists and writers to collaborate and create fascinating, unpredictable compositions. As the Surrealists wanted to challenge conventions and embrace chance, they used the Exquisite Cadaver to break away from conventional patterns.

Natural Writing: What is ‘Automatism’?

Automatism refers to the spontaneous and unconscious creation of art or writing. For example, an automatic and uncensored response. Surreal artists were inspired by the randomness of life. They would throw shapes cut from cardboard down and let them fall in a random formation. They would then create a composition for a painting based on these almost accidentally created patterns.

You can often have an ‘automatic‘ response to a stimulus. For example, you could listen to a piece of music and be inspired to write a poem or do a painting. Or maybe cry?!

Automatism vs Automated

Automatism writing involves tapping into your own subconscious. But writing with ChatGPT involves interacting with an AI language model. While both approaches can lead to unexpected outcomes, the source of inspiration, collaboration, and level of control are different.

ChatGPT Writing vs ‘Natural Writing:’ Similarities and Differences


  1. Spontaneity: Both automatism writing and writing with ChatGPT can involve a spontaneous flow of words without premeditation or careful planning.
  2. Unconscious expression: Both approaches can allow for the expression of thoughts, ideas, and associations that may not be immediately apparent in conscious thought.
  3. Surrealistic elements: Both automatism writing and writing with ChatGPT have the potential to generate unexpected and surrealistic outcomes, with surprising juxtapositions and unconventional narratives.


  1. Source of inspiration: Automatism writing draws from the individual’s own subconscious mind while writing with ChatGPT relies on the AI model’s vast training data and algorithms.
  2. Collaboration: Automatism writing can be a solitary act while writing with ChatGPT involves an interaction with an AI language model.
  3. Control and influence: With automatism writing, the individual has more control over the content and direction, consciously or unconsciously. Writing with ChatGPT involves the guidance and influence of the AI model, which may shape the output based on the provided prompts and training data.
collaborative storytelling

Exquisite Corpse: Creative Collaboration

Collectively Create an Exquisite Corpse: Collaborative Writing

Surrealism embraced the fantastical, the dreamlike, and the unconventional. Artists like Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and Joan Miró led the way, creating visually stunning and conceptually provocative works. The Exquisite Corpse technique embraces the element of surprise, challenges linear storytelling and allows participants to collectively create something greater than the sum of its parts.

Writing an Exquisite Corpse

Collaboration is at the heart of Exquisite Corpse. By establishing guidelines and creating a supportive environment, participants can unleash their creativity and build upon each other’s ideas. Setting the tone encourages open-mindedness, respect, and a sense of adventure.

Exquisite Corpse as a Catalyst for Creativity

Exquisite Corpse Exquisite Corpse can spark new pathways of expression and break through creative blocks. It frees participants from self-imposed constraints and encourages them to explore new ideas, helping to overcome creative obstacles and reignite inspiration. Let’s delve into how this collaborative technique ignites inspiration and fuels the imagination.

Unpredictable Outcomes: Unraveling the Magic

Exquisite Corpse’s true beauty lies in its unpredictable outcomes. As the collaborative creation progresses, unexpected narratives, characters, and twists emerge. This sense of wonder and surprise adds an element of excitement to the creative process. The technique is structured, yet open-ended, providing participants with the freedom to weave their narratives together.

Exquisite Corpse Breaks Creative Blocks

The technique encourages participants to let go of inhibitions, silences the inner critic, and embraces the unexpected. By giving up control and surrendering to collective creation, individuals find themselves immersed in a liberating creative flow.

Embracing the Collaborative Process

One of the best aspects of Exquisite Corpse is the collaborative nature of the technique. Participants embark on a journey together, weaving their ideas and words into a cohesive narrative. Let’s explore how to embrace the collaborative process and create a fertile ground for creativity to flourish.

Establishing Trust and Creative Freedom

Building trust among participants is essential for a successful Exquisite Corpse experience. Creating a safe and non-judgmental environment allows individuals to express themselves freely, encouraging a more vibrant and diverse range of ideas to emerge. Remember, there are no right or wrong contributions—only opportunities for unexpected brilliance.

The Technique: Structure of an Exquisite Corpse Creation

Each participant contributes to a story or poem, building upon the preceding segment while remaining unaware of what others have written. This creates a mysterious and surprising narrative that unfolds organically.

  1. Start: An Exquisite Corpse creation typically begins with a group of participants sitting in a circle, each armed with a writing instrument and a piece of paper.
  2. Setting a Context: Facilitators can set a theme, topic or title to give direction. However, for a spontaneous creation nuanced by each participant, facilitators can simply tell participants to write three lines, fold the paper and pass it to the next writer.
  3. Pass the Paper: The process involves folding the paper to hide previous contributions while leaving a small portion (for example the last line or word) visible for the next writer.
  4. Write: As the participants pass the paper along, each writer adds their segment without knowing what came before.
  5. Outcome: A captivating and unpredictable collaborative piece.

Analyse the Exquisite Cadaver

Once completed, the facilitator should read the Exquisite Corpse to the participants and discuss their responses.

Explore Themes Emerging in Your Exquisite Corpse

Symbolism and themes often reveal themselves in unexpected ways! By embracing the unconventional, participants can explore profound metaphors and thought-provoking ideas, giving rise to unique narratives and connections. Don’t hesitate to explore the content that emerged but avoid encouraging a ‘who wrote that‘ witch hunt if sensitive details are shared.

Encourage participants to discover hidden meanings and surprising connections. Use the Exquisite Cadaver as an invitation to explore the depths of imagination and unravel the layers of meaning.

Exquisite Corpse Gives Rise to the Unexpected: Unique Group Narratives

The Exquisite Corpse has an uncanny ability to generate narratives that go beyond the imagination of any individual contributor. Through this collaborative process, participants unlock hidden connections, merge diverse perspectives, and witness the birth of narratives that take on a life of their own. It’s a testament to the power of collective creativity.

Exquisite Corpse is a celebration of the unexpected, a whimsical journey where the sum becomes greater than its parts.

Five Uses for Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse can be a versatile and engaging activity to unpack a concept that has been taught, provide training feedback, or conduct a group “health check.” Let’s explore how this collaborative writing adventure can be applied in these scenarios:

1. Educational Applications: Exquisite Corpse in Workshops and Training Sessions

In workshops and training sessions, Exquisite Corpse serves as an engaging warm-up exercise, encouraging participants to step outside their comfort zones and tap into their collective imagination. By working together, participants enhance their collaboration skills, open up to new perspectives, and build connections with one another.

2. Reflect on a Concept:

After teaching a complex concept or topic, Exquisite Corpse can serve as a reflective exercise to deepen understanding and encourage critical thinking. Participants can collectively build a narrative that embodies the essence of the concept, for example, ‘What is leadership?’ This allows participants to explore different perspectives and connections.

Each contribution adds a layer of interpretation, fostering a rich and multidimensional exploration of the topic. By unravelling the collaborative creation, participants gain insights into how the concept resonates with each individual and collectively construct a comprehensive understanding.

3. Use Exquisite Corpse to Creatively Obtain Training Feedback

Exquisite Corpse can also be employed as a feedback mechanism in training sessions. Participants can collaboratively create a narrative that reflects their experience, learnings, and key takeaways from the training. Each contribution becomes a voice in the story, offering insights, observations, and reflections.

This activity provides a platform for participants to express their thoughts and feelings in a creative and non-threatening way. By examining the collective creation, trainers can gain valuable feedback about the training’s effectiveness, identify areas of improvement, and celebrate successful outcomes.

4. Use the Exquisite Corpse to Perform a Group “Health Check”:

As a group activity, Exquisite Corpse can serve as a “health check” to assess the dynamics, cohesion, and communication within a group. Participants collectively construct a narrative, representing the group’s collective voice. This activity can uncover underlying dynamics, shared perspectives, or potential challenges within the group. By analyzing the collaborative creation, facilitators or team leaders can gain insights into the group’s overall health, identify areas for improvement or intervention, and foster open dialogue among participants.

In all these scenarios, Exquisite Corpse provides a unique and interactive approach to deepen understanding, gather feedback, or assess group dynamics. Its collaborative nature fosters engagement, creativity, and collective ownership of the process. Whether used to unpack a concept, provide feedback, or conduct a group “health check,” this collaborative writing adventure offers a dynamic and inclusive platform for participants to express themselves and contribute to a shared narrative.

5. Build Your Dream Team: Unity Among Participants

The Exquisite Corpse nurtures creativity, inspires connection, and unleashes the magic of collaborative storytelling. Whether in art history classes, workshops, or corporate training sessions, Exquisite Corpse continues to be a powerful tool for engaging imaginations, breaking creative barriers, and fostering a sense of unity among participants.

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Leonie Hall

Leonie Hall, disruptive thinker and dynamic strategist, is an expert in education, development, quality management and innovation. She has spoken at local and international conferences; and currently works as an independent consultant and content developer. Contact Leonie for a consultation.

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How to Use Exquisite Corpse to Revive Teams