Exquisite Corpse

May is National Short Story Month, so to celebrate, the Bluestocking Salon is hosting our first-ever game of Exquisite Corpse. For those of you not familiar with this party game, its roots can be traced to the Surrealist movement of early-twentieth-century France, when a group of poets devised it as an exercise in collective creativity. As the story goes, their game began with a single word written on a piece of paper, which was then folded and passed to the next player, who would add his own word (the rules dictated which part of the sentence—noun, verb, adjective, etc.—he was required to submit) without knowing which words preceded it. Allegedly, the inaugural game produced the final sentence, “le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” or, ”the exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.” Hence the (awesome!) title.

Almost a century later, we thought it would be fun to try Exquisite Corpse as a collaborative story-writing game. Rather than working word by word to build an unseen sentence, we will provide an opening paragraph. It’s up to you, our readers, to add to the narrative thread with a short paragraph of your own.

There are a few rules:

  1. Entries should be no longer than one hundred words.
  2. Expand upon, rather than shut down the previous train of thought. Instead of using your installment to remind us of the laws of physics or the fact that squirrels cannot speak English, show us just how creative you can be!
  3. Don’t try to get in the last word. Your submission should leave the story open for others to contribute.
  4. This is a game. Have fun with it!

Please post your contribution in the comments section below, then check back with us at the end of the month for the complete story.

For those of you who would rather read (or listen to) short stories instead of write them, we’ve got you covered, too.




Let the game begin:

For Ella Stone, the anniversary of her birth was a terrible thing. Not because she feared age or wrinkles or writing stilted thank-you notes for gifts she did not want, but because of the cake. Vanilla, chocolate, carrot; what lay beneath the strokes of frosting mattered not. What mattered was the candle, driven like a stake through the heart of her year and needing only one breath to extinguish all she’d built in the preceding months. She feared that winking candle, its burning ember hot with promise, because every birthday wish Ella Stone had ever made came true.

2 thoughts on “Exquisite Corpse

  1. As a child, Ella didn’t find the phenomenon all that special—after all, birthday wishes were supposed to come true, or else why bother making them? It wasn’t until her sixth year, when she wished for something really big, that she realized something was wrong. Before blowing out those six pink candles on her store-bought ice-cream cake, Ella squeezed her eyes shut and pleaded with the birthday gods, like so many little girls before her, for her very own pony. That very day, not even an hour after Ella licked the final drips of icing from her fingers, her mother answered the front doorbell to find a squat white Shetland munching on their suburban front lawn. When Ella sought to calm her rather frantic mom by explaining the provenance of the miniature (but still quite large) equine that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, Mrs. Stone’s eyes grew wide, and she slowly backed away from her bewildered daughter muttering what sounded like “no…not again…” By Ella’s seventh birthday, Tony the Pony had settled into a makeshift barn in the backyard, but Ella’s mom was nowhere to be found, having left without a word of explanation a year earlier.

  2. In time Ella had become a mother herself. When her eldest successfully arrived at the end of her twelfth month, Ella allowed a tiny flame to dance on the tiny girl’s tiny cupcake–after all, the bittersweet magic was in the wish, not the candle. She held her breath on birthday number two, afraid her own breath might mingle with the juicy sputterings of her toddler as she huffed and puffed. “Make a wish,” said Ella’s husband, and little Brynne laughed and blew the flame to smoke. But no surprises arrived on their doorstep, not that year or any that followed, as Brynne grew older and two more siblings were added to their home. By the time little Foster, the youngest, turned 10 with no wishful fruitions, Ella decided the curse must have skipped the new generation. But last year, at Ella’s own birthday party, her nephew Toby had shyly approached the cake-laden table and fixed his black eyes on the unlit candles. “What are you wishing for this year, Auntie?” he’d asked quietly, below the din of the family gathering, and in that moment, she’d seen the truth.

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