Palimpsest Stories

Palimpsest stories – a surrealist game

Created 11 December 2008 just after dawn updated 8 March 2009

Results of the first attempt to play this game have been added to the bottom of this page.

Note: Instructions have been revised based on a discussion with an anonymous collaborator to incorporate a greater degree of randomness and pre-determination, thus giving the participants less control over the content.

From time to time, Rrose liked to hold what she referred to as a Salon Surrealist. To incorporate elements of chance and interaction, she created several games, such as Ego Weekend and Palimpsest Stories. Naturally, they also played the classic Exquisite Corpse.


  • At least six people
  • One piece of paper about 4″ square (10 cm) per person
  • Writing implements for each person
  • One piece of A4 paper per person
  • Optional – one large sheet of paper, coloured markers, scissors and glue or tape for gathering the results

Procedure – participants are instructed to:

  1. Write on your square a narrative of what you did the previous day. Write neatly and fill up the square (but not too densely – see below!).
  2. Pass your square to the next person. Rotate the new square 90° and write a narrative of your most recent dream. Fill up the square with lines of text at right angles to the previous text.
  3. Pass your square to the next person. Rotate the new square 45° (so that one corner is pointing upwards) and write the most recent narrative you have read, heard or seen. This can be the story of a film, song, book, poem, TV programme, advert, etc.
  4. Pass your square to the next person. Toss three different sized coins onto the square. Draw circles around each of the coins.
  5. Pass your square to the next person. Look at the words that intersect the circles on the new square. On the sheet of A4 paper, write sentences that link up the intersecting words. Make a short narrative using the sentences generated. If desired, use pictures instead of words.
  6. Share stories. Document the process using a scanner and digital camera.

Optional enhancement – make a collaborative poster on the large sheet of paper using the bits of narrative generated. Decorate in any way desired.

Results from 28 February 2009

Instructions: This game is a collective random word generator, played in a similar way to Exquisite Corpse or Consequences. Each person has a piece of paper. First they write a narrative of their previous day and then pass to the next person. Then, at a 90º angle on top of the first story, they write a narrative of their most recent dream, creating a palimpsest. They pass again, turn the paper 45º and write a received narrative from a story, song, film etc on top of the other two. The result at this point is three overlapping narratives – a lived narrative, a dreamt narrative and a culturally-produced narrative. Pass again, throw three coins on the paper and draw circles around the coins. List the words that intersect the circles. Make a story from the word list.

Word List Story
people, whether, supper, group, chilli, then, I, went, important, tomatoes, and so myself I went chilli myself and important tomatoes then ate a group of people so whether supper had started was open to question.

the, window, crash, like, love, doors, they, go have, cleared control, saloon

They have cleared the control. Crash they go like love, saloon windows, doors.

what, doors, no, were, for breakfast, chickpeas, simply, there, visible, houses, my brain, there my thought, it went, to about

What!? There were simply no visible chickpeas for my breakfast – my brain thought. It went there, about house, and to doors.

higher, people, there, and the, of needs, they are, to can’t, quite, dreaming, to, a person, to, fly

The need of people to fly there was engrained in their nature. They spent their days dreaming about this place; getting to it was important to each person for a different reason. However, nobody quite had the courage to leave behind conventions; they are forever clingy and can’t be free.

Neanderthal, about, floors, down, communicate, became, new, earth, ray, the, became, harder, New Jersey, above, six [Skype also appeared but was not circled]

The Neanderthal who lives about four floors down from me only communicates by hand gestures and grunts. He became an interpreter for the deaf in the new Earth Ray Leisure Centre. The work became harder after he moved to New Jersey because he had to use Skype. Now he earns above six figures – not bad for a cave man salary!

Observations: Two things surprised me somewhat. When it came to writing the stories, I had not anticipated a tendency to add further constraints. Some people wanted to use only the circled words and no others. Some people wanted to use the words in the same sequence as they were written down. Moreover, some of the ‘received stories’ were not actually received stories but further narratives of events that happened, perhaps in connection with a story. That’s okay, the purpose was to get a good mix of words.

The game could be played allowing people to draw or write the final story as they prefer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s