Monday, May 21, 2012

How to Play Headlines


We'd like to clear up some possible confusion.  For nearly twenty years, there has been a science fiction and fantasy writing critique group in the Salt Lake City area called CALLIHOO.  There are various versions of what the letters in CALLIHOO mean.  Someday, we might tell you. . . .  When Callihoo Publishing was born, it was staffed by so many members of CALLIHOO, that we decided to use the writers' group's name for the company.  However, the two entities are completely separate.  Yes, Callihoo Publishing publishes stories by members of CALLIHOO.  But being a member of CALLIHOO doesn't automatically mean your stories will be published, nor does Callihoo Publishing only use work (stories and art) by members of the writers' group.  The publishing company did adopt the CALLIHOO gosling when it was first formed and needed a logo.  This might change . . . or it might not.  The Logo Contest, coming soon, will establish that!

With that taken care of, we come to the fun part of this blog post.

Has anyone reading this ever typed an incorrect URL from the Callihoo Publishing website?  (Or perhaps clicked on the Forbidden Link on the front page?)  Then you will have experienced the results of one of CALLIHOO's favorite pastimes--a game we call Headlines.  For years, the group has played this game at parties, on critique nights when they finish early, or any other time they can squeeze it in (like at restaurants and writing retreats).  Headlines is a perfect game for writers, because it's short, creative, and requires a grasp of (gasp!) grammar.

Rules for Headlines

In this game, participants form possible (and usually hilarious) headlines--something that might be seen in a tabloid newspaper or magazine.

Each person participating receives a small piece of paper--often a sheet of standard 8-1/2 x 11 paper torn into eighths.  This game works best with more than five people, so if you try this at home, call in friends and family.

At the top of the paper, each person writes an adjective or adjectival phrase.  Examples:  "Fascinating," "Simply Amazing," or "Putrescently Melting."  Then each person folds the paper over so his or her word is hidden, and passes it to the person to the left or right (direction decided before the game begins, and the paper is passed in the same direction every time no one contributes two words to any one headline).

The second part of the headline is the noun or noun phrase.  This is the subject of the sentence.  Examples:  "Hippopotamus," "Amorphous Flesh-eating Blobs," or "One-man Band."  Fold over, pass to next person.

The third section is a verb or verb phrase.  It should be a transitive verb, a good action word which can be followed by another noun (the direct object), and in present tense.  You can use an adverb with the verb.  Examples:  "Heaves," "Announces a Betrothal To," or "Tickles."  Fold over, pass to next person.

The fourth word/phrase is the object of the verb--another noun or noun phrase.  Examples:  "Vampire," "Heavily-armed Samurai Warrior," or "Bevy of Harem Girls."  Fold and pass.

The fifth and last part is an adverb or prepositional phrase to finish the headline.  Examples:  "A Week from Thursday," "With Deadly Force," "Into the Darkness" or "Purposefully."  Fold and pass.

Each person will now be holding a folded piece of paper.  They won't be able to read any of the words.  Don't unfold your papers yet.  Choose who's going to read first.  That person unfolds his or her paper and reads it aloud.  The surprise of how all the disparate phrases fit together often renders the reader helpless with giggles.  Once the laughter dies down, we usually have them read the headline over again so we assure we haven't missed anything.  Then the next person (in the opposite direction from which the papers were passed originally) reads their headline.  Occasionally slight changes will need to be made to make sense of the phrase (adding a "to" or changing singular to plural, for example).

Since laughter is good for your health, this is a very healthy exercise!  It's also great for creativity and remembering parts of speech.

Here are some examples from actual games played at CALLIHOO meetings.  I'll "deconstruct" the first few to show how the various parts fit together.

1.  Self-loathing
2.  Aardvark
3.  Liquefies
4.  One-Man Band
5.  Against the Advice of His/Her/Its Therapist.

The person who read this one out loud chose "his" from the pronouns, so the final headline is:  Self-loathing Aardvark Liquefies One-Man Band Against the Advice of His Therapist.  Can't you imagine reading that one in a tabloid magazine?

Five different people wrote the five different words or phrases, and none of them knew what the other had written.  Sometimes the headlines are ridiculous, sometimes frightening, sometimes almost believable.

Another example, with a change to make it "fit."

1.  Perplexed
2.  Croquet Champion
3.  Jauntily Prances
4.  Impoverished Orphans
5.  While Reading the Entrails of a Pigeon

In this case, the word "on" was chosen to follow "Jauntily Prances," so the final headline is:  Perplexed Croquet Champion Jauntily Prances on Impoverished Orphans While Reading the Entrails of a Pigeon.

A few more examples:

Dashing Crazy Cat Lady Scandalizes Spectacled Dragon Willingly

Revolting Karate Master Breaks Up with Hairballs While Standing on a Street Corner in Indianapolis

Geometric Opera Singer Congregates with Head of Security for World Horror Con Without Batting an Eye

Different people have different strategies for deciding what words they will put on each slip of paper as they receive them.  Some come up with a complete headline, for instance "Adventurous Skydiver Whips Up a Seven-Layer Cake as He Plunges to the Earth."  Then each piece will be put on a separate piece of paper, of course, and become part of the mishmash.  Then there's the person who comes up with words beginning with the same letter for every part of the headline. For instance, "Horribly Deformed Hermit Hushes Hannibal's Elephants Hurriedly."  Some strange souls try to use very similar words for every section.  "Articulated Artiste Disarticulates Artichokes Artistically."  Most people just put down random words or phrases that occur to them--often having something to do with the story just critiqued or the conversation that was happening before the game began.  Thus subconscious "themes" for headlines happen.  You can see how headlines would be formed if you take the first section from the first example, second section from the second example, and so on.  "Adventurous Hermit Disarticulates Bevy of Harem Girls With Deadly Force."

So, readers, play Headlines!  Post the best ones in the comment section for everyone to enjoy.  (And for more headline craziness, go to

1 comment:

  1. Extremely creative writers group impersonates journalists brilliantly.