Observation Journal: Ten Terrible Things

The activity on this observation journal spread was a prompt by Helen Marshall in a course she was running (for which I was one of the tutors).

Closely hand-written double page spread of the observation journal. On the left page, 5 things seen, heard, and done, and a picture. On the right page, a list of ten terrible novel ideas.

Left page: Cornbread and sky through culverts.

Right page: The exercise was simply to list ten terrible novel ideas, on the X-meets-Y model.

Hand-written list of ten terrible novel ideas:

It's like:
1. "Snoopy vs the Red Baron" but at a deb ball
2. Jurassic Park meets 12 Angry Men (the Firm = basically the same)
3. Harry Potter but with goldfish instead of magic
4. Where the Wild Things Are, if it were a cooking show
5. Elements of Style, if it were a musical
6. Mama Mia, but on a space station
7. Watership Down, but with fruit flies
8. A Pocket Guide to Old English Churches, but if they were literature professors
9. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary if it were a verse novel
10. Grey's Encyclopedia of Anatomy as a pulp detective comic

The trick, of course, is that almost all of them immediately seem like either really excellent ideas, or like thrilling challenges. (Although you’ll see I noted that after further thought some of them returned to being merely appalling.) And occasionally it is illuminating, as with the realisation that “Jurassic Park meets Twelve Angry Men” kind of describes The Firm.

But it’s always a fun conversation piece, and a nice break from earnestness, and loosens a too-tight grip on tasks. It’s also another way of shuffling through recent obsessions, or things you’ve noticed, or books in your line of sight.

It spun off into what I did the following day (but have already posted): Bad Cover Versions.

Art/writing/other exercise

  • As Helen used it in class, the exercise was to do 10 terrible novel ideas. This adapts well, so that whatever you’re doing (or trying to do, or avoiding), you can probably come up with ten terrible versions of it (ten terrible mural designs, ten awful ways to rearrange the living room, etc), or at least ask yourself what are the worst ways I could do this.
  • Variant: Play it as a game with friends to see who can come up with the best/worst ideas.
Tiny pen drawing of myself in the kitchen

5 thoughts on “Observation Journal: Ten Terrible Things

  1. Pingback: November 2020 post round-up | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: Observation Journal: 20 ways with gold foil | Kathleen Jennings

  3. Pingback: Observation Journal — application to a story | Kathleen Jennings

  4. Pingback: Observation Journal — on editing | Kathleen Jennings

  5. Pingback: Observation Journal — a sequence of week-in-review pages | Kathleen Jennings

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