Observation Journal: A suite of ideas

On these observation journal pages, I was again playing with ways to tease a central concept out into a cloud of ideas.

I refer to “suits” here, as in a deck of cards, because I think my original concept was to try for 13 ideas for each quadrant.

However, what was primarily on my mind was the maps I illustrate, with their unconventional compass points. I picked a central idea to play with, and four objects that felt highly thematic/mythic. Then I filtered the idea through each of those — their possible meanings and aesthetics and colours.

So here, for example, I took “Little Red Riding Hood” and passed it through each of “leaf”, “stone”, “sprocket” and “rose” to see how the idea would refract into green men and grandmother oaks, red pebbles that bring down brigands, the rose’s perspective on “Beauty and the Beast”, and a girl wandering the woods with a wrench.

Observation journal page with notes on story ideas.

It was a very pleasing way to scatter a number of ideas — and also entertaining to track some of the influences on my ideas & associations, e.g. Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Das Versprechen and Charles Causley’s poems.

Two weeks later, I tried it again, shining “Ghosts” through “ibis”, “coriander”, “spider-web” and “cat” (chosen, this time, from things I’d seen that day).

Observation journal page with notes on story ideas.

This yielded ideas such as a genetic predisposition to taste ghosts as a soapy presence, ghosts scavenging from cafe tables, and ouija-webs.

Quite a few of the ideas from these pages have, in one form or another (mostly unrecognisable), got out into current projects, including a story scheduled to be published soon. When those projects are public, I’ll tell you how they link back to these pages.

Tiny ballpoint sketch of an ibis

Writing/art exercise

  • Pick an idea you’d like to play with. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be an image, an object, a word, or a classic story (see Template Stories). If all else fails, a fairy tale is a handy place to start.
  • Then pick four other objects or words. They can be ones you feel have mythic weight. Or they could be four different things you have seen today.
  • I set these out by putting the main idea in the middle of the page, and then four little nodes around it, one for each “suit”.
  • Now, combine the central idea with each of the four “suits” and see what ideas they suggest. Try to come up with at least 3 for each quadrant. Jot the ideas down as words or images. (I’ve done some image-only versions of this which I’ll post when I get to that part of the journal.)
    Here are some ways to think about this process:
    • force the main idea through the secondary word (or vice versa)
    • use the secondary word as a lens to see what it reveals about the main idea (or vice versa)
    • think of the two words together — do they suggest other stories/images you know and could riff on?
    • squish the main idea and secondary word together into a mash-up
    • knock the two together until sparks fly
    • where are they jagged against each other? where do they fit neatly?
    • what sort of things does the secondary word do? what if the main idea did that?
    • could you borrow the patterns/textures/aesthetics of one to reskin the other? or drape one over the skeleton of the other?

1 thought on “Observation Journal: A suite of ideas

  1. Pingback: March 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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