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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Play Observation!

Do you ever find yourself surreptitiously watching other people—from a safe distance—and creating in your mind a scene based on what you’re seeing? This is one of my favorite games, Observation. I will often play this game along with Listen Closely—which some wrong-minded, nonwriter types insist is really called Eavesdropping. Silly uninformed noncreatives. Sometimes I even call it Research.

Creativity booster

But what all of these games have in common is they can be used to kickstart your creativity. When my brain seems full of cotton and my fingers are unresponsive stubs, I can often get started again by playing Observation. Let’s try it! Here’s a photo I pulled from a free photo site. What’s the story going on here? What can we tell about these people by observing this scene?
  • Probably a family. Could be a blended family (kids with different color hair), but not necessarily.
  • The family values reading for entertainment and instruction. They are reading The Lorax.
  • Whoever they are, they are probably at home. Casually attired, barefoot, huddled close together as people do in their natural environment. Oh, and they are downstairs—see that railing behind the dark-haired girls? Are they downstairs on the mainfloor or in the basement? Whichever better suits your imagination.
  • The little blonde girl in the pink is not engaged in storytime. She’s more interested in the photographer.
  • The mom, with her glasses and hair pulled back, seems a little severe.

The story

More observation would yield even more details, but here’s the story that came to my mind (POV person is the photographer):  

Just like Meghan to orchestrate a scene. Trying to use the kids and the lie of “domestic traquility” to make me change my mind. But this time I’m really leaving. 

I’d like to stay. I’d like to believe the lie. Wouldn’t that be nice? But manipulation and exclusion are the tools she uses to control her world, including her kids and me. 

Pookie sees the truth, and that kills me. She’s far too perceptive for a four-year-old—but strong too. She’ll be okay. She has to be okay. 
“Goodbye, Pook. Daddy loves you.”


Now this storyline is not a real exciting—or even original—idea. But that’s not the point. The point is that it has sparked my creativity and I can now turn to my WIP, renewed.

Who knows what might come out of me taking 30 minutes to play Observation? And it can work for you too.

Here’s another photo. Make your observations about what’s going on here and then share the storyline that comes to mind as a result in the comments.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying a new playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor/writer at and as a contributor here on Novel Rocket. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.


  1. Great post, Mike! I play Observation and Research all the time. I like to say that writing is the only profession in which eavesdropping is not rude but essential.:)

    Using a photo to trigger a story is a wonderful idea. It reminded me of the way I use photos to create a painting.

    Thanks so much for giving me a wonderful tool to "whip out" another "WIP". :)


    Harbourlight Books-December 2012

  2. Long before (eons even) I knew I wanted to write, I played this game. Funny, with me it tends more to be old buildings that spark my thoughts of who, what, when, and why (I already know the where).

    1. Buildings?Hmmm... I've never played the game with buildings. Will have to see if that works for me, too.

    2. And I will start to purposely play it with people. :)

  3. MaryAnn, the writer's life is one game after another,eh? Glad you liked the idea.

  4. And I will start to purposely play it with people. :)

  5. He just ducked his little sister who had pushed him earlier and made him drop his ice cream cone in the sand. He need to pull her up now--just kidding, she's OK! LOL


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