Observation journal: touch and smell

I don’t keep observation journal pages on a Saturday, as a rule. This is because I started it as an example for students, and was trying to keep it to a reasonable workload (allowing for me putting ten times the detail I required of them). But I saw wonderful things that day — orange mushrooms and flame-tree twigs and belligerent rainbow lorikeets.

The left-hand page is the usual saw/heard/did/pic arrangement.

On the right-hand page, I wanted to record a few things smelt and felt, to see whether I should include them in daily observations.

It’s oddly personal and visceral, recording these, far more than noting things heard or done (or even tasted). This is why I didn’t include these categories in the suggested/required layout.

But it’s a useful reflection for writing, when I’m trying to capture (or avoid) a sense of intimacy with a character! And just occasionally writing down smells and feelings is good practice. There are certain physical sensations I’m inclined to overuse as shorthand (the pull of fabric at the back of shoulders, water moving over wrists, the harshness of bark), and I need to remember others exist.

(I’m not being flippant about avoiding a sense of intimacy, either — sometimes it’s a necessary effect, sometimes it’s a matter of taste or style or register.)

Coral tree flower. You can gently take them apart into helmet, cape, breastplate, tunic, and long-johns.

These two pages were also where I began to notice how the observation pages capture the feeling of a day, however indirectly — and then to play with taking one element from each category to create the sense of very particular time and place.

For example, each of these selections suggests a rather different setting and story, even though they are from the same day in the same life:

  • Lorikeets screeching, the smell of boiling potatoes, fuzzy seed-heads, a silky table-top, buying new street numbers for a mailbox.
  • Triple-J Hottest 100 countdown, the dank smell of an air-conditioner switched to fan, pens in wild disarray at Officeworks, a watch shifting on a wrist, and rubbing toes tender in cheap new shoes.

These ideas developed in another direction later — but more on that as those ideas crystallise.

Writing/art activities:

  • Make notes of five things you can see/hear/smell/feel (or have done today) — mundane as you like. Choose one at random from each category — what sort of a world or story does it suggest? What colour scheme or composition? (I’ve used this a few times to kick off a story/art idea, and to create a quick world to drop an existing idea into — you can easily adjust some specifics for genre).
  • Choose one smell. What are five ways to describe it? What are five ways you could suggest it in a picture? (Smells are tricky in visual media, but they still impact & suggest visuals).

3 thoughts on “Observation journal: touch and smell

  1. oh this is very inspirational… so beautifully specific and yet still ‘mundane’…. i have never discovered your page before but someone shared it and i am enchanted and intrigued. thank you… i love what you wrote about a ‘limited’ range of feels… the tugging fabric, the feel of water… but there are so many other ones…. yes, that resonates… and to find words for those new ones that are definitely there…

  2. Pingback: June post round-up | Kathleen Jennings

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