Observation Journal: Breaking down patterns

I HAVE A BOOK OUT IN TWO DAYS! It was reviewed in the New York Times!

Ahem, anyway: Back to the post.

Throughout the observation journal, I’ve been trying to not only notice patterns in books and movies, but also to stop and break those elements down more. These two entries are an early (and intense — I was still on painkillers) attempt at formalising that a bit more. They are also a bit more negative than I enjoy being or reading — if I were to use this particular format again, I’d concentrate a lot more on really appreciating the purpose the common elements were serving.

In this case, I’d watched the opening episodes of a few YA-urban-fantasy-inflected series (Locke & Key and Ragnarok (and after this but it looped back in, although with some fascinating variations, October Faction). And this really isn’t intended as a criticism of those shows! The journal pages were more a working-through of what the shows were doing and why, from my own perspective and tastes and for my own purposes. This blog post is about working out a useful structure for doing that.

Double page of observation journal, densely handwritten. On the left, 5 things seen, heard, and done that day, a cafe sticker, and some sketches of a dog and musrooms. On the right, a table with a detailed but largely illegible breakdown of patterns between shows.

(Left page: Rainy weather and my ongoing difficulties with collage and sticking-things-to-other-things. Also, I was disgruntled about something, so made myself look for things to put on the observation page instead, and was almost instantly rewarded by discovering a very rained-upon and even more disgruntled crow grumbling to itself in a tree.)

Right page: I listed:

  • Patterns noticed in the opening episodes of the shows. There were a lot, but I should not have been complaining because all these elements are usually indicative of a fun show ramping up. However, if you are interested, they were: family relocating (in car), to a place with family connections, to a house owned by their family, where people know them. There are two teenagers and one is wearing headphones, and they have issues with screen time and visuals (Ragnarok had an alternative take on this) and are messed up, but Family. The house they are going to needs to be fixed up, and the kids are down on the whole idea, but their mother is desperately upbeat about it (October Faction would be an outlier on the parental elements of this). Their mother will start renovating. There has been a recent traumatic death in the family, and there are awkward high school encounters, secrets are buried, there are Knowing Locals, and there is at least one more mysterious and dramatic death with pyrotechnics).
  • Possible purposes of the common elements. (This is definitely an element I’m including in my template for analysing things in future.)
  • Why I found myself resisting that element (in my defense, I was in pain and apparently uncommonly grumpy).
  • Possible alternative ways of accomplishing similar ends (in different media, and for my own projects — your mileage may vary).

The main conclusions are that obviously those common elements are there for a reason, but I enjoy them most when stories are conscious of patterns and really lean into them — this note with reference here to Set It Up and Howl’s Moving Castle (the book, in this regard).

The next day I tried looking at just one element: “the opening post-trauma relocatative(?) car trip”

Double page of observation journal, densely handwritten. On the left, 5 things seen, heard, and done that day, a cafe sticker, and a sketch of myself writing. On the right, a mind-map style set of notes about car trips in tv shows.

(Left page: In which noticing things continues to be soothing, but it’s more energy-efficient as a prevention than a cure.)

Right page: This time I was looking more at:

  • Purpose. Mostly it was the introduction of characters and the introduction, with and through those characters, to a place.
  • Examples and counter-examples and stylish examples. In a very different genre, UnREAL dealt with an in-vehicle character/place introduction fabulously (see the first 30 seconds of this clip), and of course car movies generally and movies with idiosyncratic cars have a bit more freedom to do odd things. And I do enjoy this Every Frame a Painting episode’s section on transitions in Edgar Wright’s movies (from 1:17).
  • What snagged my attention about the pattern, and whether cars were in fact the problem. Cars, which characters in many 20th/21st century American stories rely so heavily upon, only offer so much scope for the imagination — it’s interesting to compare them to the connection between trains and (especially British) boarding school stories, which at least let people and cameras move around.
  • Possible alternative visuals. This was getting closer to the “steal/repurpose” question, which I’ve usually found the most useful part of analysing things. Just a few notes and reminders here about cutaways and aesthetics and deliberately shifting viewpoint.

9 thoughts on “Observation Journal: Breaking down patterns

  1. Pingback: July post round-up | Kathleen Jennings

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