Observation Journal: The Emma Heist and concert strategies

Note: I’ve put together a draft introduction to the observation journal here: Observation Journal. Comments and further questions are welcome.

This page of the observation journal is another Five Things to Steal (previously — Five Things to Steal: Through the Woods). Or it would have been, if I hadn’t gone to a concert after point 4.

Double page of observation journal, densely handwritten. On the left, 5 things seen, heard, and done that day. On the right, densely handwritten notes on Emma.

The left page has notes from a breakfast outing, and a picture of a Queenslander house without its steps (relatedly, the State Library of Queensland has a House Histories page and has also been posting the progression of Qld house styles on Instagram under #househistories).

The right page has notes on Autumn de Wilde’s Emma.

A close-up of the right-hand page of the observation journal, bordered with blue watercolour, and with densely handwritten notes on Emma.

The things that most struck me (that I wanted to play with) were the power of perspective and point of view, and the resistance to that displayed by secondary characters — and, of course, the obvious artistic and possible narrative applications thereof:

I did not adapt those ideas as far as I could have, so there’s a note to push further into new ideas next time.

  • The obtrusive presence of the servants in scenes the main characters assumed were about them, and what could be done with that in terms of viewpoints.
  • The splendid awfulness of the self-centring Mrs Elton, and wanting to play more with the visual possibilities of a character like that (the counterpart to the above).
  • Changing perspective of people based on the company they seek, and the possibilities of giving secretly central roles of minor characters in a narrative.
  • Bill Nighy’s background dad, never quite comfortably fading into the background.

But then I went to the (really extremely family-friendly, mother!) New Pornographers concert. It was wonderful, but we were standing and my back was still pretty bad, and I needed a trick to focus my attention. So I decided to pretend the concert was a soundtrack for Emma., and applied myself to working out what order the songs should be in. (It made me think hard about the plot and themes of the story, while also listening very closely to music and words.)

Pen sketch of a Queenslander house, and some blue watercolour with "I like these spots" written on it.
A Queenslander, sans steps, and some nice spots


I like this sort of cross-matching generally, as a creative technique (see Mix and Match). But I also very much appreciate it as a sort of game for practically navigating parts of the world or directing my concentration — alone, or with sympathetic friends. For example:

  • as here, at a concert, or with an album (it made me think hard about the plot and themes of the story, while also listening very closely to music and words),
  • an unfamiliar song (in which case I like to assume it is over the end credits of a movie, and reconstruct the film from there),
  • a museum (finding each element, in order, of a well-known story),
  • an art gallery (arguing that each image is a metaphor for a pre-selected myth).

I use myths and stories I know well, but you could do it with other things: academic essay structure or architectural principles. And when done with friends, it’s a splendid opportunity to practice constructing highly persuasive arguments about very silly things.

A variant (or distillation) of that exercise is One of these things is quite like the other ones, in which you (in turns or as a group):

  • Pick two things at random (whatever is handy — although the left-hand observation page is also quite useful for that);
  • Argue for their really extreme similarity to each other.

10 thoughts on “Observation Journal: The Emma Heist and concert strategies

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