Observation Journal — training/makeover montages

In this observation journal page: a dramatic day in my suburb, and some thoughts on training montages.

(Also, I had a wonderful day on this Sunday just past, giving a workshop on the journals to SCBWI Qld. Preparing it helped me clarify some of the approaches and categories, so I do have plans to tighten descriptions of those up).

Double page spread fo hand-written observation journal. On the left, things seen/heard/done and a picture. On the right, thoughts on training montages.

Left page: Dramatic events — carjackings and crashes.

Right page: This is another approach to thinking through topics that interested me, e.g. “Observation Journal — Breaking down patterns” and “Observation Journal — Blue bees and alt-DC rom-coms“. In this case, I was just jotting my thoughts on two related tropes in two lists, side-by-side. (I’m going to have to work out some more robust category tags for these journal posts!)

Training Montages and Makeover Sequences

I was a class tutor for WRIT2050: Writing Genre Fiction at UQ, for which Helen Marshall is now the lecturer/coordinator. When classes went online last year, she ran a weekly two-hour drop-in session on Zoom. It turned into a combination of craft discussions and writing sprints, which was really lovely. In one, the topic of training montages came up, and how they might be dealt with in prose with the same energy. Helen particularly noted the recounted montage in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (the novel, specifically).

I thoroughly enjoy training montages and makeover sequences in film (I watched quite a few rankings of both on YouTube after writing this page). And of course the soundtracks are excellent for doing chores to (if you use Spotify, this playlist is effective — 80s Training Montage).

But while I was thinking about the subject, I wanted to make a quick note of some of the key elements and differences, so that I could play with them in future.

Handwritten page listing differences between training and makeover montages, e.g. music, number of scenes, the progression, who is in or gaining control

The key difference for me was that the training montages are usually driven by the trainee’s emotions (arrogant, resistant, determined, worn down, etc), while makeover montages tend to be inflicted on the character.

Occasionally, the two are combined. The examples here are Mirror, Mirror (fighting wardrobe) and The Princess Diaries (inflicted deportment — I need to revisit the novel to see how it was dealt with there). Together, the effect is an enhanced coolness. See also Georgette Heyer’s Powder & Patch (in which Philip becomes more fully himself, as well as extremely fashionable), which is more of a makeover plot without nearly enough montage (although what there is is hilarious).

Some other favourites include a variety of Heyers (including the rare, too-brief reverse-makeover in Faro’s Daughter) and Meg Cabot’s All American Girl.

In the writing sprint part of the class meeting, I tried writing a training montage. Obviously it’s harder to get the full effect of a compelling soundtrack in prose, but I found the most difficult element to translate from movie-montage to prose was the timing. The snap and pull and rollick and occasional weariness of it. (Ages ago I wrote an article for WQ about reading a comic aloud and having to essentially novelise it — working out a way to replicate the timing of panels was a big part of that.)

I am still interested in finding other examples of training and makeover montages in prose and comics, and playing more with those timing elements.

The note at the bottom of the page says “I am not entirely clear on cars”.

Writing/art activity

  • Pick a favourite type of scene in a medium you don’t use (e.g. sweeping cinematic opening credits, or those graphic novel pages in which images spill from one panel to the next, or giant retro spaceship-and-galaxy paintings).
  • Make a quick list of the things it does that you think are neat (e.g. atmosphere, bird’s eye pov, bleeding edges…), and/or why you think that’s cool.
  • Do a quick sketch (written or drawn) to work out how you could replicate the effect in your medium (e.g. prose, illustration, knitting).
  • Make a quick note of what worked, and what was difficult, and if there was anything you learned about the work (yours or the inspiration).

2 thoughts on “Observation Journal — training/makeover montages

  1. Pingback: Observation Journal — Five Things to Steal from the National Theatre’s Jane Eyre | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: February 2021 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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