Observation Journal: Ideas behind the patterns (or, The Romance of the Navigable World)

The observation journal has been very useful for not only collecting thoughts but developing them. Many of these are for creative projects. The journal, however, has helped my clarify thoughts and opinions on processes and theories, and to find new questions to pursue beyond those. This has helped with making things, of course, but also with writing about things I and other people have made.

In this post, I’ve:

  • set out a quick outline of how this appears to work, and
  • followed it with an example of a page that led to a piece for the Meanjin blog.

Finding ideas behind the patterns

Sometimes an interesting question will spark on the page, and I’ll chase off after it for several days until I run it to earth. But sometimes ideas emerge more slowly. The observation journal has let me approach those gradually, waiting until I have enough information or something has crystallised in the back of my mind, or the time is otherwise right.

In both cases, this seems to be the approach I follow. The key part is the two-step of looking, and then looking again. (If you’re a Pratchett reader, there’s a dash of Tiffany Aching in there.)

  1. Collecting impressions over time
    • Keeping an eye on what I was reading and watching (or looking at, or writing, or drawing),
      AND
    • Noting interesting things about them — see e.g. the “five things to steal” posts.
    • See also, more generally, posts in the “finding patterns” category.
  2. Noting patterns
    • Either noticing obvious patterns, or forcing connections between apparently unrelated books, shows, etc, or being struck anew by something in an older entry — see Bookmarks and Remarks, and Todd Henry’s note-taking model referenced there).
    • On this point, and the one above, see Distilling Thoughts and Readings.
  3. Picking a particularly interesting pattern
  4. Listing key aspects and examples
    • Often (as here) I’ll have already noticed some obvious aspects of the pattern. I’ll list those, then look for examples of each.
    • At other times — as with staginess — I’ll just list the examples, and see what emerges.
  5. *Listing notable components of those examples
    • What about that book or picture of movie makes it so particularly an example of the thing I’m examining?
  6. *Looking for new patterns and points of interest in this new level of notes
    • Sometimes these are obvious. At other times, finding links can be a puzzle. Sometimes the disparity is the point, and the joy is in the surprise of bringing these apparently disconnected examples together.
  7. Seeing what can be done with that
    • A story, a theory, an amusement, a structure, something to fight with or against…

Step 4 is where I’d tend to stop in the past, when trying to get from “things I know” to (for example) “a written essay”. But steps 5 and 6 are where the process generally tips into a new gear and the fun begins.

Double page spread of observation journal. Tiny handwritten observations on day and a drawing of me sitting in bed writing. Notes on "romance of the navigable world"

Example: The Romance of Navigable Worlds

At the time I wrote this page, I was working on a post for Meanjin on what I’d been reading, and the ways I was trying to make those books fit each other. That piece ended up being particularly about the idea of “the romance of the navigable world”: What I’m Reading: Kathleen Jennings.

I’d been thinking about this idea in my paper “Heyer . . . in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on Science Fiction”, which eventually became a chapter in Georgette Heyer, History and Historical Fiction (available from UCL Press, and although the print version is very reasonably priced, the ebook version is free). But at that time, I was interested in the mechanics permitted by a story that was about becoming competent in a world, vs a story that was about breaking and changing a world.

However, the appeal of such stories kept recurring through the observation journal, in various guises. See, for example, the aesthetics of stagey worlds (Chasing Patterns With Digressions on the Appeal of Staginess and Little Groves), the delight of of watching people become competent (Sparks and Navigable Worlds and Five Things to Steal from Midsomer Murders), and structure as trap vs structure as freedom (Distilling Thoughts and Readings). It also kept appearing in many books I was reading.

Of course, once you notice a pattern, it’s easier to find new examples — even spurious ones. The trick there is remembering whether you’re analysing for Serious Purposes (using defensible examples) or creating fiction/ornament/entertainment/havoc (in which case the spurious ones can be the most fun).

Handwritten notes, mind-map style, on a "romance of the navigable world"

So on this page, I dropped all those ideas into one place. I listed the types of books (generally rather than by name, in this case). And then I noted the relevant characteristics of each. This let me see what further patterns emerged. At this point I wasn’t thinking of using this argument as an article structure, as such — but I wanted to see if I had more to say than “I’ve been reading books with this in it”.

There were a few new patterns — the sense of bumping around a world and bouncing off its walls, and the possibilities this approach has for narratives without obvious antagonists. But the most interesting pattern was the recurring note that certain of these stories tended to be, or could easily be, or were inherently conservative. That in turn (particularly with small or exclusive or rigid worlds) suggested ways the fantasy of a navigable world could become as much a tragedy as a romance.

In the end, the layers of these notes gave structure to the piece on what I’d been reading — but looking for those patterns added detail and nuance, and questions I could introduce into future conversations and explorations.

A tiny ballpoint drawing of me sitting in bed writing
Writing on the bed

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Purgatorial stories — hallmarks and patterns

This post is a spin-off of the three-mood short story reading project.

I’d noticed a number of stories (and novels, and shows) with what I could only describe as a particularly purgatorial aesthetic/mood. This post is a first attempt to bring all those notes and thoughts together.

Here are the main sections:

Continue reading

Observation Journal: Distilling thoughts and readings

The observation journal has been wonderful for developing ideas, pursuing fascinations, and creating projects and exercises.

Occasionally, however, I simply use it to gather loosely-related thoughts (e.g. five thoughts on surface design), to comb through for patterns and lessons. Often these will turn into more detailed investigations or projects, raw material for exercises and workshops activities. But the first stage is just jotting them down, and then looking for patterns (although occasionally loose thoughts turn into a written piece on their own).

If you’re keeping a similar notebook, this can be a quick way to review what you’ve been thinking about recently, and to find ideas and lessons to pursue and examine.

Here are two examples (there will be more in the future).

1. Tracing a suspected pattern

I’d noticed a pattern in my reading (and in my concerns about my own work). This page was a quick exercise in pinning that down, and tracing some of the implications. It’s a similar process to tracing a fascination (e.g. Little Groves), but more nebulous.

Handwritten notes on patterns in recent reading.

The recurring pattern was structure as a trap vs structure as freedom. It united topics from discussions in an architecture reading group to thoughts on narrative theories, analyses of clothes in books (on the Clothes in Books blog), silhouettes and my attempts to work through story structure, Xanadu (the movie) and several murder mysteries. The most common theme within this was a sense of tricks and traps, and the mechanisms that can provide (or require you to avoid).

Many of these thoughts very much escaped into my “What I’m Reading” article for Meanjin, on “The Romance and Horror of the Navigable World“.

2. Looking for a pattern

On the second page, I went looking for a pattern, collecting advice that kept recurring across a great deal of reading (and many conversations, and some reluctant self-reflection), and then distilling it further.

Handwritten notes on patterns in recent reading.

The main overall lesson and reminder was that, whatever it takes to get the work done, to be deliberate about it.

Ballpoint sketch of a beagle asleep on a cushion
Johnny

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Observation Journal: Mapping movements in stories

On these observation journal pages, I was thinking about the way stories interact with the space in which they take place. (This was because of a comment about Travelogues, which is very much about moving through landscape.) But the exercise turned into another way to break apart and consider stories, and find new ways in.

I began by quickly noting down the main locations in some favourite fairy tales, and tracking how characters moved between them (see also: The Usefulness of Template Stories).

Below, you can see Little Red Riding Hood (the version with the river and the washerwomen), Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel (the one with later attempted murders), Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White.

Handwritten page with diagrams of locations and movement between them in a series of fairytales

Charting stories like this highlighted some interesting patterns. The shuttling activity of Cinderella, the concentric, narrowing focus of Sleeping Beauty. The increasing distance from home and outward movement of Rapunzel, the ring-road of Little Red Riding Hood.

It also highlighted the places where other locations were implied but not revealed, and the difference between story movement and that of individual characters. For more on that, see Plotted: A Literary Atlas by Andrew DeGraff and Daniel Harmon and Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies by Andrew DeGraff and A. D. Jameson.

Cinderella in particular amused me.

Ballpoint diagram: home and palace, and arrows going there, back, there, back, there, back, back and there

Looked at this way, the focus of the story became the road between home and palace. So a few days later, I took a closer look:

Handwritten notes on movements between locations specified and implied in Cinderella, with some ballpoint and watercolour sketches

There are several nebulous implied locations (where the stepmother and godmother originate from, for example) — they could be expanded, ellided, or conflated.

Ballpoint and watercolour scribbly sketch of a cottage

And while the road is a key location, there is rarely much time spent on it. What would the story look like from the point of view of observers along the way?

Ballpoint and watercolour sketch of farmers leaning on a gate watching a carriage go past, saying "there they go again"

What about the tension between the landscape passing outside the carriage and the anticipation of the person within it? (Tangentially connected post: bored teens in cars.)

Ballpoint and watercolour scribbly sketch of a carriage crossing a bridge and a woman in a pink dress looking out of a carriage

The next day, I was just playing with tiny maps of Cinderella, for fun:

Handwritten notes on locations in Cinderella, with some maps drawn in ballpoint and coloured marker

But while the earlier charts open up the story, the map forces decisions, from aesthetic and style to the details of the world, the number of bridges the carriage should go across, and therefore the waterways and surrounding geography. At least, they do so if you build the world out from the events of the story.

If you fit a story to an existing geography, draping it over a landscape or running it along known roads, it is mostly the story that changes (and, perhaps, the meaning of the landscape). “Gisla and the Three Favours” (published in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet last year) began as an exercise in draping the story of Cinderella over a volcanic landscape, and letting the story change. When writing Flyaway, the process involved introducing several fairy-tale elements to an ill-suited climate and watching them shift — but also letting the mythic weight of those stories become a lens through which to view landscape often written about more cruelly. And Travelogues explicitly involved attaching fantastic and fairy-tale imagery to very real geography and journeys.

I’ve also used this approach when planning and editing a current large project. Here’s a slightly redacted chart of the key locations, to see where movement was concentrated, and where the story opened up or was bottled in.

Map of many messy multicoloured loops between various redacted locations

Here is the same for an early version of an house from the story:

Tiny ballpoint house plan with coloured lines tracking various paths through it

Writing/illustration activity

  • Pick a story (a fairy-tale, a movie with mythic weight, something you’re working on — see The Usefulness of Template Stories).
  • From memory, do a quick rough chart of the key locations, and how characters move between them.
  • Notice and consider:
    • If you notice anything new about the story, or a new angle of approach to it, make a quick note of that.
    • If you wanted to open the story up, make it more claustrophobic, more cosmopolitan or focussed on logistics, what changes could you make to its locations?
  • Write or draw:
    • Are there any locations that don’t get a lot of focus? Implied off-page points of origin (or destination) — where was the woodcutter cutting wood? Heavily trafficked but almost unmentioned roads or driveways? Important outbuildings or waterways (did Sleeping Beauty’s castle have a moat, and what water fed it, and what became of it when everything was overgrown)?
    • Do a quick sketch — written or drawn — of a scene set in that place, or viewed from that point of observation.

Some related posts:

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Ballpoint drawing of a small wheeled suitcase fallen over
From one of the observation pages: my suitcase full of art books for a workshop

Observation Journal: Favourite tropes about families

On this observation journal page, I loosely corralled some thoughts on my favourite tropes about families in fiction.

Double page spread of observation journal. Tiny handwritten observations. Notes on family tropes.

The observation journal is a useful place to quickly pin down vague fascinations. Sometimes they turn into a project, or a point of reference. Sometimes, as here, they don’t seem to lead to any epiphany. And yet I keep coming back to the ideas on this page, and gradually it’s getting out into other projects, and I keep linking other related interests back to this one, building a pattern of thoughts for some future enquiry. Further, just having written this down means the knowledge as a corrective to a slight tendency to default to an individual, unanchored central character.

Handwritten notes on takes I like on families in fiction.

Here are some of my favourite tropes & treatments of families in fiction:

  • The odd one out — the strange character in a normal family; the normal character in a strange one.
  • The vast and peculiar family — unique circumstances, idiosyncratic, Gothic…
  • Erratic but functional — feel but don’t necessarily react; appealing/sympathetic but strange…
  • Scattered but resonant — geographically; seen across generations
  • Parents vs kids — smart parents intrigued by strange kids; practical offspring of bohemian parents
  • All get stories — siblings each pursuing their own stories; multi-track (e.g. kids, teenagers, adults each on their own plot); crossed tracks
  • Present — actively can’t shake them; part of the context of the story, e.g. qctive hindrance, or secretly very important to the context
  • Haven — for others; for main character; for readers
  • In summary:
    • families that function as both unit and context (as well as a group of characters);
    • families that are something the reader is terrified to lose (but that will not actually be destroyed by the story).

Stories referred to include: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (specifically the family mechanics in the book, which aren’t in the movie), and indirectly most of Diana Wynne Jones’ books; Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson; Stranger Things (seasons 1 and 2 but in different ways); Fargo (movie and at least the first season of the series); Midsomer Murders; A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh; Queen Elizabeth, a portrait of the Queen Mother by Penelope Mortimer (seriously, whatever your position — and Mortimer’s book is not a hagiography — it’s a fun read); The Addams Family (Charles Addam’s work and the show, movies, etc); and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (the book and the 2015 movie, especially).

Tiny ballpoint drawing of ibis savaging a stolen croissant, with light blue watercolour background
Ibis savaging a stolen croissant

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Observation Journal: Proof of…

This observation journal activity arose from a talk Irene Gallo gave at the Illustration Master Class. She recommended that when we go to galleries, we look for just one thing — that is, for one thing in every piece of art, e.g. the colour yellow, or how draperies were treated.

I still play this as a game at galleries, alone or with friends — looking just for spirals, or only at the backgrounds, or arguing that every painting is a riff on Orpheus and Eurydice (last time I did this we got stumped on one painting until we worked out it was about that myth).

Double spread of journal. First page with observations from day, second with notes on patterns.
Editing Travelogues, watching Good Omens, and an ex-ceiling cat

On this particular day, I played the game with the day. I looked back over it for sickle shapes (a cat, split hazelnuts, a sequin’s visible edge), evidence of a secret city behind the city (floodlit buildings solitary in a park, the way emergency vehicles were only audible as they passed, model houses so small as to be models displayed in a model house), and “Little Red Riding Hood” (the grey fur of a cat, friends in pyjamas with blankets pulled to their chin, food packed up to carry away…).

Single page of hand-written observation journal identifying patterns

It’s a gentle game, useful for:

  • passing the time
  • useful conversations when visiting galleries with friends
  • long car trips
  • focussing attention
  • training yourself to see in a certain way, or to notice certain things
  • seeing the ordinary in different ways
  • inventing and supporting secret-history or conspiracy stories
Tiny ballpoint drawing of cat showing teeth
Saffy, an unflattering portrait

Art/writing exercise

  • Choose an element or a story. Here are a few ideas:
    • Elements:
      • colours
      • shapes
      • tones
      • patterns
      • treatments of e.g. reflections, draped fabrics, etc
    • Story:
      • a particular fairy tale or myth
      • a story with mythic weight for you (a movie, a tall tale)
      • your preferred variety of thrilling tale (murder mystery, heist, secret city, hauntings)
    • Other: Invent your own! There are also lots of excellent noticing activities out there — see e.g. Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.
  • Go somewhere (physically or virtually): a gallery, a museum, a waiting room, about your day.
  • Look for as much evidence as you can of that one element or story. Be ridiculous if necessary. Stretch definitions.
  • Bonus round: do a sketch (written or drawn) of a place focussing on those elements, as if they are the most important (or the only) objects there.

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Observation Journal — Why has she not done the thing?

I don’t like being introspective — one of the advantages of the observation journal is that I worked that out quickly and was able to sidestep it thereafter. However, the journal is sometimes useful for unpicking specific problems. [Edit: there’s now a follow-up post to this — Things that might make her do the thing]

For example: My intense avoidance of packaging and posting things. I can make myself slightly feverish, now, just by starting to think about preparing art to send to a show.

I always have to look up tabebuia online — the pink ones blossom like crepe-paper pomanders in winter

The important approach on this page was to:

  • follow each high-level answer down through several levels (what types of stress, and which physical parts, and what’s causing that…)
  • highlight key elements as I went (otherwise these pages are unintelligible when I revisit them.

The most useful question to ask for this type of page turned out to be: has [the problem] ever worked out okay, and why/how. In this case, the tricks for getting me to package and post things effectively/at all have been:

  • Clearing space
  • Dedicating time
  • Recruiting a second pair of hands (or passing it over to someone else entirely — there are people out there who apparently LOVE and are GOOD AT putting rectangles into other rectangles, and I need you all to know you are important and valued)
  • Having a tested technique AND checking if there are better approaches out there
  • Information/checklists

Two days later I started to investigate something else I was avoiding, but when I put down the key questions I thought they were (a) self-answering and (b) funnier left unanswered.

The moral of the story is: stress can be repurposed for entertainment. And sometimes laughing at myself is what is needed to get a project moving.

“could she in fact be doing the thing right now instead of writing this?”

UPDATE: I addressed these points further — and completed the template page! — on this post: Things that might make her do the thing.

Observation Journal — much-used words and symbolism

Usually I post observation journal pages chronologically, which is why I’m still working through last year. These three pages, however, are very current. (I’ll scan them eventually).

I am editing a draft of a story this month. This means I am confronted by words I regularly overuse. Sometimes this is simply because I think they’re neat, or get in a habit. But some words I use because I like them and they mean something to me. When I use the word “green” it’s less about description than about trying to invoke some nebulous, numinous green-ness.

So I finally sat down to work out what I actually *mean* when I use some of my most overused words.

Here is “green”:

This approach is a work-in-progress, but it has already been useful both for edits and for clarifying my thoughts on a story.

For example: Is this person wearing a green coat because I wanted a sense of growth? An engulfing quality? A lichenous texture? Is the sea glinting like bottles or iridescent with decay? Would I even paint the trees as green, or was I trying to capture a bilious or purple effect that belongs to greenness and the wild? Is a hedge dense and velvety with blue shadows? Is it springing with new leaves and sharp with the scents of herbs? Is this very green story about decay or wildness or dissolution or new growth, or several of those things?

This exercise is, of course, partially about specificity. But it’s also about reaching for the meanings behind the word.

Here are “Shadows”:

And it turns out, half the time I’m thinking of shadows as luminous and vermilion-flecked, and almost always as less about concealment than about deeper or distant truth (thanks, Robert Frost and George MacDonald). And so maybe I should occasionally say that.

Here I took it a little sideways, to look more at an object than a word — coats:

I like writing coats more than cloaks, as a general rule. This page is less about breaking up the description of them, and more about looking at the habit: are there symbols I could clarify, or things an audience might not realise I’m using a coat as a shorthand for? And if I know that I’m using a coat as a sort of Swiss-army-knife of a garment, which stands for practicality and adventure and records the story on its surface, could I use (for example) an actual Swiss army knife instead? Or could I play with forcing those roles onto something unexpected, like a spangled scarf?

(I’m going to try this exercise again soon with my most overused word: “and”.)

Writing/illustration Exercises (I’ll probably refine these by the next time I post about it)

  • Choose a word (or for artists: an images/object/colour/treatment) you know you overuse, or suspect you might overuse, or have been scolded about by editors. Even — or perhaps especially — if it’s something you like using, and suspect you keep coming back to for a reason.
  • Start breaking down why and how you use it. You’ll find your symbols and shorthands are different. And even the high-level categories might change. But as a starting point, here are some of the ones I used (for fairly free associations) — once I had these, I started getting into more detail.
    • colour (not just other words for it, but if — for you —it contains other colours, scarlet in shadow and mustard in green; or if the default colour of a coat is green — if you don’t think visually, look at some pictures that feel particularly that colour to you, and see what other colours are in them)
    • temperature
    • texture (actual and what you think it should feel like)
    • actions
    • body language (even if you don’t describe it, what’s your default for character interaction with this thing: frolicking? cowering?)
    • movement
    • smell
    • things
    • sounds
    • opposite of
    • associations/influences (“if your mother mends a coat cut about and tore“)
    • symbolises/means
    • places
    • weight
    • decay (this was specific to green, then I tried it on “shadow” and it was intriguing)
    • conceals (this was shadow-specific but it got into “coat” as well)
    • role (of the object, or of the people associated with it)
    • necessary components (coats, when I write them, need buttons and pockets and linings)
  • Take a scene or sentence in which you use the word, and see if you can use these new lists to adjust and specify the description, or simply strengthen it. (Red hat or jaunty hat or the fragile defiant headgear of someone about to meet a wolf?)
  • Could you give another colour/object/movement the same symbolic meaning? Could you make violet feel like orange, or high-heels or a serving spoon serve the purpose of a fedora?
  • Could you flip the symbolism of that word, and make a leather jacket mean giddy flamboyance or restlessly drumming fingertips mean peace?

Observation Journal: Industrial Fabulism

On this observation journal page l was looking at the idea of industrial fabulism.

A few weeks before this, I noted I was interested in the “fabulist-practical and the industrial-fantastic”. This is something that appears in articles in car magazines at mechanics’ offices (often very romantically written) and in some of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, in collections of rural inventions and the science columns in 19th-century periodicals and in Cold Comfort Farm, in Longitude and Apollo 13 and Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange.

It was also a choice I had to actively make in Flyaway, choosing to underline the reliability of beauty by describing aspects of even mechanical detritus as worthy of notice. And it runs throughout Travelogues, much of which involved processing an industrial landscape through the language of enchantment. I touched a little on that in the post All the shape of the land: “a way not only of expressing the experience of made things, but of experiencing the world through them, and finding enchantment in that.”

Extract from Travelogues

So on this journal page, I was identifying that particular aesthetic and its appeal. Some points:

  • It is more of a mode/style/setting than a genre.
  • It relies on and seeks out beauty in machinery:
    • It is realism in service of fabulism.
    • There’s a conscious effort to enchant.
    • Lyricism is used to deal with industrial objects and surroundings.
    • It’s an innate aesthetic — not adding a gloss of beauty to the mechanical/industrial, or bolting ornaments on, but seeking it in the objects themselves. The industrial can even be what adds beauty to the fantastic.
    • It represents a society without a division between the technical/technological and the fantastic.
  • It is not the same as clockpunk/steampunk/dieselpunk.
    • There can be overlap, but there is an effort to distinguish itself from the usual genre markers (e.g. going for a blue tint instead of sepia).
    • It leans on machinery more than the fantastic.
    • It often avoids the obvious supernatural/fantastic altogether.
  • Its appeal for me includes:
    • It is anchored in the real. The enchantment is integrated into reality/realism, OR the fairy-tale is anchored by the industrial element.
    • As mentioned above, it’s an integrated/innate aesthetic.
    • It’s designed to be actively attractive.
    • The cliches and stereotypes of the industrial (especially as opposed to the fantastic) are well established, so I need to consciously choose to use the mode, which can make writing in it a pleasing puzzle. (Swapped descriptions, e.g. light vs tin cans, and switched stereotypes are useful for this.)

Observation Journal — a sequence of week-in-review pages

Here is a series of end-of-week summary pages from the observation journal. (I wrote about the structure of the summary pages here: reflections and summaries.)

It’s useful having these pages, both to catch big ideas at the end of each week and to look back on them much later, following the little growing fascinations, the recurring epiphanies, the big and little moods, the lessons I did learn and the ones I won’t.

For example, this time I notice that apparently I like these shades of green. (Previously on colours.)

The same goes for the “Things to Do” page: it’s more a list of possibilities than actual tasks, so there are items that are carried forward week to week until they suddenly turn into a project (I did finally order the foil cards), and ones that get set aside, or are written off but suddenly roar back into my field of vision a year later, or are just there as a reminder to keep in mind.

So below is a five-week run of summary pages, with some of the points that now seem most interesting to me extracted.

Week-in-review c 25 April 2020
  • 2020 effectively squashed most of my domestic urges.
  • While the journal is great for writing blog posts, this blog is also one of the things that keeps me reviewing the journal.
  • The (useful, if I act on it) frustration of not making things, whether because of admin commitments or because I’m just splashing around coming up with ideas.
Week-in-review c 2 May 2020
  • I like colour! I do so much linework I need to remind myself of this. It also makes the journal more of a pleasing object to keep and review.
  • The playful aspects of the journal do get into more formal projects.
  • The power of unlikely abrupt intense proximities for creating stories.
  • The joy of being silly when classifying things.
  • The charm of specificity.
Week-in-review c 9 May 2020
  • How much easier everything is if I (am legally allowed to) leave the house for some portion of the day.
  • The effect of a shape on a story.
  • Relatedly, making space for a thing to happen makes it more likely to happen.
  • Flipping and hypothetically remixing a story (my own or others’) is a way to take charge of an idea.
  • How characterisation works when it is done by creating sympathy for a character off the page. (Related, or at least I should link the ideas: Sympathy for characters)
Week-in-review c 16 May 2020
  • Going outside is nice but I have enormous difficulties achieving escape velocity. (My whole family does. I used to have volcano-and-bushfire nightmares in which we kept having to rush back into the house to get things we’d forgotten… thanks Children’s World Book Encyclopaedia and assorted Ash Wednesday bushfire novels.)
  • The charm of playing something (even the magical/unlikely) very straight and low-key. (I think this was prompted by murder mysteries.)
  • I’m more likely to get editing done if I just keep tinkering my way into the story than if I start with some strategic plan.
  • Key ideas (this reference-story, that painting as a visual key) are very useful for narrowing editing choices.
  • Doing something, and keeping on doing it, even in small ways, reduces later bars to entry.
  • The extreme usefulness of tentative mock-solutions. (Not closely related, but not unrelated: ten terrible things.)
Week-in-review c 23 May 2020
  • Changing ONE thing in an idea (varying one character in a story, picking one colour note to commit to), and then following the consequences, is sometimes more interesting than flipping everything.
  • The power of definiteness in first lines. (Staring at sentences; First sentences.)
  • Reading is a necessary and relevant part of the job!
  • The pull that a strong aesthetic exerts both on the story being written and on the reader, to pull them into it. (If the reader is me: aesthetic posts).
  • Perhaps not unrelated to the above: how many of my favourite first lines highlight a setting more than a character.

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