This observation journal activity is closely related to The Caudwell Manoeuvre, an approach I enjoy tremendously, and it’s a nice way to play with patterns I’ve observed (whether they delight or exasperate me), and things in others’ work that I’ve wanted to run off and play with (see e.g. five things to steal). It can also reveal and clarify opinions about the source examples.
Writing/illustration exercise (closely related to The Caudwell Manoeuvre):
- Choose some characters/roles you’ve seen/read (or written/drawn) frequently. E.g. I’ve been reading a lot of old murder mysteries, so there’ve been many satisfied academic sleuths and desperate suburban housewives hiding a variety of secrets.
- Pick two. This could be a frequently matched pair (grim loner father figure and recently acquired plucky child for whom they are responsible; talented ingenue and mysterious mentor), or you could choose two at random.
- For each, make a few dot-points listing their distinguishing characteristics (floral housedress? taciturn? collects fine glassware?).
- Now, switch the descriptions.
You can do this a few ways:
- One is to simply move the dot-points to the other character (the housewife is exceptionally well-read in a narrow field, wears rather shabby tweed, and is on gently-scolding terms with the local teenagers).
- Another way is to drop the stereotypical person (the actor, as it were) into the opposite role (the wiry physical comedian becomes the hero to the large taciturn sidekick).
Or try both.
- Bonus round 1: Sketch (a paragraph or drawing) a scene of one of the new characters in action.
- Bonus round 2: What happens to the idea and the original roles? Are the new ideas comic, tragic, unchanged (and why)? Which pull into new territory? Which deepen your understanding of something? Which might it be fun to follow into a new story?
I was thinking about this at the time because of the neat little role reversals in Baby Done. But on this page I was riffing on the “kept woman” and “businessman” roles from The Eye of Love (a book that comes out of the gates playing with expectations), and with Holmes-ish and Watsonian characters. One of the fun reminders from the latter was how much kindness and humanity is in (book) Holmes, vs many later interpretations. Might it be the case that it is Watson who closely observes conventionality and applies it, while in fact it is Holmes who is teaching him about humanity?
There’s also a note there that I wanted to take some elements further, perhaps by adding an interesting voice. Voice is an element that has been coming up again more recently (not least in the short story reading posts), so I will have more to say about it!
Here’s the full pages, in case you want to zoom in and see what was happening that day.
This is when I realised I needed blue-tinted not red-tinted sunglasses, if I wanted to continue to derive joy from the world with them on.
Crows bearing gifts
Want to support art and writing and posts like this about them? Here are some ways:
- patreon.com/tanaudel (monthly support)
- ko-fi.com/tanaudel (one-off tip jar)
- art on things on Redbubble and Spoonflower.
- occasional mailing list for news: Mailing List Sign-Up