For each word, I wrote down the first/obvious/cliched association — or my current association with it. Then I swapped those associations, and tried to write new descriptions accordingly.
So, for example, watercolour seems thin, erratic, unforgiving. Whereas oil paint is thick, has a strong smell, and is forgiving. If I swap those associations, I need to describe them as follows:
- watercolour: describe unwieldy, heavily-pigmented applications of watercolour, concentrating on all the smells of water (and paper and pigment).
- oil paint: describe the slippery, staining, spreading, ineradicable nature of it.
Or bread and water in the classic dungeon sense; bread dry, tough and coarse; water dank and green. Swapped:
- bread: dank green bread, dark and mould-tinted.
- water: dusty, muscular and gritty.
Or sense, all calm, practical, dependable, self-abnegating, vs sensibility that’s flowery, effusive, impulsive, melodic. Flipped:
- sense: dramatically pragmatic, theatrically logical
- sensibility: calm, quotidian sentimentality, a self-effacing sensitivity
(What I like about that example is that it goes from being Elinor and Marianne Dashwood to Mrs Bennett and Jane Bennett).
You can use this to come up with ideas, of course. But it’s also a fun way to shake up the obvious view of something, and find surprising but no less true ways to look at it (the crispiness of old, much-washed socks).
Writing/illustrating exercise (as per the Caudwell Manoeuvre post)
- Write down things that occur in pairs — either in the wild or in your mind. Dungeons and dragons? Meat pies and tomato sauce?
- Pick a pair. For each item, write down some brief obvious descriptions and associations (including texture, colour, lines etc — this works for illustration as well as writing).
- Now swap those notes. Use that list and work out how to describe (or illustrate) the other half of the pair in those terms. (Weirdly lumpy and chewy tomato sauce, with the dried bits around the top of the bottle flaking off? A stone-and-moss, cavern-dwelling dragon with a voice like the echoes of dripping water? Or, more literally, a dragon full of unfortunate individuals and a few skeletons?).
- Try leaning into it to varying degrees — seeking a new thing that blends the old, or seeking new ways to see the old.
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