An Unfurling Bud: a lesson learnt from Debi Alper's Self-editing mini-course

Published by: Peacock on 14th Sep 2012 | View all blogs by Peacock
Lying in bed with my toddler this morning, he cuddled me close and stroked my collar bone. 'You have a beautiful skelleton, Mummy,' he said.  Not for the first time, I thought him a greater poet than his mother. 

We are one week back from York. Anyone who met me there may remember me as the gibbering wreck spending her first nights away from her son, one step apart from the weekend's activities. After three years of no cigarettes, I smoked furiously for three days. I stayed up until 3am on Saturday, in part so I didn't have to face his absence in the bedroom. 

The first exercise Debi Alper gave us on Friday afternoon was to write down the scene of an emotionally charged event of our lives. It's no surprise, then, than I chose a moment between me and my son. I chose the first minutes after his birth. We were instructed to write this in first person. 

I wrote of the industrial lighting, the bubbled yellow receiving blanket, the fear and the pain and the love. I revisted the high drama and the cosy softness. My writing was clumsy, rough and raw.  I welled up and stopped with a minute still to go. In the silence, I wondered what other intense emotions were being re-lived in the room, all of us transported to moments which defined our lives. I wondered if I'd gone to the wrong conference - had ended up in some sort of group therapy workshop that could prove equally useful to people like me.

Then Debi broke the silence and gave us the next challenge: write the same scene, again in first person,but this time from the other person's perspective. We gasped. Somebody said 'No!'. The challenge began.

I set out describing the world through the eyes of a new-born. Even as his mother, I can see that I credited him with more intellegence and a wider vocabulary than he truly had at one minute old.  But the exercise worked. Debi told us that if we'd had more time, she would have then asked us to write the scene in third person, considering the emotional charge from both points of view, and at the same side from outside either. I tried this later back in my room and it transformed my novel. 

It is not 1936, I do not live in Berlin and I am not a Jewish ballet dancer in love with a Nazi film star. Yet I was having problems with my protagonist, not because of our differences in biography and circumstance, but because I was stuck inside her writing in first person and was not able to describe her from the outside, nor was I able to explore the thoughts and feelings of the other major characters through anything other than her perceptions.

The next day, the Psychic Distance workshop confirmed to me that I needed to make this change.  I can get closer to my protagonist by taking a step away. My novel will be more immediately real and more emotionally powerful written in third person. 

Thank you, Debi.  
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Comments

6 Comments

  • Autumn
    by Autumn 1 year ago
    Great blog Peacock. I was in that workshop too and know that there were a few others who did births and gasped when Debi asked us to do the other POV; how can such a nice lady be so MEAN! :-D

    I picked the moment that I met my Dad for the first time, (at 37 yrs old) which was fine for my POV, but he didn't know I was there...

    I can't believe I'd never thought about what was going through his mind when he realised who I was. I'm certain it will improve my WIP too. Thanks again Debi, and good luck with the revisions Peacock! xx
  • osbie
    by osbie 1 year ago
    What a beautiful moment caught between you and your son, made me quite emotional. Enjoyed reading your blog, thank you for sharing the exercise at York - fantastic the way WW push people to explore even further (I wasn't at York but have just completed the creative writing course). Your story sounds fascinating.
  • Tony
    by Tony 1 year ago
    Good blog, Autumn. Thanks for the glimpse into your learning process. Write on.
  • Tony
    by Tony 1 year ago
    Woops. I mean, Good blog, Peacock!
  • Debi
    by Debi 1 year ago
    Oh, I thought I'd got over the post-York heightened emotions where I keep blubbing ... But you've set me off all over again. This is beautiful. I feel so privileged to be in a position to be a small part of other people's writing journeys. It was lovely to meet you! Good luck with everything you do - but especially the writing. ;-) PS. Please can I use this in the Festie book?
  • Peacock
    by Peacock 1 year ago
    Aw, thanks! This is my first blog ever and you've all been very kind.

    Autumn, it must have been very intense for you to write about meeting your father, especially when then considering his POV for the first time. I hope it was a positive experience!

    Debi, it was wonderful meeting you too, but I can't seriously have made you cry AGAIN! You're worse than me! I'm very flattered that you want it for the book. Of course you can use it, but only on the condition that you don't cut out the last three words...
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