The final week of the Starting to Write Your Novel online test course is fast approaching. We’ve seen a steady transition over the past few weeks: at the beginning, my fellow diligent testers on this newest of CBC’s online writing courses were reporting faults as they found them, giving us feedback on site navigation and completing their tasks, but we ran out of bugs to fix about a week ago. Since then, we’ve almost completely forgotten the fact that we’re testing the course, focusing instead on throwing ourselves into the tasks and working on those novels. Even though the test cohort is comprised of students who have already completed a three- or six-month novel-writing course, everybody’s found something new, seen something from a different angle and been thrown out of their comfort zone – perhaps none more than Lucy Smallwood Barker (above) was last week.
Week Four’s topic was Narrative Perspective, and for one of the tasks that week, course tutor Anna Davis asked students to rewrite a section of their novel, shifting either the narrative perspective, the tense or both. Lucy is a writer who, by own own admission, is very stuck in her ways. As she posted in the forum: ‘This has been such a revelatory week for me… I never write in third… First person is never a conscious decision – it’s just the way I write and I have never ever considered NOT writing like that – which is probably no surprise seeing as I don’t consider writing in third either, I just do it. But I thought Anna’s reasoning for the third person this week was really compelling and now I’m wondering… is it time?’
This exercise was designed to make the students try something new, and to think carefully about why they were doing it. Lucy impressed us with how skillfully she managed to slip into a new perspective using a series of subtle but important changes, despite how alien it was to her – and so we’d like to share her efforts here:
Original: third person, past tense
That summer the whole country took it bad but Wyoming got it worse. We woke day after day after day to those mean yellow skies trapping us like pickles in a jar.
And as the days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months the heat curdled our already tested natures. Everything and everyone turned bad. The jail got full. The bank got emptied. Women stopped hiding their beat eyes on Main Street. The latrines stank up the town like cowboys’ crotches. The cows stopped eating and withered beneath lifeless trees. The sawmill caught fire in early July, taking out some of our best customers and leaving more without money to drink or ride. There was talk of gas in the mine. Of throat slashers near the Chinamen’s camp. Of cattle disease coming up the line.
And, worst of all, men stopped wanting to ball. When you’ve got just one thing to offer in all the world and people ain’t interested, it’s only a matter of time before you become an unnecessary. So there was me and Hanna and Kiki sitting all day and all night in the Station Hotel’s upstairs parlour, waiting and hoping and trying to ignore Herb when he stood at our door, picking his teeth while his watervole eyes held steady on what he owned, knowing how scared he had us since he sent Edie back to her crippled mother. It wasn’t like our men weren’t coming. They were. But the thick heat made them thirsty for liquor not lady. So instead of making money off our backs, he had Pierre water down the sass, and we’d sit up there, bickering and picking at one another while our rides turned irritable and useless downstairs. I don’t know what was worse – men who didn’t come up the stairs, or the ones who did. A man can get awful fisty when their little gent goes deaf, if you know what I mean.
Back when Twoways was town full of hope and promise, the train would stop all the time. But then the mine turned black and a couple of prospectors went wild with their shotguns and what they left behind weren’t worth the stopping. So now that great black beast races on through at a speed like it’s afeared of catching something, except on the last Tuesday of the month and only for the time it takes to toss us what we need.
And what festivals those Tuesdays became. When no-one comes in and no-one goes out, a town winds up awful dull: the sort of place you could sell tickets to a cow carcass. So it didn’t matter that it was only mail, money and mercantile produce: at nine-fifty-five in the morning on each month’s auspicious day, the town would haul itself off its porches and shuffle down Main Street to crane on tippytoes for the entertainment to arrive. If we were going to expire of boredom and heat, we may as well spend those final moments cheering on a bacco-chewing train-hand flippin another can of bicarb into the Weiss’s cart.
And that Tuesday, the last in August, began no other way.
Edit: third person, past tense
That summer had been bad for the whole country, but Wyoming got it worse. Each day, the little town of Twoways woke beneath mean yellow skies trapping everyone like pickles in a jar.
And as the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months the heat curdled the town’s already tested natures. Everything and everyone turned bad. The jail got full. The bank got emptied. Women stopped hiding their beaten eyes on Main Street. The latrines stank up the town like cowboys’ crotches. The cows stopped eating and withered beneath lifeless trees. The sawmill caught fire in early July, taking out some of Baby’s best customers and leaving more without money to drink or ride. There was talk of gas in the mine. Of throat slashers near the Chinamen’s camp. Of cattle disease coming up the line.
But they weren’t the only ones suffering.
At the Station Hotel, Baby sat day and night in the window of the upstairs parlour, with Hanna and Kiki bickering in the easy chairs behind, waiting for customers who never came. Aside from the occasional twilight stroll up and down Main Street to muster up business – ‘our constitutional’ Hanna would say because Hanna liked to read English novels – the three of them kicked around in that airless room, the air thick with frustration and curses while downstairs their old customers turned irritable and useless at the bar. It was bad enough that most men were put off by the thought of fretting and frutting when it was as hot at midnight as it was at noon, but those few who did stagger up the stairs and into Baby’s room had been so busy quenching their thirsts in the saloon that by the time they unpeeled their breeches, all was quiet in the little soldier’s barrack. And, as Baby knew all too well, a man can get awful fisty when their little soldier doesn’t listen.
By the end of August, when there’d been no let up after ten long weeks and Herb could count the number of rides the girls had had that week on one hand, he told Baby he was beginning to wonder if he should keep feeding her.
Back when Twoways was town full of hope and promise, the train would stop all the time. But then the mine turned black and a couple of prospectors went wild with their shotguns and what they left behind was no longer worth the stopping. Instead, that great black beast raced on through like it might catch something, except on the last Tuesday of the month and only for the time it took to toss the townsfolk what they needed.
And what festivals those Tuesdays had become. It didn’t matter that it was only mail, money and mercantile produce – when a town was as deathly as Twoways had become that summer, a dead cow was theatre. And so, at nine-fifty-five in the morning on each month’s auspicious day, the town would haul itself off its porches and march down Main Street to crane on tippytoes for the entertainment to arrive. If they were going to expire of boredom and heat, they thought, they may as well spend those final moments cheering as a bacco-chewing train-hand flipped another can of bicarb into the Weiss’s cart.
And that Tuesday, the last in August, began no other way.
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