Distance yourself

A portrait of Maxine Beneba Clarke
Maxine Beneba Clarke
16 March 2015
With: 
Maxine Beneba Clarke

Think briefly about an emotional event in your life: how it felt at the time, where you were geographically, who else was in the vicinity, what sounds you recall. If you’re able, write three short paragraphs about the incident in first person.

I was standing in the middle of the road, in the rain. It was freezing cold…

Imagine yourself climbing out of your body. Walk several metres away. Walk several more metres. Walk a few more. Turn around. Now you can see yourself from a vantage point of about fifteen metres.

What can you see from this new vantage point that you couldn’t see when you were inside the scene? Does the red colour of your boots stand out more. Is your hair messy and wet from coming in from the rain? Is your chest heaving up and down?

Imagine this character standing in front of you isn’t you – you’ve simply stumbled upon her: in this street, in this church, or in this living room.

Describe her and the scene clinically, in third person or omniscient narration: Susan is standing in the middle of the road. She is so cold her shoulders are shaking. Her hair is wet. She is standing oddly, leaning her weight on one foot. She wears red, scuffed ankle boots…

Compare this vantage point with the original piece of writing. Which was easier to write? Which narrative voice best suits? There may now even be sections of the second piece of writing you’d like to include in the first attempt through subjective omniscient narration, or another combination of the two styles.

This exercise can be helpful when working with difficult material, or simply to add an element of objectivity when working with autobiographical material.

About Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s newly-launched short story collection, ‘Foreign Soil’, won the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize. She was awarded the 2014 Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship for her memoir (currently in development). She is also a slam poetry champion and author of the poetry collections ‘Gil Scott Heron is on Parole’ and ‘Nothing Here Needs Fixing’.