Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Starting in the Middle


The key technique I employ when writing is to start writing chunks of dialogue as it comes to me. I will be working from a basic plot outline lounging around in my brain and envision scenes between characters in the middle of development. I start stringing the dialog into scenes and putting the scenes into a very basic structure for the work. I go back to what appears to be the beginning and start to flesh out the work from that point.
You may be wondering why the hell I have a photo here of Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's former frontman who took his life in 1994.
Fair question.
You may recall from other postings in this blog that I have a fascination for biographies and autobiographies especially those written by or about creative people. I purchased a copy of Cobain's personal diary, published by his wife Courtney Love, and read it with great interest. I became a fan of Nirvana's when they blasted into fame and fortune. There was something about the lyrics I identified with and Cobain intrigued me. I saw Cobain and his bandmates perform MTV Unplugged in New York (my main employer at the time represented Cobain's management). It was a milestone of sorts for Cobain's band as they were being taken seriously but reaching an audience that really didn't interest them. Most of the people at the MTV event were, including myself, yuppies. That was not the audience this group envisioned appealing to in any meaningful way. Were they being welcomed because they had become famous? Could Cobain sing the phone book and still receive rapturous applause? This they wondered. They were caught in the middle: enjoying attention but under enormous pressure to perform for people they didn't much respect and living a lifestyle that countered their ideals. This added to Cobain's drug addiction and crushing bouts with depression was eventually what drove him to suicide. What he wanted for himself had been taken and he didn't know how to get it back. He didn't know how to cope with it. He didn't even know where to begin reclaiming his freedom from the corporate music world. The middle was a very bad place to be.
If you read Cobain's diary, it illustrates the ordinary difficulties creative people face, including major distractions. Cobain wrote about wanting to avoid getting sucked into watching something on television. That is a problem for me as well. I really love programs such as Forsenic Files, American Justice, Cold Case Files and shows of that variety. I could sit for hours and watch that stuff when I should be writing. I identified with other issues raised in Cobain's diary when I read it several years ago and started to just write when something came to mind - I would literally stop whatever I was doing and write out chunks of dialogue in a notebook. It might only be a few lines of exchange between characters or sketching out a key plot point which would give birth to more ideas for scenes. I just wrote it down. I didn't worry about it making sense when viewed along with already written dialogue I had. I didn't care. I got it down on paper.
This method has led to the gestation of three creative works which I work on each until the well runs dry for the sitting. I am also careful to not even turn on the TV when I need to work. Saying that I will just watch a half hour show and turn it off doesn't work. I'm too curious about too many things.
Poor Kurt Cobain didn't live to give us more of his insight of being trapped but having to try and live anyway. He didn't succeed. The rest of us try to make things work no matter what; we create in any way we can to keep thoughts and insights from festering within.
I've made starting from the middle work for me. Cobain inspired in ways he never would have imagined.

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