There’s a brilliant poem by the 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi, and I’ve found when writing drama, it’s been a go-to point for reminding me how to create an interesting element to a story. I first heard this poem at a gig a few years ago. It was a young man playing his guitar and before his final piece, he recited this poem. Being somewhat intoxicated, I rarely remember phrases let alone poems (and unfortunately cannot remember the artist – he was very good though!) but somehow, in my flooded brain of stout and cider, I was able to keep the poem buoyant and remembered word for word.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
This poem has always been a starting ground for conflict in my writing. It’s those first two lines that epitomise how drama can be created, how conflict can erupt out of a piece to make it interesting. That ‘field’ Rumi speaks of is the grey area where our actions, our thoughts, our feelings are hard, if not impossible, to be categorised into good or bad. It’s beyond our ‘ideas,’ our laws, of wrongdoing and rightdoing, beyond what we label good and bad. An example:
Robbing a bank is obviously bad. But stealing only enough for a loaf of bread to feed your poor, cold, starving family? That’s when it gets grey – how do we feel about that?
Lying is generally considered wrong but to lie to someone to protect their feelings? Or from harm? That’s when it gets grey – is that the right thing to do?
Brilliant writing has evolved from a character acting or saying something and then ultimately, it becoming a grey area on whether or not they should have done or said it. The television series Breaking Bad springs to mind where you’re not sure how to feel about White’s actions. You’re conflicted, you’re on the fence about how you feel yet you can completely understand both sides; the like and hate groups for the protagonist (or antagonist!) appear to both make complete sense. It’s how you feel about the character. That’s great drama and it’s great storytelling.
It’s help me overcome a lot of problems in my writing and whenever I’ve been stuck or diagnosed with the classic block, I’ll remind myself of this piece. Where is that field? Who’s in it? What do you need to do to get into the field?