When beginning a conversation, especially with someone you don’t know well, it’s normal to spend a little time on pleasantries, polite chitchat… It breaks the ice. “How’ve you been? How’s your husband/wife? How are the kids? How’s work?” Etc.
After that, unless some earth-shattering event is reported, you move on to the business at hand.
When giving a speech or a talk of any sort, the same thing holds… maybe start with a joke or two… loosen yourself and everyone else up (hopefully). Then get to the topic.
I listen to quite a few podcasts. For some hosts, it’s pretty common to do the same – shake out their uneasiness with some casual conversation about traffic on the way to the studio, parking, etc.
I do not like these kind of podcasts (unless the hosts are truly funny or can speak extemporaneously in an entertaining way. There are damn few of these.).
I call this kind of thing ‘throat-clearing’… as in, uncomfortably clearing your throat before saying, with seeming reluctance, what you came to say. In real life, throat-clearing makes sense; it bridges an awkward gap at the beginning of a new interaction. In podcasts, not so much.
And in screenwriting and playwriting it’s common that the first act, or a good part of it, is unnecessary throat-clearing and can often be tossed out with no harm done (except, sadly, to the writer’s ego).
The same thing is very true in songwriting. I often find myself dithering around in the first Verse (and I see the same thing in writers I work with) when I should be getting right down to the business of what the song is about. Same thing as with scripts – get to the story right away! No need to clear my throat or hem and haw.
It’s amazing to me how often the first Verse can be cut, or cut down. And, as when cutting anything non-essential – but more so, since it’s the beginning – the whole song comes into much clearer focus.
It’s completely natural to go through some ‘throat-clearing’ at the beginning of things in real life. But writing isn’t real life. It’s life without the dull bits (most of them anyway… I hope). As Elmore Leonard said, “Leave out the parts that people tend to skip.”
I’d add: Particularly at the beginning. Leave out the throat-clearing!
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