As a preamble, you should know I used to read a lot of his works when I was in my teens and early twenties. Seems like a million years ago. I wasn’t following Ray Bradbury during The Golden Age of Sci-Fi, when pulp magazines were all the rage and the big names now were the aspiring writers then. I caught up with all the hubbub starting in the ’70s. Formative years in my life, as I navigated the intricacies of friendships and first loves, on my way to adulthood.
I’m certain the first contact I had with his stories was The Illustrated Man. The way he used an overarching narrative to tie together the collection of disparate tales intrigued me. I recall diving into The Martian Chronicles; I was completely creeped out by Something Wicked This Way Comes; and I sought out other short stories in compilations and in monthly sci-fi publications. As much as I tried to justify him as a Sci-Fi Author, I realized he didn’t go in for hard science as much as how People deal with science and alien terrain. It was always the impact and response of the individuals to the alien situations they found themselves in. I admired him for that. He let the humanity of his characters bubble up to be the driving force in his stories.
I recently snagged an e-book copy of Zen in the Art of Writing. When I read the first chapter, “The Joy of Writing,” I found myself re-examining the storytelling I’d done on the novel, Chasing the Dragon. Bradbury advocated imbuing your writing with “Zest. Gusto.” I think–like he did–that means you have to have fun in the process, in order to have it “bursting with animal vigor and intellectual vitality.” I want my writing to dance, to sing, to leap off the page and do a whirling dervish with the Readers, making them laugh and cry and stand up straighter with new-found insights after the encounter.
As a Writer, you can’t do that if the money is your motivation; you’ve got to be invested in the ideas, the characters, the situations. Don’t be afraid to paint your story with tender touches of your own personal loves, the stinging punch of your hatreds. Sure, the canvass starts out as pure white truth, but when you hand the color palette to your characters, watch each one’s broad strokes and their tiny detailed dabs. Don’t flinch when your antagonist(s) cover an area in contrary tones of midnight lies; because you’ll cheer when the protagonist(s) inevitably add paragon highlights to dispel that gloom. And, if you watch closely, perhaps the converse reveals itself, too. Bad guys with a lighter side; good guys tormented by a darker past. People being people.
In the second chapter, “Run Fast, Stand Still,” Bradbury mentioned the impulse to write as something you shouldn’t over-examine. I get that. When I’ve bound and gagged my Inner Editor, pushed him into a closet, and sat down with my back to him, my writing seems to flow unbidden and some of my best achievements come out of those times. Do I still have to do edits and revisions? Certainly. Because I’m sloppy. Nothing a paper towel and a backspace key can’t fix.
As a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month for USA :: Missouri :: Fulton for the last three years, I’ve been a cheerleader and exhorted the local participants to “bang out your thoughts without stopping.” My mantra, and a cute little visual I generated, states “It doesn’t have to be Just Right just now, JUST WRITE.” Because you can’t edit and tidy up a blank page. Because you can’t revise what you haven’t written. Because your creativity can burst forth in such a rush that, if you try to stop and figure out where it’s coming from and how you’re doing it, it may easily evade you and disappear. Bradbury addressed that in the third chapter, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse.” When you and your Muse are together, without the third-party distraction of your Inner Editor, the results can be utterly breathtaking!
Case in point:
When I was working on Chasing the Dragon, my wife asked me where I’d gotten the original idea to write the fantasy story. I explained how it was spawned by a set of pencil sketches by a friend in high school. I gave her the long drawn-out explanation of a girl I knew who was artistic and was part of our group of friends. How I’d promised to someday write a novel about them. How I’d kept the drawings around for years, then lost them. My wife then asked, “Why don’t you include some of that, make it part of the book?” What? I’d never even considered…
Within a couple of days, I’d written a quasi-autobiographical vignette of my younger years, featuring my friend and our banter on the subject. Within two weeks, the whole thing had morphed into what became the endcaps of the fantasy novel, with a twist ending even I hadn’t seen coming when I started down that road. The characters that stepped onto the stage, their mannerisms, their accents, their interplay, all welled up from out of the depths of my experience across the years. And it worked!
The main fantasy story still niggled at me, though. I kept trying to rationalize how the events depicted could have happened in our past, in medieval times. I didn’t want to shoehorn it into our timeline of reality. I couldn’t see it as a post-apocalyptic future, like the Shannara series. Then I remembered I’d shelved an idea for a planet called Ka World, traversing our solar system in eons past in the orbit between Mars and Jupiter, until it was torn asunder to become our asteroid belt. Another “aha!” moment. Yes! The planet Ar’Ka was the perfect stage to set the story! I started imagining its size, the rotation, the yearly jaunt, the moons, the land forms, the societies.
Other times I’ve spent time walking and talking with my Muse, poetry gushed forth to become the short precursors of each chapter in the book. There was a ballad that sprang forth as a plot device, but took on a lyrical quality all its own, and I’ve asked around to see if I could have it set to music. There’s a section of the story where the Knight is talking with the Girl MC, and he ‘recounts’ a folk tale of a star-crossed couple, in order to make a point. Extra credit for that one! And I even managed to weave in a snippet of a tale that once was a writing exercise to generate a ‘good opening paragraph’ for a novel. One of the oddest moments I encountered was when a bit player, who was simply a foil for the Landsregerine during a single conversation, grew to become one of the major antagonists in the sequel. Wow! Amaze-balls!
So many intertwining threads of life and love, of past and present, of good and evil. And all the best parts came tumbling out as I simply wrote with abandon, letting the ideas branch and coalesce, following behind the characters as they made their way through the places and situations I’d laid out. I provided the large brush strokes; they dabbed away to provide the specific details. Together we’ve painted a masterpiece.
[ Click the Pic. You’ll love the results. ]
Oh, and Thanks, Ray, for being one of the Writers who inspired me.
Song by Kate Bush, “An Architect’s Dream,” from the album Aerial
Video interpretation by Mr Marrs