Ray Bradbury passed away Tuesday, June 5, 2012. He was 91. He was, by all accounts, not just a master storyteller, but a great person to know. Many have been inspired by his works such as The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and of course, Fahrenheit 451. Sadly, I haven’t read a single one of those books, or even seen the movies. Nevertheless, Bradbury had influenced my writing.
Like many writers first learning the craft, I bought a number of “How to” books, among them, How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction edited by J.N. Williamson. It’s a collection of articles from genre fiction’s most successful writers past and present. Included was an article entitled, “Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds” by Ray Bradbury. I rank this article among the best I’ve ever read on the topic of writing.
Bradbury emphasises writing quickly to remain true to your story--pauses lead to introspection and second guessing. He relates how, in his early years, he suffered the same problem almost every writer has, imitating his heroes until he found his own writing voice. He did this through a kind of write-what-you-know technique. He took notes, lists really, of likes and dislikes, loves and hates. He’d write lists of provocative nouns like: the blade, the accident, the whipcord, the corpse, etc. These lists would prod his memory, reminding him of past loves and childhood terrors, such as a fear of carnivals which became Something Wicked This Way Comes.
His lists soon became objects, a hodgepodge of knickknacks collected over the years. In the eighties there was a Canadian television series called The Ray Bradbury Theatre, an Outer Limits kind of show based specifically on his short stories. In the opening scene Bradbury would introduce the show from his office surrounded by this curious menagerie. I don’t know if it was an accurate reproduction of his office, but I like to think so, if only to add to the mystique.
The core of his wisdom is this: the kernel of every story is already inside you. What frightens you most likely frightens others, what amazes you will likely do the same to your readers if you are honest about the writing.
I took Bradbury’s ideas to heart, making lists of fears and loves and just things I remembered from my past. From them I developed Second Banana, published in Necrotic Tissue in 2009.
I still make lists. Bradbury’s technique is a great tool to get words on paper, get past some writer’s block, get your characters out of that bind your imagination got them into, or look at writing from a fresh new perspective.
For that I will always remember Ray Bradbury.