From the Archives – Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

I was looking back through some of the older posts and I thought that this one was worthy of dusting off. I’ve altered a few little bits to update it, but it is mostly what I originally wrote. I hope you enjoy it.

Recently I revisited one of my favourite Ray Bradbury novels in Fahrenheit 451, with a great audio version narrated by Tim Robbins.

One of the many things which struck me this time around was just how quickly Bradbury gets the story moving.

After a quick page or so of describing the Fireman Guy Montag doing his job and returning to the Fire Station we – along with the protagonist – are confronted with young woman Clarisse McClellan.

I wondered if this was where Thomas Harris got his inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.

I also couldn’t shift the image of Julie Christie as Clarisse in Truffaut’s cinematic version from 1966.

But back to the novel and Clarisse starts to question Guy Montag about his profession as a Fireman, musing on the possibility that Firemen used to put out fires not start them.

Bradbury moves so fast here.

How did she pick him out? Was she waiting for him? What made her think that he was different?

The strong opening imagery of Montag and his profession are now confronted with an alternative possibility in only six pages.

Montag returns home to find his wife has attempted suicide and we become aware that his life, and the life of the society we have been dropped into, is not positive or healthy.

Like Hamlet we realise that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Is Montag mad?

Suffering from a disease spread by the very things he burns?

Or like Hamlet, is he the only sane person in a cast of the mad or those who do not even realise they are just as trapped as he is?

Within fourteen pages, pretty much everything is set for the rest of the story.

Within a further nine pages we have met the Mechanical Hound, which Montag is convinced doesn’t like him. We meet his boss, Captain Beatty, who explains that the Hound is a machine. It doesn’t doesn’t think anything that ‘they’ don’t want it too.

Apart from a bookish mentor later on in the story, we have the cast of characters and the conflict which we will see play out.

We learn more about this futuristic society as we turn through the pages, but it is often only like the passing of the countryside looked at from the window of a car. If you concentrate on the outside though, there is plenty to see and learn from.

Genius.

Farenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes are the two novels I read over and over again in my teens. I have read each over a hundred times.

Part of Bradbury’s short story genius comes through both of these novels. You don’t need lots of exposition to get a story going. Plunge your reader straight into the action and blend in more necessary information as we follow the characters through their conflict.

Taking a Break.

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

If you choose to take a break, have you broken your habit?

I’ve written just over 63,000 words in the last 7 weeks, with the aim of writing at least 1,000 words a day.

I established the habit I wanted of writing a minimum of 1,000 words a day.

Then two days ago, I stopped writing.

It was a conscious choice.

The story was going fine. I am a ‘pantser’ by inclination and, creatively, I was having no problems.

The problem came from the characters themselves.

They were easy characters, working well together.

They had a plot which was going forward and had layers. They didn’t grumble.

But they pull me to one side and ask me one question – we know what’s going on, but does the reader?

I looked blankly at them and then asked for more coffee.

They were right.

I was leaving the reader to make big leaps in understanding of the characters from subtle clues in the things they said.

The characters left me alone to work the problem out.

The first thing to do was stop writing.

Another one thousand more words which weren’t quite hitting the spot wasn’t going to help.

I realised I was going to have to make changes in what I had written so far, but I wasn’t going to do that now.

Finish the story. Edit after.

What I needed to do know was realise all of the character points I knew in their backgrounds, and let that information out to the reader, without them having to do an ‘escape room’ puzzle to work it out.

I am writing a thriller. Not a character trait treasure hunt.

I have dropped the reader into the midst of a group of tight characters.

The reader needs to understand how they got where they are and why.

I am the writer, so it’s my job to get them up to speed.

The main characters know we are back to work as normal tomorrow.

Break-time is over.

I’ve looked them in the eye, and I think they believe me.

It is okay not to finish (at the moment).

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I am sure I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes you just can’t finish a project.

You hit a wall. You lose the thread. A character doesn’t follow the plot line you have carefully constructed for them.

I’m sure it happens to artists and musicians also.

As a writer you normally do two things.

First, you give up; thus proving that you probably aren’t really good enough to be a writer after all. Second, you become belligerent and try and force the character, or plot, into fitting into the shape you created for it.

I’ve done both.

But, more recently, I’ve been learning there is a third way.

And it is easier than the other two.

You just close the notebook or electronic file and open up a new one.

Then, every now and again, let your creative mind wander back to the project and see if anything new occurs to you.

Let me give you an example.

I will call the project White Ladder.

White Ladder started with an image of two old men talking in a room one evening. They see a news clip of a new movie actress wowing audiences. It turns out that one of the men knew her mother.

That image and about 400 words, of mostly dialogue, was over 20 years ago.

It just never got past that initial stage.

A couple of years ago I heard a radio programme which focused on particular musicians and their defining albums. They played some of the songs and talked about the inspirations and processes of making the albums.

The one I listened to was David Gray, talking about his album White Ladder.

Suddenly that image of the two men talking came back to me and a variation on the theme started to form, energised by the words and mood of David Gray’s album.

The plot line was now dictated by the titles of each of the tracks on the album and the mood set by, often, just one line of the lyrics.

I don’t usually plan. I am a pantser by trade.

A couple of weeks of looking back at the plot line then led me to open up a project on Scrivener and start putting words on the page.

74,428 words later I stalled. I was at the three-quarters finished stage.

The two main characters had not followed the plot line and were all out refusing to do so.

I huffed and puffed and threatened to delete them, but they knew I was bluffing. So I gave them the cold shoulder for about six weeks. It turned out they were more patient than me.

So I took a key idea from within the project and tried to write the story from that perspective instead.

That was good for 34,149 words. Then the plot line decided not to follow the original plot I had carefully conceived. The two main characters waited patiently on the street they were walking, looking at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

I now had the word count of a full length novel, but three-quarters and one-quarter of the same story in two versions.

Dust gathered on both versions. Apart from reworking the whole plot into a series of ten short stories, telling the story from the perspectives of different characters.

I think I got that idea from Patrick Gale and his fantastic book Notes from an Exhibition.

Dust still gathers.

I know this story will be finished, because it keeps tapping on the door of my creative studio, reminding me that it is still there.

But in not finishing White Ladder (yet!) I have learnt a lot.

I have learnt that one simple scene will eventually become a full story if you wait long enough.

I have devised a story plot three different ways.

I have 108,000+ words of writing practice, which will eventually be a finished novel.

I have learnt to be patient with myself.

I haven’t failed because the book isn’t completed.

It’s okay not to finish – for the moment!

 

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 466 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.1.

I’m not trying to alienate anyone here by mentioning the New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. I understand that the franchise and the coach are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.

For full disclosure I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, but as a sports coach you have got to learn from the best and the 6 Super Bowl victories simply make him the best.

I was listening to the Sky Sports NFL podcast, with the excellent Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold, where they were finishing up their pre-season ‘state of the franchise’ thoughts and the final team being mentioned was the Patriots.

It occurred to me that surely the secrets of Belichick’s success could be applied to being creative.

Hear me out.

Players on a team are ultimately a set of skills and experiences. The coach uses those skills and experiences to craft a win. You get enough wins in a season then you get the big prize at the end; but even if you don’t, those wins remain achievements in themselves.

As a creative you gather together as many skills and experiences as you can. You use those to produce a piece of work. You put together a good enough body of work then you are often acknowledged/rewarded/awarded titles and prizes.

Let me be more specific.

You are a writer. You gather your group of players – in this case authors/books/characters/plots from across all your years of reading. You use this knowledge, these skills and experiences, to write a chapter – to win. You win as many regular season games as you can – you write as many chapters as successfully as you can. Losses and ties mean you need to do some revision. The post-season is where you hone it all down to that last championship game – the finished novel.

Perhaps, alternatively, the different games in the normal season are different types of writing. The post-season is your overall body of work.

The head coach is the natural editor in your brain. A little more of this. A little less of that. Those elements for that particular match, or these elements for this piece of writing, in order to be successful.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.

Tomorrow, I will try and convince you of what Bill Belichick can bring to our creative endeavours.

Day 465 – Revisiting Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’.

If you have read any of my other posts then you already know that I am a fan of Podcasts and Audiobooks. Today, I revisited one of my favourite Ray Bradbury novels in F451, with a great audio version narrated by Tim Robbins.

One of the many things which struck me this time around was just how quickly Bradbury gets the story moving.

After a quick page or so of describing the Fireman Guy Montag doing his job and returning to the Fire Station we – along with the protagonist – are confronted with Clarisse McClellan.

I wondered if this was where Thomas Harris got his inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. I also couldn’t shift the image of Julie Christie as Clarisse in Truffaut’s cinematic version from 1966.

Back to the novel and Clarisse starts to question Guy Montag and his profession as a Fireman, musing on the possibility that Firemen used to put out fires not start them.

Bradbury moves so fast here. How did she pick him out? Was she waiting for him? What made her think that he was different? The strong opening imagery of Montag now confronted with an alternative possibility takes just six pages.

Montag returns home to find his wife has attempted suicide and we become aware that his life, and the life of the society we have been dropped into, is not positive or healthy. Like Hamlet we realise that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Is Montag mad? Suffering from a disease spread by the very things he burns? Or like Hamlet, is he the only sane person in a cast of the mad or those who do not even realise they are just as trapped as he is?

Within fourteen pages, pretty much everything is set for the rest of the story.

Within twenty-three pages we have met the Mechanical Hound, which Montag is convinced doesn’t like him, and Captain Beatty, who we don’t trust the moment he explains that the Hound doesn’t think anything that ‘they’ don’t want it to.

Genius.

Main character. Catalyst character asking questions. Difficult home life/relationship. What will pursue the Main character. The Antagonist.

Then let the story play out . . .

Day 438 – To TV or Not To TV, That Is The Question.

One piece of writing advice is to destroy your tv.

You’re a writer of books, so read ’em and write ’em.

TV was invented to distract you and allow advertising to sell you stuff.

So that should be enough for why not to TV.

So Why to TV?

Plot and Characters in a story arc.

Most tv series don’t give you much more, other than a great source of material for building ‘cliffhangers’ into your chapter endings.

Watch how each episode is finished. How does it wrap the events of that episode but how does it inform on what went on in previous episode plots or signal something yet to come.

What character relationships are there and how do they develop?

Not everything needs to make sense. A lot of TV shows don’t even try to explain shifts in scenes or seemingly impossible plot points – they just know you want a conclusion to that episodes situation and to see how the relationships between the key characters is furthered.

Perhaps you don’t need to fret over all of those details which were giving you sleepless nights after all.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 15.

Predications all turned upside down, commentators and pundits changing their minds quicker than the pedals are turning on those race bikes and the Tour enters its last stage before the final rest day and the last five combative stages before the final processional stage into Paris.

Life changes as quickly as events in a Grand Tour. We try to plan our progress through a varied and challenging course the best we can, but sometimes we just have to react to what happens around us. The same is true in our creative endeavours. Sometimes we have to go off script. We haven’t done anything wrong, it is just the road and conditions in front of us. Often these unexpected problems are a turning point towards something new and better.

I read that Van Gogh’s ‘yellow’ period may have been down to a medical condition or the effects of the ‘home brew’ alcohol he was consuming – either way, the results in his work came to be a defining period in his work. I’m not suggesting that you set out to create the defining moments of your art through adversity, but sometimes change just happens and you should work with it.

Commentators are rightly extolling the achievements of Simon Yates. He won’t win the Tour, this year at least, but he has achieved an incredible feat in his two stage victories, so far. Being successful isn’t always what you think it is.

Stage Summary:

185km – Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis

A fantastic ride by Simon Yates and a second stage victory for him in this year’s Tour. Thibout Pinot finished strongly also, just behind Yates, and Egan Bernal moved himself up the classification also. Geraint Thomas seems to have recovered a little and grabbed some time back against Alaphilippe, but crucially Pinot and Bernal gained time on him. This year’s Tour seems still wide open for top six riders on GC. Exciting for the Tour undoubtedly, but it also shows you how strong Chris Froome has been over these last few years that the whole race could be controlled by him and his team.