Works That Inspire Writing Day 2: Fahrenheit 451
Of all of Ray Bradbury’s novels this one has to be my favorite. It is his most critically acclaimed novel and his most controversial. I honestly think that many of the ideas expressed in the novel are timeless and nothing could be further from the truth in our current political climate in the United States.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Americans are not reading anything empirical like reading science that is peer reviewed or news that is fact-based. When our politicians are fact-checked by the media (which is their constitutional job by the way) the politicians scream “fake news” or “you are a fake” and the constituency continues to lap up the kool-aide with glee. There are Americans who believe the earth is flat, that the media is run by some kind of nefarious black hat organization (but don’t say anything about their “news” outlets), that 5G is causing coronavirus, and that vaccinations cause autism. This is only scratching the surface of tin-foil-hat hysteria that seems to flood the arm-chair-philosophers of social media and is a screaming testimony to the sad state of the war on intellectualism.
The fact that a novel written in 1953 can still speak to human nature and warn us about a future without thought is a testament to Bradbury’s writing ability. The man was a prophet. I wonder if he knew this as he sat in the library each night after his nine-to-five, typing away on a pay-by-the-dime rental typewriter on the short story on which it was based? The fact is that what makes this novel timeless is that Bradbury wrote from his gut about something that worried him: the damage that television might do to the culture.
Sure, television didn’t damage culture as much as social media, I’m sure. However, what our take-away might be from reading Fahrenheit 451 is that we as writers need to think about some social issue that bugs us and try to develop stories that address that social issue. This, in turn, makes for more substantial and long-lasting prose. Sure, I could turn out a great adventure story like the rest of them, but in the long run why waste the six months or so writing a novel or a screenplay if you aren’t going to have anything to show for it but a nice bit of entertainment.
Entertainment has its place, and Bradbury wrote a few of those, but we should strive to write a piece that speaks to something more lasting and powerful. This is why I’ve chosen to discuss Bradbury’s masterpiece. It is a shining example of what we writers can accomplish when our back is to the wall. Bradbury was poor as dirt when he wrote Fahrenheit 451, trying to bring home the bacon to a wife and two children. He was worried about what the the invention of television would do to his kid’s desire to read good books. With this little personal fear in his pocket, he wrote “The Fireman”, the short story from which the novel eventually sprang.
So find that “gut punch” thing that keeps you up at night. Wrestle with it. Find out what you really believe about it. Take it to its worst possible conclusion. Therein you will find an idea for your next novel. It’s what I’m doing. How about you?