Ray Bradbury is a Writing God. Fahrenheit 451 makes books look like they were written by toddlers. Very clever toddlers, but children all the same. Instead of using straight prose, Bradbury uses completely different tools – poetry and stream of consciousness – to weave a wistful and dangerous flowing creation that is as overwhelming to the senses as a forest creek. How can you hold such a thing in your mind? It requires transcendence.
Moreover, these are some of the most penetrating characters I have read so far. The soulless Mechanical Hound, the frightened Faber, and the creepiest villain I can recall since the Man with Red Eyes in A Wrinkle in Time – Beatty, the fire chief who burns books and quotes them hatefully, psychotically, like he’s using them as weapons.
And, were that not enough, within the very story itself, Bradbury poses a concise and poetic writing lesson for those of us seeking Story. And afterwards, he writes more on what a writer is and should be. After I finished reading 451, I kissed the front and back covers. Haven’t done that before.
So, the lessons. From the master himself:
“Number one: Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”
His characters pass the same “microscope test” – they have histories that are their internal engines, driving their actions as they go on. Of Beatty, Bradbury said he was so terrifying because books had failed him when he needed comfort, the way God fails an adherent. He was on a vengeful warpath, and God forgive anyone who got in the way of that rage. Bradbury teaches me not just to design a character, the way they teach you to make lists and assign qualities, but to give that person a history – their own story, their own details – to give them life and purpose.