July 16th, 2012

Ray Bradbury died on Wednesday at the age of 91.

“His influence is astonishing. Why? Because Ray Bradbury wrote like Monet painted. He strung words into melodies worthy of Bach. He envisioned the future better than Nostradamus ever did. Ray Bradbury was a writer who wrote from the heart, stories drenched in compassion. Stories that were often melancholy and celebratory all at once. He had the ability to give voice to the human soul.”
–Sam Weller, biographer, The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury

(Also, see the great eulogy at http://www.sundancechannel.com/sunfiltered/2012/06/the-internet-remembers-ray-bradbury/, which also is the source of the picture to the left)

If Ursula LeGuinn was my writing-mother, Ray Bradbury was my writing-father. He wrote my favorite beginning of any-book-ever, which is appended to this page as part of my personal tribute to him. About himself he said that “By staying true to my own sense of the poetic… the influence of Shakespeare on my life and the influence of the Bible which I raised on, by staying true to my love of poetry and my love of metaphor, which you learn from the Old Testament and the New Testament and you learn from Shakespeare — to speak in tongues which are so vivid that people remember the metaphor.”

The other part of my tribute is to use something he said in a 1988 interview with Terri Gross as our prompt today:

“It’s the lack of something that gives us inspiration.”

He explained that we don’t stop in the middle of being with a beloved, for instance, and write a poem about it:

“We don’t write love poetry in the middle of the affair. We write love poetry when we are away from our loved one, or when we anticipate a loved one.”

Here’s the rest of the above quote:

“It’s not fullness…Occasionally fullness can do that…Not ever having driven, I can write better about automobiles than the people who drive them. I have a distance here. … Space travel is another good example. I’m never going to go to Mars but I’ve helped inspire, thank goodness, the people who built the rockets and sent our photographic equipment off to Mars. So it’s always a lack that causes you to write that type of story.”

So…lack as inspiration. This is interesting, because I think the natural tendency is to think our writing must be full of action and/or things to say. But he’s right. Stories are driven by need, absence, deficiency, dearth, decrease, default, defects, deficits, deprivation, distress, destitution and other such words that don’t begin with d.

What does your character think is lacking? Maybe your whole book is about some obvious lack of something, but is there a hidden lack of something that would deepen your story? (i.e., Malky Joe needs a more stable situation in terms of food, but is he really on a quest to remember/reconnect with his lost father? Prudy is bored with her life pre-Iptweet, which is another form of “lack.”

This whole idea of lacking has so much possibilities – how much are we (in the form of our characters) driven solely by what we perceive as a lack of something? Is the lack real or merely perceived? How much narcissism does this involve? Or – how bone-deep does the feeling of lack go? Is this the true root of severe depression?

Or can lack even be joyous, as in missing someone we love so much our hearts burst into poetry? Is happiness the state of being, for a time, not lacking anything? A core tenet of Buddhism is to be without desire, a state which they believe results in permanent contentment and happiness.

But if we’d all been good Buddhists forever, would we, for example, have central heating?

Anyway, on and on…

So, use the idea of lack to emphasize something you may already have put into your work, to bring an idea into sharper focus, or use it to deepen an aspect of your story or your character him or herself.