Ray Bradbury, Topic Sentences and Writing

Posted: September 5, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Ray Bradbury’s name sells books. But I’ll bet there’s one thing you don’t know about him. And this is something that I know (or think I know), and it concerns his writing. You see, I studied his writing and came away confused. Then I took English Composition in the local junior college, and it led me to understand something concerning Ray Bradbury’s writing. I would like to share this with you, but I would also like to share a story I wrote using these learned technique. The story is already posted at Aurora Wolf and it’s called “Watching Paint Dry.” You see, I was chatting with some writers (online) about the challenge of taking the cliché of watching paint dry and trying to write about it… but making it INTERESTING.

362943w4at4q6qt5.jpg wolf - Aurora Borealis image by johnsadim

Well, I did the best I could with that concept. But I also used another technique called TOPIC SENTENCES. And I am convinced that Ray Bradbury used this is many of his works. Not all of them, but he employed the TOPIC SENTENCE in enough of his short stories to indicate the usefulness and validity of the technique.

bradbury-1.jpg Ray Bradbury image by AngusYounngACDC09

First of all, the writer is supposed to use a TOPIC SENTENCE in all written work. Books on writing state this over and over, but many writers in the small-press don’t do this. I first learned of TOPIC SENTENCES from the Studio at Illinois Central College (the Studio is a tutoring program for colleges students, and well worth it!). The instructor spoke of T.E.D. TED helps us write essays. The acronym stands for T (TOPIC); E (EVIDENCE); and D (DISCUSSION). It’s the proper way to set up a paragraph while writing an essay or article.

Now let’s take this into fiction. Let’s change the EVIDENCE and DISCUSSION to only one word: DETAILS. That changes our acronym of TED to TD (TOPIC SENTENCE and DETAILS). And let’s pretend TD is closely related to VD (the sexual STD). You want TD to infect your readers; you want your readers to know exactly what you’re writing about. Hitting them over the head with rich details is great, but without a TOPIC SENTENCE writers jump the gun. Readers become more quickly lost. TOPIC SENTENCES can prevent this from happening.

After learning about TED, I went back and reread my favorite Ray Bradbury story “The Kilimanjaro Device.” It is quite simply the most awesome story I’ve ever read. Not a stroke of horror resides in it, but the AWE I feel while reading this story sends tingles down my spine. The almost-psychic connection between the main character and a hunter in the bar (during their conversation in which they often communicate by citing what each other is thinking) is incredible. And then Bradbury does something considered taboo by many publishers: he uses this hunter as a prop, but does NOT include him in the ending of the story.

In today’s publishing world (especially among the small-press), we are hit over the head with the same two clichés by publishers: LESS IS MORE and REMOVE UNIMPORTANT CHARACTERS.

Well, Bradbury didn’t do that. His hunter character isn’t in the conclusion of the story. To some, that would indicate that the hunter is a nonessential character. But I learn from this story that Bradbury uses the “nonessential character” as a prop to bring out facts, feelings and emotions (even an ambiance of mood) that would not have existed in the story had he not included the hunter (nonessential character). Thus, the nonessential character becomes essential, but is NOT a part of the conclusion.

Oh, way to break the rules, Ray Bradbury! You teach and entertain us so well!

While reading much of Bradbury’s work, you will find TOPIC SENTENCES setting up the each paragraph he writes. Especially in his award-winning “I Sing the Body Electric,” another awesome short-story read and highly recommended.

I wrote “Watching Paint Dry” with the concept of TOPIC SENTENCES, and that was all I worried about originally. But as I wrote it, I realized it began to sound similar to Ray Bradbury. Now nobody can write as good as he can, but just read my story and consider the similarities between it and ‘some’ of Bradbury’s fiction. I didn’t set out to write like Mr. Bradbury; I just set out to use TOPIC SENTENCES. I think you will find many similarities, the only detraction being my story falls beneath the genius of Bradbury (but that goes without saying for 99.9% of all writers in the world today).

My friend and role model AJ Brown (see his blog linked to the left) says he wants to write in the style and methods of the old-time writers, wanting to write longer works. He doesn’t see publishers putting out fiction similar to the old horror writers (AJ is a dark fiction and horror writer of repute). Is it possible that something new, that some new concept that is “outside the box” in today’s publishing world, is it possible that something OLD could simply be rediscovered and reinterpreted as something NEW? Is it possible that writing from the Twenties to the Nineteen-Sixties could have an impact on today’s world of instant coffee, fast food and new experimental fiction? I find it remarkable that great literary writers like Hawthorne are REDISCOVERED in different generations for new things and concepts. What Hawthorne was celebrated for originally isn’t what he’s known for today.

Sometimes thinking (and writing) outside the box in order to create something new requires only visiting the past writers of yesterday. Sometimes studying their work adds value to today. People talk about Lovecraft and Bradbury, but do they study how they wrote? What valuable lessons does Bradbury bring to today’s fiction? What are the writers today missing that Bradbury had?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the TOPIC SENTENCE. I also present to you my ‘attempt’ at using the TOPIC SENTENCE in my story published at Aurora Wolf. You can read just the first 3 paragraphs and understand what I’m talking about. Then skip the rest if you want. Lesson learned. Or continue reading “Watching Paint Dry.” I pray my story breaks the rules just enough to be different, but upholds the rules just enough to be acceptable.

The choice is yours whether to use TOPIC SENTENCES in your writing or not. The choice is also yours to figure out how to use TOPIC SENTENCES (I won’t explain it; you’ll master it fully if you discover the INFO on your own). Of course, you can choose to ignore this information. But then, it is my impression and opinion that you’ll be ignoring Ray Bradbury’s advice. And although he hasn’t come out and said WRITE LIKE THIS, I think his fiction speaks for itself, as well as the TOPIC SENTENCES on every page in all his works.

1873235365.jpg Sole sun image by haven75

While this is merely a BLOG post, I dedicated this BLOG Post to Ray Bradbury. I also dedicate my story “Watching Paint Dry” to Mr. Bradbury. He’ll never know of me nor read my story. But that’s not the point. The point is directing my attention to something wonderful and great, and that is the power of TOPIC SENTENCES, as well as the structure of pure genius found within that most fabulous story “The Kilimanjaro Device.”

You can buy Bradbury’s work here to read “The Kilijamaro Device.” It’s a short story in his anthology of short-stories entitled “I Sing the Body Electric.” And while you may not love it (but only if something’s major wrong with you), you will find that there are other concepts within that story that I haven’t discussed, things most writers (including and especially me) cannot even come close to duplicating. And if you don’t believe me, read the story. Some of you may have to read the story twice or thrice, because there are overlapping layers (like onion peels) that deserve to be uncovered. Also, I would honor discussion concerning this story by anyone and everyone.

Read my story here at Aurora Wolf, if you wanbt. But definitely buy Ray’s story here at Amazon.com.

NOTE: Since Sue Babcock set this BLOG up for me and called it JAM’s Liquid Imagination, I realize that this is MY liquid imagination. As it relates to Liquid Imagination Online and Liquid Imagination the Magazine, but also as it relates to pure creativity and inspiration flowing through me. So it makes sense to me to use this blog for my own creativity and stories. But you will never read my fiction “published” in Liquid Imagination Online or in Liquid Imagination Magazine, so help me God.

  1. Lee Thompson says:

    Great post, JAM! Bradbury is one of my all time favorites and I agree that topic sentences are important. There is a thing to cutting too much, or going down the same road every one of your peers do. Be brave, be different! Congrats on the story in Pennington’s zine too! Very cool!

  2. JAM says:

    That’s what it’s all about for me, Lee: experimentation and constantly trying to write ‘outside the box.’ What I’m writing now is vastly different from what I wrote 3 months ago. What I write 3 months in the future will be different than “Watching Paint Dry.” Everybody’s trying to be so descriptive these days that I get lost in the color and density of dustbunnies wafting across the floor as the green door opens, sometimes in just one descriptive paragraph, lol. The brave part for me (according to my last post) is using this blog to write new and different things, to experiment, to write bold with new styles of writing (or newly discovered OLD styles), to stop following the rules everybody clamors to obey. And instead of building up 100-400 publishing credits (I’m somewhere between 70-80), I can die happy going after a different kind of dream. If that makes sense?

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