Mike Friedman Finds Inspiration in Ray Bradbury’s Words

“One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on  slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets.
“And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town. A flooding sea of hot air; it seemed as if someone had left a bakery door open…”
It’s a passage from a story called “Rocket Summer”. A beautiful, evocative passage. But you can start any Ray Bradbury short story and find a passage just as beautiful and evocative.
Bradbury is perhaps best known for his novels, Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes, but I think he actually shone much brighter as a short story writer. In The Martian Chronicles and his other collections, he produced tales that sent my imagination soaring.
He also taught me something that’s stood me in good stead as a writer. I’ll call it “dramatic distance.”
Say there’s a monster on the other side of a football field, lurching toward me. It’s scary as it crosses the other end zone, but I can deal. A little scarier as it hits the twenty-yard line, and scarier still at the fifty. By the time it gets into my red zone, my heart is crashing against my ribs. At the one-yard line, it’s hard to breathe. And so on.
Clearly, the closer it gets, the scarier it becomes. But that’s no big insight. In fact, it’s pretty obvious.
But how much closer can we get than the one-yard line? That’s where Bradbury came in. In “The Third Expedition”, it’s the protagonist’s own brother, sleeping beside him in the room they share, that suddenly looms as a threat. In The Veldt, the creeping danger comes not from a monster but from one’s own children. That’s pretty close. In The Small Assassin, the threat’s not just a child but an infant, the kind you suckle and hold in your arms and shower with kisses. Even closer.
And then there’s “The Skeleton”. In that one, it’s the protagonist’s own bones that are trying to kill him, trying to choke the life out of him. Can’t get any closer than that, right? Or can we? In “The Fever”, a child is taken over by a virus that transforms his cells one by one, gradually killing him from within.
Dramatic distance. Bradbury would probably have called it something else; he had a way with words most of us can only shake our heads at and envy. But then, he was Ray Bradbury.

One thought on “Mike Friedman Finds Inspiration in Ray Bradbury’s Words”

  1. Mike, try Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. It is my favorite novel of all time. I’m so glad to hear such appreciation for this fine writer.

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