On wonderful accidents

In the introduction to the edition of Fahrenheit 451 that I am reading, Ray Bradbury writes about having written the story 50 years ago. He rented a typewriter at his local library at 10 cents an hour, and spent the hours clanking away at the typewriter, except when:

‘every two hours or during the next week and a half I ran up- and downstairs and in and out of the stacks, grabbing books off the shelf, trying to find proper quotes to put in the book. I am not not a researcher and my memory is not all that accurate for things that I’ve read in the past, so the quotes that you find in the book were those wonderful accidents where pulling a book off the shelf and opening it just anywhere at all I found an amazing sentence or paragraph that could occupy a position in the novel.’

I like Ray Bradbury’s phrase ‘wonderful accidents’. Sometimes writing is like that. I am not a big planner, and find that ‘wonderful accidents’ often spark new directions for my stories. Rereading old drafts I can spot little clues as to what what going on when I was writing the first draft – something I ate, a street name, a conversation with someone. I wonder sometimes if I hadn’t walked down that street, or spoken to that person, or did something completely different that day, if the story would have been taken in a completely different direction. I know some people plan their novels so very intricately, but to me that would be boring. A more organic story is so much more interesting, as you never know where some wonderful accident will take you.

To think, when Ray Bradbury was rushing up and down the shelves of the library, if a certain book had been checked out that day, or he had picked up a different book, or if he had even flicked to a different page – would Fahrenheit 451 be completely different?

Did he choose quotes to fit the story, or did the quotes make the story fit around them?

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One comment

  1. Pingback: On where the list of 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up (Too Much) comes from | 1001 Children's Books

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