Fahrenheit 451

Lesson 76 Chapter 5 Module 7

In this time of information and media overload, it is more important than ever before to hook your reader in with your opening paragraphs and scene.

Why, you ask?

The simple answer is that people just have too many options out there for content to consume. If your writing—whether it is a manuscript or an article or an email—isn’t interesting and intriguing enough, they will move on to something else.

That’s a problem if you are taking this course because you’d like to not only improve your writing, but also have more people that will read your writing.

The other, less sexy reason, is that it sets the tone and expectation for the whole story.

A good opening will have a great first sentence or paragraph* that pulls the reader in, a transition that moves the action along, and some statement or hint of the premise and concept (thesis or hypothesis) they can expect to find as they continue on.

Today’s lesson accomplishes both of these objectives in a veritable smithery of words.

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel, set “in the future” (time unknown, there have been two atomic wars since 1990, and the book was written in 1953) in which knowledge is feared and books are forbidden. The title alludes to the supposed temperature at which paper (books) burn.

Dystopian literature is an especially good genre to learn setting from, because the setting is part of the antagonism for the characters.

Dystopia happens when everyone thinks they are living in a utopia (a perfect world), but we as the reader can see that it is hella dysfunctional and broken. A few characters likely realize that as well, and eventually more start to come around.

In this particular opening, we meet the main character, Montag, who is a firefighter. We know this from the references to his helmet and the firehouse.

But wait, he’s setting things on fire, and watching in pleasure as they burn and blacken and change.

That’s not a good firefighter. What is happening here?!

You’re already pushing forward, wanting to know what caused this firefighter to go all rogue. This isn’t what we understand firefighters to do.

Then Ray Bradbury pulls us even more into the scene and setting. We have met the main character, know a few things about him, and we’re now going to see how he interacts with his surroundings; and what those surroundings are.

Sure, the dude sounds like a possible sociopath; but we also learn that he’s creative. This act of burning books, the colors and sounds, it’s like a symphony of music to him. He is a conductor; of the destruction of art and information.

See how the setting affects our character, which in turn affects our understanding of the character—and the story?

Are you curious about the other firefighters? Do they do this as well? What porch is he burning those books on? How does he so nonchalantly just go about his business in the firehouse after this terrible act?

We are left at the end of the first page with the hint of something new for him. Something that makes him uneasy. Something that will cause him to change.

And it’s just around the corner.

Oooh...now that’s writing mastery.

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