Sunday, February 8, 2009


I have lost track of the moon.

Not the actual moon above Rochester, which yesterday was just shy of full and visible briefly before our usual clouds obscured it. The moon I've misplaced is in my YA fantasy, which is now nearing the end of draft #2. Moonlight matters in pre-industrial societies, because it and that stars provide all the light there is for night traveling, which my characters are doing a lot over rough terrain. I need that moon, and I need it to be full at certain times. It also means I can't have, say, two full moons within two weeks, and so time passing in the book has to be coordinated with phases of the moon, and I've lost track.

This is the kind of thing a third draft is supposed to correct. But because I've tied night traveling so critically to my plot, I need to fix it now or change plot events. So I am drawing charts and schedules of the moon for this non-existent country ("The Queendom"), and trying to remember where in the ms. I said there was a tiny crescent moon high in the sky and will that fit with this later development?

And I still have money to do. How big a store of precious coins did Roger have, how much has he spent so far? And how much does a cup of sour ale cost?

Science fiction, of course, has other versions of this detail-fixing (How long can that gizmo's battery last? What's it powered by? Does that neurotransmitter really do what I just said it does?) It's niggling and necessary and produces reams of notes on legal pads. I am drowning in paper right now. And the moon is a waning crescent.


Jake Freivald said...

That's beautiful.

Not the confusion, of course, or the amount of effort you have to put in to "find the moon", but the sense of importance of the moon.

I was probably in my mid-twenties before I really noticed some of the most basic facts about the moon, probably because I was walking my dog at night a lot. I knew it waxed and waned, of course, but, for example, I hadn't paid attention (or noticed the basic geometry) enough to notice that the full moon always rises just when the sun is setting.

Now, when I travel, the moon is one of the things that makes every city happily familiar. (The same darned hotel room also leads to familiarity, but without happy associations.) I have a hard time thinking that I ever didn't care about it. My kids know what "gibbous waxing" means, and although it's not important to us in the same it was to less civilized societies, it's still important.

Thanks for making sure you get it right. :)

annie said...

I live in Alberta and one of the things I love is that I can see the moon nearly all day long much of the time.

Nick A said...

Nancy, have you thought about taking your notes from the legal pads, scanning them into your computer (with a 'script to text' protram) and then searching by keyword, e.g. crescent.

Three weeks ago, my wife and son and I did a 'full moon' night snowshoe walk in an aspen woods, in the mountains south of Salt Lake City. It was absolutely beautiful.

cd said...

I've had the same damn problem! I think I got the right moon in all the scenes, then I think, say, that boat trip should take longer, and then every appearance of the moon will have to change in the later chapters. Pain in the arse.


Nancy Kress said...

Apparently this is not a new problem for authors. This sentence is from SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: "He had been to several families that morning in hopes of procuring some addition to their number, but it was moonlight and everybody was full of engagements." Jane Austen, too, had to track her novels' moon.

Daniel said...

I love that post.

I guess some stories don't need a lot of logistics and planning, when others do.

A long time ago, I had to plan out a large timeline just to keep something as simple as dates straight (time spans between events).

One time I studied the science of a atmospheric re-entry for about a week, just to get a couple of speed figures. Another time, I studied celestial distances for a week or two, just to get some realistic timing.

I think it's interesting that so much research can go into just a little detail, but sometimes those little details add a pleasing amount of credibility.

Nancy Kress said...

I agree with you, Daniel. To write "Act One," my novella currently in ASIMOV'S, I read three entire books and many articles on dwarfism, plus lurking on open BBs on the net. I wanted to get Barry's condition, feelings, and history as right as I could, without actually being a dwarf myself (I'm 5'6" and shrinking).

A.R.Yngve said...

A similar problem if you use calendar dates in a story, and the story takes place in the "real" world: holidays you didn't know about.

Suppose protagonist X visits the country Y on Day Z... and the author is unaware that in the real world, this country celebrates Eid/National Day/Easter on that specific date?

You gotta check up on dates, too.