Saturday, February 01, 2014


By Keith N Fisher

While writing the other day, I tripped over my story line. I fell into a place where I had to explain why the character came home early from her trip. My character isn’t pretty, like her sister. She’s not promiscuous, like her friend. She chose to get recognition by being smart.

She grabbed valedictorian honors at her graduation and received several academic scholarship offers.

I know, it’s too late to make this short, but basically, she goes on a trip to tour the universities and meets a famous astrophysicist at MIT, although I can’t specifically name the university in my story.

Because the scene in question isn’t really vital to the plot, spending a lot of time on research seemed counterproductive. Nevertheless, it is necessary for the story, so I did. The astrophysicist, a professor, is a fictitious person. The scene is at MIT although I won’t say that, because I hate making mistakes with facts. (Those mistakes can come back to haunt you.)

So, let’s go back to the story line, and my character. She manages to impress the professor by naming the formation in the center of the picture. It is the Horsehead Nebula. Since the dark nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, most of his students miss the subject in the photo. When the professor points at the center of the picture and asks, "What is this?" They answer, "The Orion Nebula."

That’s a lot of research for one scene, don’t you think? Like I said, I hate getting the facts wrong, and to be truthful, I am conceptualizing a little.

The professor takes my character under his wing, and convinces her to attend his school. Having made that decision, she cuts her trip short and goes home to share the news. That’s when crap hits the fan.

I once overheard a conversation at a writer’s conference that gave me pause. It still does. The statement went, "I hate doing research, I love to just write what’s in my head." In answer to this I would say, even high fantasy writers need to research the possibilities. Have you ever observed a writer, who is in the zone? Have you seen them twist their hands, move their bodies, and make gestures? They’re trying to describe actions and they are doing research. Sometimes I use people as dummies to see if my visualization is physically possible.

See the picture I attached? Look at the beauty of the colors. I made it my desktop background. I learned a lot in my research. I learned the Horsehead Nebula was discovered at the very observatory where I drafted the scene. Coincidence? I discovered the horsehead by googleing nebulas and picking the first one I saw.

My character spends a few days at MIT. She never thinks about nebulas again. The professor is not in the rest of the story. Is it worth it? What do you think? In my life I’ve been a carpenter, milwright, typesetter, document preserver, and truck Driver. I studied to be an Architect, and even managed a bar. I also pumped gas, hauled hay, and designed houses. I schmoozed customers as an inside salesman for many years. As a writer, I use all these experiences in my fiction.

Our minds are like a super computer. We start adding data when we are born, and I believe that data goes with us into the next life. Which data we collect is up to us, but as writers, we have a whole lifetime of data to draw from. I might never write about nebulas again, but it’s nice to know I don’t need to conceptualize those facts next time.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

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