By Dianna Sinovic
It must have been at least one in the morning, the inkiness of the night now washed out by the full moon cresting the horizon. Sophie sat up and felt around her for her shoes. She’d been stargazing on the hill, the grassy spot beyond the embrace of the forest. With the moon up, the stars would soon fade until they were too faint to see. Sometimes she felt like that, diminished, dismissed.
Except that the full moon doesn’t rise at 1 a.m. or anywhere near that time. A full moon appears as the sun is setting, giving its full face to be illuminated.
Jeremy was hopelessly lost, and night was falling. He was walking on what seemed like an endless plain of snow, every direction the same. Zipping up his jacket until it was at his chin, he wished he’d remembered his watch cap. Already his ears felt numb. The sun was now just an orange glow on the horizon, and in the eastern sky, the slender form of a crescent moon had risen. He headed in that direction.
Except that a crescent moon doesn’t rise at sunset. A slender crescent is either in the eastern sky as the sun comes up. (It often shares the sky with the planet Venus, the “morning star.”) Or it’s in the western sky, following the sun down.
It’s easy to get the sun’s position correct when you write a scene. It rises in the morning and it sets in the evening. And on sweltering summer days it’s usually right overhead.
But the moon follows a different time keeper. And authors who don’t check the phases of the moon before adding them to their fiction risk yanking the reader out of the story. I have been stopped cold in otherwise compelling scenes by a moon depicted in a way that could never happen.
It doesn’t matter where in the world you set your story, the same astronomical parameters apply. (OK, the poles are different, both for the moon’s and the sun’s appearance.) The details aren’t hard to master. There are websites (NASA is an example) that will spell out the phases of the moon for you.
So when you’re fact-checking your draft, don’t forget to check the moon. Us astronomy geeks will thank you.
Of course, if you’ve set your story on another world, none of this applies. Instead, just be consistent with the rules of that world or universe. Double moons might be a nice touch.
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