I really want to write a scene in which the main character wakes up in an unfamiliar place after being unconscious for an unknown period of time. He’s been kidnapped and is being held against his will. He can see a waxing gibbous moon out the window. By looking at the moon’s phase, he is able to determine how far below the horizon the sun is. He asks the guard where he is, but the guard says he isn’t allowed to say.
So the main character figures out that if he’s still in North America, it should be about noon in Japan, judging by the moon’s height above the horizon and the position of its terminator. He says, “Well, if we were in Japan, we’d be eating lunch about now.”
The guard says, “Lunch? Idiot. They’d be eating breakfast about now.” So the main character knows that he’s about six or seven time zones east of North America, which would put him in Western Europe.
Oh, and he knows he’s in the northern hemisphere because the moon isn’t upside down.
But, alas, the scene is pedantic, cumbersome, and so painfully obviously contrived. I mean, come on, what henchman guard in western Europe is going to know what time it is in Japan? In fact, what henchman guard in western Europe is going to speak English? Plus, I can’t think of how it would help the main character to know he’s in western Europe if he’s still stuck in a jail cell (or whatever).
I am optimistic, however, that I will find a way to overcome these issues. In fact, I’d like to write a novel in which the main character solves ALL his problems by looking at the moon: “LOOK! Judging by the pattern of the barely perceptible sudden increase in earthshine on the dark portion of the moon, I’d say the explosion was about twelve miles in this direction! LET’S GO!”
Cloudy nights would be his kryptonite. Plus, he gets two weeks a month off. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.
In the sequel (there’s gotta be a sequel, right?), I’d have him meet a mysterious stranger who, during the course of an investigation, takes a telescope out of his coat, stretches it out with dramatic flair, and peers at the sky.
“What are you looking at?” my main character would say.
“The Galilean moons. You can tell a lot from looking at the Galilean moons.” Then, after a pause, the stranger would point and say, “THIS WAY!”
Yeah, I could totally make that work.