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Why Writers Need to Be Good at Math

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Train X leaves the station at 6 a.m. traveling 50 mph heading south. Train Y leaves the station at 6:30 a.m. traveling 60 mph heading north. How far apart are they at 7 a.m.? At 9 a.m.?

Remember those old word problems? I used to LOVE those when I was in school (just about the only part of math I liked were the logic/word problems). This weekend, I experienced a very strong reminder of why as writers, we need to hone all of our academic skills, including geography and especially math.

You see, I ended up writing myself into what became an algebraic word problem this weekend. I have three sets of travelers. The first (“A”), traveling in a carriage leaves Portsmouth at 2:00 a.m. traveling 4 mph. The second (“B”), on horseback, leaves at 4:00 a.m. traveling 7 mph. The third (“C”), traveling on horseback, leaves at 4:30 a.m. traveling 8 mph (better horses than “B”). When “B” catches up to “A” he leaves his horse for the comfort of the carriage. So “C” must still catch up with them, but now the task is easier because carriage “AB” is now traveling half “C’s” speed.

I found online an high-def, super-detailed historic map of Hampshire, England–complete with mileages written in along the major road that my characters would be traveling. I then wrote out the above information as a word problem worthy of the SAT or ACT. I ended up plugging all of the variables and formulas into an Excel spreadsheet and figued out how many miles it would take (allowing for a few stops along the way to water the horses or question innkeepers)–and applying that distance to the map discovered that it was the approximate distance between Portsmouth and Winchester–about 22-24 miles! And what a merry chase it was, too!

But, tonight I’m taking a break from my marathon of trying to get Ransome’s Honor finished (I’ve written about 20,000 words in the last 5-6 days). A friend and I are going to see the Rat Pack at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Don’t believe me? Come back tomorrow and I’ll explain!

  1. Erica Vetsch permalink
    Tuesday, February 6, 2007 5:54 pm

    The Rat Pack? I’m grinning. I’m fifty pages into HEI and now I know where Anne got her love of Dean Martin!

    I hope you’re kidding about needing to be a whiz at math…I’m math illiterate!


  2. Kaye Dacus permalink
    Tuesday, February 6, 2007 10:37 pm

    Actually, it was trying to find something unique about Anne that led me to Dean Martin…and Frank Sinatra…and so many others! Because she has to deal with music so much in planning weddings, I wanted to make her very opinionated about music–and discovered that the reason why I’ve bounced from music genre to music genre is because I was born a few decades too late!


  3. Georgiana D permalink
    Wednesday, February 7, 2007 8:48 pm

    WORD PROBLEMS? No way! I never enjoyed those. First of all, anything with the word “problem” has me steering clear. Glad you figured out your answer, excel spreadsheet and all! (I must make sure that I don’t ever write myself into a spot that requires math.)

    Also read your post on the Rat Pack. LOL about your fav singers being dead guys.


  4. Kaye Dacus permalink
    Wednesday, February 7, 2007 11:34 pm

    It’s that whole 50/50 right-brain/left-brain thing I have going on…and the fact that I love maps and figuring out distances and travel times for different historical conveyances!


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