Doppler Effect

Veiled Space contains multiple Story Worlds, each with their own personality and background. The Jagged Earth is the first to be explored in a published work, but I have notebooks of world-building information. Creating the ground rules for how the world functions on a fundamental level is very important for me to be able to write stories. This is especially true for science-fiction and fantasy where physics are regularly folded, spindled and mutilated, or just plain ignored, with a certain amount of impunity. Even there, however, my rules need to have a consistent logic and applicability for my characters to function.

So what in the world does the Doppler effect have to do with anything?


Regardless of our background, social status, wealth or a thousand other divisions we impose on ourselves, we all are subject to the same physics. Experience creates expectations.

I keep two classic (to me at least) examples of this in mind when I’m writing. The first example comes from a video taken of astronauts playing catch in micro-gravity. Highly trained, generally athletic, intelligent astronauts had difficulties in such a simple exercise as trying to catch the ball. The second example originates in the original Star Trek television show. The opening credits with the starship Enterprise streaking noiselessly through space was a significant problem in early audience screenings.


Whether reader or viewer, our expectations of how reality functions are built up throughout a lifetime of experience. We expect a thrown ball to arc. Ballistics are dependent upon gravity, though. A thrown ball in micro-gravity travels in a straight line, clashing with our expectations until we can make the adjustment to our new environment. We expect a rapidly moving vehicle passing our stationary position to create the characteristic “whoosh” (that’s the technical term incidentally) of the Doppler effect as it flies by. That depends upon sound propagation, though, and that requires atmosphere. Watching the speeding vehicle without the accompanying sound expected failed to resonate (sorry, had to go there) with viewers. So, the Doppler effect was added to the opening credits and the rest is history (there is a joke there with voila in it, but I’ll let it pass).

So What?

What is the connection to writing stories?  I’m far from a physics expert and the Doppler effect quandary never occurred to me when I was watching Star Trek. So, what components of Veiled Space tales clash with reader expectations? What am technical aspects am I missing because of my own lifetime of experiences. What do I need to add or change to match expectations even if it is technically incorrect.

For example, I’ve never seen standard ammunition make anything explode. Movie reality, certainly, but viewers don’t care and practically expect such. It isn’t important to their enjoyment of the spectacle.

Or the squeal of spinning and sliding tires on gravel. Rubber tires don’t squeal on dirt and gravel very much in my experience. The squeal of tires has connotations of speed, motion, and impending doom or desperation that the clatter of small pebbles can’t compete with.

So, added to my list of things to keep in mind – a mind rapidly coming to resemble an old, over-full cushion with splitting seams – is: what needs to be added or subtracted, because the reader expects it, regardless off technical accuracy? Giving the reader what they expect while staying within the construct of the Story World makes for an interesting conundrum, as if I needed any more!


Written by D. D. Wolf

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I'm on my 5th or 6th career depending on how you count them, but ideally this one will be my last with the kind help of our readers. I've traveled to several states across the U.S., but the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina will always be where I'm most comfortable. I've been an avid reader of comics for more years than I'm going to mention, but I return time after time to the old pulps. Obviously the Doc Savage books have been a tremendous influence. There's just something about seeing and hearing those characters in your mind's eye, just the way YOU, as the reader, think they should be.. I've been writing poems, lyrics and stories of varying quality since I was in my teens, which means most of my archives are on paper in three-ring binders! I've been creating characters in various RPG systems for at least that long. I've always thought characters made the story: good characters can live on through story after story. It wasn't until the last 6 or 7 years that I felt I could write characters well enough to be engaging. You'll have to let me know how I'm doing.

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