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DanielaTorre
08-26-2012, 10:27 PM
Can wooden floorboards catch fire if said fire is applied directly?

For example, my MC takes a seat on the stage of an old theatre and inadvertently sets down the torch he was holding. He's a kid and is distracted, so he doesn't immediately realize what he's done until the floorboards catch fire.

I say yes because you know, physics, common sense, chemistry and what not. But something's nagging me about it. Perhaps there's a wax that has been applied to the wood, a sheen.....

Although the story takes place in a modern setting, said scene takes place in a portal-world where everything is kind of stuck in the late 19th century, therefore the theatre is mid-19th.

Is the scene pertinent to plot progression you say? It is at present though I'm always open to reconsider if something this trivial might be a problem.

Thanks!

gothicangel
08-26-2012, 10:36 PM
Can wooden floorboards catch fire if said fire is applied directly?

For example, my MC takes a seat on the stage of an old theatre and inadvertently sets down the torch he was holding. He's a kid and is distracted, so he doesn't immediately realize what he's done until the floorboards catch fire.

I say yes because you know, physics, common sense, chemistry and what not. But something's nagging me about it. Perhaps there's a wax that has been applied to the wood, a sheen.....

Although the story takes place in a modern setting, said scene takes place in a portal-world where everything is kind of stuck in the late 19th century, therefore the theatre is mid-19th.

Is the scene pertinent to plot progression you say? It is at present though I'm always open to reconsider if something this trivial might be a problem.

Thanks!

I imagine we are talking about a 'flame' torch, that is fuelled by oil. If the oil was to spill over the flooring, yes it would and very quickly!

Not sure if the Victorians treat their wooden floors, you would have to ask an expert [i.e Victorian historian.]

DanielaTorre
08-26-2012, 10:48 PM
I imagine we are talking about a 'flame' torch, that is fuelled by oil. If the oil was to spill over the flooring, yes it would and very quickly!

Not sure if the Victorians treat their wooden floors, you would have to ask an expert [i.e Victorian historian.]

Actually, it's a torch used by fire-eaters. Like the circus type. My story revolves around magicians. So it's a small, thin torch. It can pose a problem since small fires take longer to burn something.

From what I've gathered from fire-eating torches, they use parrafin or kerosene. So there is fuel, but it's not soused with it.

Ugh.

IAMWRITER
08-26-2012, 10:53 PM
If there is fuel, like kerosene or parrafin as you mentioned, I think it probably would burn.

Just wood, I'm not too sure. I think I had wooden table in science classes at school, thick wood and varnished, which didn't burn but were scorched slightly.

DanielaTorre
08-26-2012, 11:01 PM
...thick wood and varnished, which didn't burn but were scorched slightly.

See, this is what I fear. I'm almost positive that mid to late 19th century floorboards were thick, and since the flame is small, a scorch mark will be all that's left. It also depends on how long the flame is applied to the wood.

cbenoi1
08-26-2012, 11:10 PM
The material has to reach the proper temperature first before reacting to open flame. In the case of wood, an open flame alone is not enough because the heat it generates would be spread across the boards. An accelerant would help. And also if the entire theater is ablaze, the environmental temperature makes it possible for other materials to also be at the proper temperature to catch fire.


What is the temperature at which a book catches fire?

Hint: It's the title of a novel.

Answer: Farenheit 451


-cb

Unimportant
08-26-2012, 11:11 PM
This might be better asked down in "story experts".

Bufty
08-26-2012, 11:16 PM
Also have to consider how the torch was laid down.

Maybe he could lay it down somewhere where it rolls off and into a laundry basket or something. Scene shifters behind the curtain move something and... - anything rather than it just 'burning down' until it reaches the boards if that's what you meant. These torches maybe didn't 'burn down' because the ends were wrapped in stuff dipped in whatever - - maybe the end portion just burned out.

One last point, maybe they're heavy at one end like juggling equipment and can't be laid down on the edge of something except one-way. Not sure which way!

Sorry, I'm maybe muddling the issue more than helping.

Good luck.

Oldbrasscat
08-26-2012, 11:19 PM
Heat rises, so it is hard to get anything up to combustable temperatures by trying to light the top of them. The bigger the chunk of wood, the less likely as well that you would get enough of it up to temperature before your flame died (I think someone mentioned it above). I doubt it would burn, but would probably scorch. That's why, why you're character builds a campfire, he builds layers of small branches, and lights the dry grass he stuck in the bottom. But, your city slicker character would just pile everything with no thought to oxygen starvation or skinny sticks catching fire easier, and then would drop their matches on top of the pile. Subsequent to that, they will start wondering why they have to eat cold beans out of can.

Now, if he happened to set it down and it rolled up against a canvas backdrop, that would likely be another story...(Lol, Bufty beat me by 3 minutes!)

DanielaTorre
08-26-2012, 11:34 PM
Hmm. I knew physics would win this one. I feel better informed now.

See, it's not a huge deal in the story because it's a small inciting instance that makes my MC realize that he's being watched.

He sits, floor catches fire, he gets up and stomps it out. At that moment, he realizes that there's a shadow cast on the floor that isn't his....

But the reason he sits on the floor is because he's looking at something that's absolutely critical to the plot (the distraction I mentioned earlier). They're playing cards. He can't hold the torch and look at the cards at the same time because he only has too hands, therefore he sits. The torch is important because it sets up the resolution. So he needs the torch. Not only for light, but for burning stuff.

I'm tempted to just scrap the floor catching fire bit and opt for a noise that startles him, so he gets up and sees the shadow on the floor. I just wanted to some foreshadowing because the antagonist uses magic to light the stage ablaze.

Keep or scrap? I might, I'm not married to the idea or anything. I know when something's working and when it's not, and as it seems, this isn't so much. I just wanted some common sense.

HapiSofi
08-26-2012, 11:45 PM
Scrap.

Laying the torch down in order to pick up cards means the single-point light source will be behind the cards, so he still won't be able to see well enough to read what's on them.

Also, because there's no light source behind him. Whatever it is that casts the shadow has to come between him and a light source.

Also, because laying the torch down on an old wood-plank floor is a boneheaded move. It's a lot harder to get readers interested in stupid characters than in smart ones.

DanielaTorre
08-26-2012, 11:50 PM
Scrap. Laying the torch down in order to pick up cards means the single-point light source will be behind the cards, so he still won't be able to see well enough to read what's on them.

Also, because there's no light source behind him. Whatever it is that casts the shadow has to come between him and a light source.

AAAAHHHHH. Another problem!

Wait. No, this isn't a problem because the shadow is just a shadow. It's not attached to anything. It's part of the magic in my story, part of my world. The shadow is independent of anything. It's an illusion, if you will. So I might be able to get away with that. I have set it up early in the story already so it won't be unrealistic to the reader.

And it is a boneheaded move, the character acknowledges it by referring to himself as a complete idiot, but he is only 12 and the scene prior to this was really intense. The cards were something he's been looking for the entire book, so I wouldn't blame him for having a brain fart. LOL. This is toward the end of the book btw.

Oh, I just remembered why a noise won't work: shadows don't make a sound..... shoot me now.

DanielaTorre
08-27-2012, 12:05 AM
I'm assuming that the floor would crackle and pop provided that there's some sort of wax or varnish on it. Could that work? It would if it did which would cause my MC to get to his feet and notice said shadow....

You all are too kind to put up with all this technical crap. :tongue

WildScribe
08-27-2012, 12:22 AM
I hang out with fire eaters, and while you are supposed to be really careful, I know a friend who has an act that involves tossing a lit torch into the (old, dry, wooden, outdoor) stage by "accident" to scare the audience. She leaves it for several seconds before jumping up to put it out, and while it does scorch the boards, it doesn't catch fire. However if your MC were to spill some gas on the stage prior to setting his torch down, there would be a whole different situation. It still might not catch the stage on FIRE, exactly (unless there was a LOT), but the gas would burn and look exciting for a moment, and your MC would probably want to stomp it out quickly.

DanielaTorre
08-27-2012, 12:53 AM
I hang out with fire eaters, and while you are supposed to be really careful, I know a friend who has an act that involves tossing a lit torch into the (old, dry, wooden, outdoor) stage by "accident" to scare the audience. She leaves it for several seconds before jumping up to put it out, and while it does scorch the boards, it doesn't catch fire. However if your MC were to spill some gas on the stage prior to setting his torch down, there would be a whole different situation. It still might not catch the stage on FIRE, exactly (unless there was a LOT), but the gas would burn and look exciting for a moment, and your MC would probably want to stomp it out quickly.

YES! An answer directly from the source! How lucky am I? Thanks WildScribe for clearing that up for me. My question was pretty narrow, didn't expect such a direct answer. :D

With that resolved without question, I might leave it to crackling and blistering.

HapiSofi
08-27-2012, 01:17 AM
You've still got the problem with the dark environment and the single light source being behind the cards he wants to read.

DanielaTorre
08-27-2012, 02:11 AM
You've still got the problem with the dark environment and the single light source being behind the cards he wants to read.

Hmmm. Now you're getting reeeeaally technical. LOL. I guess I'll need several betas to confirm what you suspect. Regardless, I will go back and tackle the lighting situation because I think you have a point. Perhaps I'll toss in a window or the light from the foyer so that they wouldn't be utterly dark. The torch my MC uses was one of several that were back stage. Prior to that his friend used it fend someone off. It wasn't necessary for lighting purposes.

Thank you for the observation. I don't know what I would do without an extra brain. :)

GuruLord
08-27-2012, 02:56 AM
I had an interesting time reading this topic - I've always wondered how "technical" books should be depending on the reading level. I can understand the "light source" part of the argument, but I'm wondering if it really matters in terms of the stage lightning on fire.

Would a middle grade reader question the scientific nature of the fire as to whether or not the stage is actually able to burn. Or would they just take it as part of the story and not give it a second thought. Of course, we can't tell what the reader is thinking, and some readers think differently than others.

One of my beta readers brought up a similar question about the description of my battle bots. I had mentioned that on bot had an exhaust pipe attached to its rear end and it was puffing out huge plumes of smoke. But then my beta reader was asking so does that mean your bot runs on part diesel fuel and part electric? Like a car?

I thought about it and was like..is that necessary information to divulge?

That's why I found this topic interesting..since every little tidbit in story can be broken down and analyzed, but in the end, does it matter? I say it matters only if its plot breaking, or creates loose ends.

BUT regarding this topic - once you figure out the light source issue, I wouldnt worry about the fire burning.

HapiSofi
08-27-2012, 04:42 AM
Hmmm. Now you're getting reeeeaally technical. LOL.
No, I'm not. It would genuinely bother me if I were reading your manuscript. Not every reader is going to have that reaction, but some will. Others will have a niggling sense that something is wrong. Others won't notice it. That puts it on par with getting the caliber of a gun wrong, or not keeping track of which way your character turns at the foot of the stairs in order to go to the kitchen.


I had an interesting time reading this topic - I've always wondered how "technical" books should be depending on the reading level. I can understand the "light source" part of the argument, but I'm wondering if it really matters in terms of the stage lightning on fire.
Cultivate the habit of getting things right. Even readers who don't know why specific details are wrong will get an uneasy sense that this reality isn't as solid underfoot as it might be.

At what age does that kick in? I can only speak to my own experience: some of my earliest reading memories are of figuring out that this book feels realer, and stuff in it somehow matters more, than that other book that's supposedly just like it.


Would a middle grade reader question the scientific nature of the fire as to whether or not the stage is actually able to burn. Or would they just take it as part of the story and not give it a second thought.
It depends on how riveting the story is, how fast it's moving, and whether you're working at an appropriate level of detail. Neither Robert E. Howard's Conan stories nor Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories would work if they didn't get those right.


One of my beta readers brought up a similar question about the description of my battle bots. I had mentioned that on bot had an exhaust pipe attached to its rear end and it was puffing out huge plumes of smoke. But then my beta reader was asking so does that mean your bot runs on part diesel fuel and part electric? Like a car?

I thought about it and was like..is that necessary information to divulge?

That depends on the story and genre, and what that character is doing. If you're writing rivet-y SF at longer lengths, and that particular bot is going to be a recurring character, it might matter. If it's a momentary cool detail, probably not. Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of trying to explain it. Nine times out of ten that'll only get you into trouble.


That's why I found this topic interesting..since every little tidbit in story can be broken down and analyzed, but in the end, does it matter? I say it matters only if its plot breaking, or creates loose ends.

I say everything matters. The question is (1.) how much it matters; (2.) whether the reader is likely to be paying attention to it at that moment; and (3.) what it would take to fix it. If you have a zippy little fast-moving short story, and the amount of new text it would take to fix a technical objection would be an unmanageable burden, don't bother.


BUT regarding this topic - once you figure out the light source issue, I wouldn't worry about the fire burning.
A good scary monster turning up behind your character beats a technical quibble any day.

GuruLord
08-27-2012, 05:07 AM
HapiSofi -

Everything you've said makes perfect sense -

I'm at the point with my novel where am I explaining things (technical things) only if I know they serve an importance throughout my book(series).

Other times I'll let things slide, but since my book follows a bit of a technical side with kids making inventions, I'm lucky enough to have a Cornell engineering graduate assisting me to make sure my terminology and my descriptions make sense. Sense enough that I dont have to go into so much crazy detail that I jus tend up boring a middle grade reader.

But I agree with you the most with the last part - the good scary monster - As long as you have that moment that grabs the reader and pulls him or her into the story more, you can disregard a bit of tech.

Creating a real / convincing world for the reader is difficult. But yes, even the little things do matter. So i'll avoid screwing up the little things as much as I can (or just do a bit of research.....)

The joys of writing

GuruLord
08-27-2012, 05:09 AM
I'll just add too - that I have a "mind control machine" as a plot device. Of course I can't go into any real detail as to the functionality of the device in a middle grade book...since after all there is no such thing as a mind control device, I had to take certain liberties and just let "things work out themselves".

LearningTwoWrite
08-27-2012, 05:38 AM
Make the floor in your story more susceptible to fire. Not all floors were perfect. Write a plausible "defect." The floors were thick. Very thick for floors, according to my research. They were pine. I also read this, but did not read the entire article:


http://preserveala.org/pdfs/ESSAYS/HISTORIC%20FLOORS.pdf

"The most common wood flooring in Alabama for the entire 19th
century was dense heart-pine. Some use was made of poplar, ash, cypress and other woods. At least one circa 1830 floor of oak has been observed, a unique example thus far. Oak flooring was not popular until the 20th century.

Pine is biologically classified as a “softwood”. However, if one hefts a plant of dense, hard, heavy early
19th century pine the classification seems a misnomer. It is heavier per board foot than modern oak. It
is very hard. The growth rings are generally from 15 to 25 per inch, whereas modern “dense pine” is
classified as six growth rings per inch. It is permeated with pitch and glistens when split."

If they mean pitch is in the old wood, you could research flammability, or at least make it plausible in the story.

Brian G. Wood
08-27-2012, 08:57 AM
The part about the point of light and not being able to read the card is something I probably wouldn't even think of while reading, but ymmv. If something really needs to catch fire, I'd go with the idea of having it clatter a few feet away and hit a curtain. Before this was all pointed out, I would've totally bought the stage going up if I was fed the line that it was old, dry wood. It's one of those things that happens in movies sometimes and people point out on websites or in geek discussions, but wouldn't really break the flow of the thing.

As opposed to, for example, the notorious "propane gas doesn't rise, it sinks" scene from Panic Room, where the characters' actions would've gotten them killed in the real world.

Niniva
08-27-2012, 09:05 AM
Wow, lots of replies. I admit that I haven't read them all, so forgive me if it has been said, but--

In an abandoned place, the floors wouldn't be clean. Maybe you could catch some sawdust/lint/spiderweb type stuff on fire. Let it spread quickly to something fabric.

Unless of course, you need the floorboards to give way first.

OH! Creosote. Old buildings were treated with creosote to stop termites. Essentially something like tar and highly flammable. However, just the joists would be treated, not the floorboards.

Finally, you could have them roughed up a little, maybe a bit weak here and there - splinters catch fire easily.

ETA: Pitch smells like pinesol, while creosote stinks like fresh tar in the summer, if I recall correctly.

ETA: Creosote would have been a major need for anything to withstand time in Alabama, btw. The termites are godawful here in Georgia if you don't spray for them frequently. [Although this old farmhouse is creosote treated, I still lost a bit of siding.]

DanielaTorre
08-27-2012, 09:25 AM
So essentially, since there are so many variables to consider, we may never know? Jeezy Creezy. Somebody call Myth Busters. LOL.

Honestly, I never knew how complicated one tiny little detail could be. But the way I look at it is that if it bothers me, then it should surely bother someone else... and I'm the one who wrote it.

I agree with Guru on the whole "divulging" part. If I would take into consideration every little detail, I'd go nuts. And taking what others have said about the correct environment for a fire to occur with a fire-eating torch, I'd say I'd have my work cut out for me. But I won't keep it. After all, this is MG and even if it wasn't, I don't think anyone would want to read about the chemistry of wood. :p

I have concluded that it just doesn't work. Period. Thank you everyone for your kind attention and opinions and for helping me with this. I can always count on AW for a range of opinions. The more opinions, the more open minded I become, the better I feel about my work. As I initially said, I have no problem dumping it if it was too much of a headache.

As for the fire thing, I think I'll change it to having the wood crackle and pop. If a reader happens to challenge this, the simple answer would be varnish, wax, or how Niniva so cleverly suggested, creosote. I've lain hot pans on wooden tables before and the table would quickly start to crackle and blister. That I can live with. :)

lastlittlebird
08-27-2012, 09:33 AM
If he's an inexperienced fire-eater, perhaps he put too much fuel in/on his torch and it leaked onto the floor when he set the torch down.
It wouldn't exactly be the floorboards burning, but it would give him a little blaze to stamp out and a moment of panic.

dangerousbill
08-27-2012, 05:51 PM
Can wooden floorboards catch fire if said fire is applied directly?


Solid wooden planks don't ignite easily. But if there are cracks that sparks can fall through, there may be material underneath that can ignite. This would be a believable scenario that can easily be described.

In an old theater, where the boards are very dry and possibly saturated with wax and years of paint, they may ignite more easily, but generally there has to be some loose flammable material to sustain the flame long enough to get the boards burning properly.

Think of a campfire. You can't light the logs directly. You begin with tinder (fine or shredded wood or even paper) to get some larger twigs burning. Then small sticks will ignite, and finally the logs themselves will burn, but only as long as they can reflect heat onto one another.

Susan Littlefield
08-27-2012, 06:37 PM
Shoot, a kid is on stage. Just have a small piece of paper laying on the flooor or something. That will catch fire easily enough.

Dave Hardy
08-27-2012, 06:50 PM
I have a hard time imagining even a knuckle-headed kid laying down the torch. If its got a flaming end, I would expect him to be very careful of intentionally letting it come into direct contact with anything.

I always thought of torches as awkward unwieldy things that couldn't easily be set down without some degree of risk. I wouldn't lay a candle on its side on the floor, I'd set it on its end, minimizing risk of burning something I didn't want burned and also allowing the candle to cast light.

Now, if the youngster thought that through and decided that the best course of action was to prop the torch into some makeshift bracket, or to wedge it into something. Here you've got to be a bit inventive, at 12 one is bursting with ideas, maybe the kid tucks it into a disused spittoon or wedges it into the slats in a bench.

Only the spittoon is overbalanced or the torch slips out of the slats, the point being the kid THOUGHT it was secure, but it wasn't. From there the torch could land on any sort of flammable thing (which said youngster might not even have seen, it being dark and all).

That strikes me as entirely credible, we're often most dangerous when we think we're taking precautions.

mrsvalkyrie
08-27-2012, 06:50 PM
Just a small contribution about the light source and cards...

I'm not quite sure that setting it down on the floor with him sitting beside it would not allow him to see the cards. I've sat on the floor with a candle in darkness and still been able to see what I was reading/doing. This is one of those things I'd suggest trying out. How far is he from the flame? Is it behind him, in front of him, to the side? How big is the flame? From your description, I'd think it'd be bigger than one measly candle!

This is one of those things that, as a reader, wouldn't bother me, because I wouldn't think it's quite so impossible. But it just goes to show, after reading HapiSoft's post, that all readers have different reactions. :) For me to get annoyed at a book, it would have to be ridiculously cliche or totally stupid. For me to put down a book, it would have to be both. I don't see either of those in this scene.

Although, seeing the shadow seems odd to me. He sees it after he puts out the torch? Because illusion or not, he's not going to see a shadow in the dark. And if there is still a light source somewhere that allows him to see the shadow after he's put out the torch, then reading the cards shouldn't be an issue. And if there is another light source, why does he have the torch lit? I'm assuming this last one is because he's practicing something, but I'm not going to jump to conclusions. :)

Anyway, hope I didn't make things worse. Just some things to consider. :)

ironmikezero
08-27-2012, 09:14 PM
[QUOTE=cbenoi1;7550119]


What is the temperature at which a book catches fire?

Hint: It's the title of a novel.

Answer: Farenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury

Link: http://www.neabigread.org/books/fahrenheit451/
;)