Some Thoughts about “Billy’s Big Discovery”

Some years ago, I wrote a short story called “Billy’s Big Discovery”.  Recently I thought about revising and expanding it into a longer story. It was clear right away that there were several problems I would need to overcome if I want to build the story into something longer.

The Story

The story is about a University professor/scientist who makes his most important discovery on his last day before he retires. This discovery causes to change his mind about a theory he has promoted for his entire career. One of his former students is working on a worldwide crisis. Billy’s discovery and the change in the theory provide him with a breakthrough that will help him solve the crisis.

Story Structure

Currently the story consists of a prologue set in Billy’s childhood. The rest of story happens on his last day of work as he clears out his office. In the last section, a former student comes to visit and that is when Billy makes his big discovery.

If I expand this story, I’ll need to have a different structure. My approach would be to have a series of flashbacks as the various things Billy finds in his office as he packs up bring back memories. I would still end with the visit from the student. I could add a little variety by having other people stop by to say goodbye. I would still like to keep the prologue when Billy is a child rather than as a flashback.

This structure would allow me to explore Billy’s character in more detail. It would also allow me to introduce other characters and develop them as well. I could use the flashbacks to create the background to the crisis, theory, and discovery.


I would like to add a flashback to introduce the student and how Billy got them become a scientist. In my original story, the student is a man, but I’m inclined to make the character a woman. I could have her taking one of his classes as an elective so, her words, she doesn’t have to be a secretary. Billy notices that the class bores her, and he talks to her about it later. He assigns her to do some work on his project. This sparks her interest and starts her on the road to her destiny.

With a longer story I would need to add more characters. This could include a wife, children, and various colleagues. Some of the colleagues would be rivals and some supporters. I think it would be poignant if Billy had a huge conflict with a colleague, and at the end he accepts that this person was right. It would be a more interesting character if he had to overcome personal animosity to accept what his rival had said all along.

Other Issues

Another issue that I implied but did not develop is how Billy has come to terms with a career that never led him to the big discovery he dreamt of making as a young child. This would form the basis for much of the conversation (or rather monologue) between Billy and his student. It would give the title of the story a double meaning.

The Discovery, the Theory, and the Crisis

The core of the story is the discovery that causes Billy to change an opinion that he has professed most of his life. At the time I wrote the story, I couldn’t think of a suitable discovery. I struggles with that, but I finally decided that in a short story it really wasn’t necessary to have a specific discovery. It might be a bit frustrating for some readers, but it wouldn’t really mater to the point I wanted to make with the story.

However, if I develop a longer story, I will really need to have a discovery and a theory that it overturns. The discovery would need to be something that he would not have noticed before. It would be something that would be able to convince him that he was wrong. The discovery would need to something that would help his former student find a solution to a worldwide crisis.

My current feeling is that it would not be an easy to come up with a plausible combination of crisis, theory, and discovery. I don’t think a current real-world crisis (climate change or pandemic) would work, because it would be difficult to come up with a believable discovery. It would be a disappointment for readers if they are hoping for a solution that would deal with the real-world issue. It would also be difficult to dream up a combination from nothing.

In any event, I haven’t come up with any options worth considering. Without that, I don’t think I can move forward on a revision to the story.

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