Sunday, 30 October 2016

Fantasy world building: Calendars and time.

I'm working on a fantasy type book set in an alternate earth. I thought I'd start documenting the things I have to develop and research with some questions that need to be answered. As I wrote this blog I actually found it clarified my thinking a lot. I hope it helps you too!

Today's topic is developing a system of time for your cultural group.

The first thing to think about is the basic physics and astronomy of the world: How much like Earth is your world? Is it the same, like mine? Or is it on another type of planet? How many suns are there? How many moons are there? How long are the night and day? How strong is the gravity of the world? What about of the sun and moons? How long are the seasons and how strong are they?
  • My story is set on Earth, so I am modelling my time system on our reality and how humans have done it which makes it easy for me!
  • If your world is substantially different from earth you will probably want to do some research about basic physics so that you can create a realistic system.
The next question is all about natural context: Where do your characters live? What natural phenomena define their lives? What would be important to them to recognise and track about the world?
  • My characters are perfectly adapted to living on the seashore and so I am creating a daily pattern of time based on the tides. 
  • I have decided to give them a lunisolar calendar with a period of uncounted time at the end of it to make up for the time gap between the lunar year and the solar year (the seasons).
  • I'm going to give them a natural ocean phenomenon that marks their new year and ends the uncounted time, but I haven't decided what yet. I know it will be the appearance of some kind of animal - I'm thinking maybe whales, or the mating/beaching of sea lions, or something like this.
  • I live in Western Australia, so I am probably going to model the seasons on the traditional seasons here, so they will have six seasons.
This naturally bleeds into cultural questions: How significant is the passage of time for your characters? Is day and night important to them? How precise do they need/want to be regarding time? What is the smallest unit of their time? Is it a second? Minute? Day? Do they have weeks? What is the most important for them - days, months, seasons, or something else? What special celebrations do they have? Do they have holy periods of time? (human examples are Ramadan, Easter, Diwali etc.). How long are these periods of time and how do they mark them? How will their basic beliefs about where they came from etc. (e.g. their religion) influence the way time is viewed?
  • My characters worship the Moon Mother and so their basic units are the tides, the phases of the moon (months), as well as the seasons (the year).
  • They have regular lunar based celebrations. At the moment I'm thinking every new moon they will stay up all night and keep a vigil - so basically a once a month all night party.
  • The above mentioned uncounted time before the annual (insert mass marine phenomenon here) will be another holy time for them.
  • My characters also have a well defined political system with an annual large gathering of representatives. This will feature in their calendar as well.
Next you will need to think about the character's level of technological advancement: On a spectrum from characters who haven't even got around to inventing fire yet, to characters who can harness dark energy and have space ships that go faster than light - where are yours? Given that, how will they measure time? You may need to rework some of your earlier decisions at this point. For example, have you decided that your characters measure time in seconds, but now you're thinking they might not have any clocks? Or maybe you decided on a very rough scale of time, but now you think they have technology that might require a keener sense of time?
  • My characters have a low level of technology. They measure time by what is happening in the natural world, not by time keeping devices. So their general sense of time will be very broad. That means they won't be able to say things like "I'll just be five minutes." I'll have to come up with some other expression to get that across.
  • Different seasons will be time for them to eat different food, migrate up or down the coast, or get things ready for a later time - maybe like ensuring they have warm clothes for a colder season.
 Lastly, you might want to think about names: If your characters basically have the same time system as you do, you can just stick with regular names if you want. This might make it easier for your readers to understand. If you want things to be substantially different, you might have to make up new terms. Then you will need to think about how you will explain those terms to your reader - will there be an appendix, or will you insert it into the text somehow? This can interfere with good story flow so it can be tricky! What about the names of the special or holy days? Month names? Season names?
  • I'm still deciding on this stuff. I will eventually come up with a full calendar for them to help me keep track of the timeline, but for now I am adding detail as I need to.

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