Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!
Time is relative.
I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Moving onto a serious note, time is relative, especially in fiction. Creating a sense of time passing is a necessary skill, but you don’t want it to take too long for your reader to figure out that’s what is happening.
With speculative fiction, the urge is often there to change everything, because you can.
But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
I’ve said it at least once before in this series, and I’m going to say it again here:
Don’t change so much that your readers can’t relate to your setting or your characters.
Time can be tracked in two ways – by machine (like clocks), or by watching the changing signs in nature.
Our bodies are really designed to work in tune with nature, but we’ve ruined that with our electric lights and 9-5 jobs.
An agrarian society, though, would function almost exclusively in tune with nature, except when necessity demands they conform to the official times kept.
How long are their seasons? Would they, for some reason, have more than four seasons? How does that affect the production of food?
- The general rule is that each season is approximately the same length, with some slight variance depending on the local climate.
Summers in the north are going to be shorter and milder than summers in the south/near an equator. Of course, if you go too far south, things will start to get cold again, just opposite of what it is in the north. Unless your world isn’t round. 😉
How do they determine the start of each season? (Solstice/equinox, supernatural signs, the first rain or snow, etc.)
How do they measure time?
What is their day length? Is it shorter or longer than our 24 hours?
Do they divide the days up into hours, minutes, or seconds (or whatever their equivalent of those might be)? Or is it just ‘a day’, and time is marked by the rising and setting of the sun or moon, and when each is at its highest point (i.e.: high noon)?
Calendars are really fairly simple. You take all of that information you just figured out above, and you turn it into a graph (of sorts).
There are still a few things you need to figure out, though:
- The length of a year
Years are pretty universal – they make up the rotation through the set of seasons, and it really doesn’t matter which season begins or ends a year. Oftentimes, there are religious or seasonal reasons for when a year starts or ends, so look at major holidays, and also major crops.
- The length of a month
A month is usually 21-31 days, for the most part. That doesn’t mean you can’t tweak it, though. In some of my worldbuilding, I’ve had months that are 33 days, or 15. Resist the urge to have them too short, though. And don’t vary the length of each month randomly. It’ll make your life miserable when you have to go back and calculate how much time has passed in a story.
Also don’t have too many or too few months in a year. That will make your calculations crazy, also.
- The length of a ‘week’
The word ‘week’ itself denotes 7 days, but in fantasy and sci-fi you can play with that length a little. In my story Catalyst, weeks have 8 days. You can have fewer, of course, but I personally wouldn’t go down to less than 5 days per week.
If you’re going to have any/all of those, that is.
And after all that…
Really all that’s left is naming your days and months! If you’ve toyed around with your fictional language some already, you’ll have something to draw off for naming.
And naming is really as simple as either calling everything after the names of deities, or literally just calling them ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’, etc. in your fictional language.
Original image used in header is by Silberfuchs, public domain.
My intention is to turn the A-Zs of Worldbuilding into a workbook after the Challenge is finished. If you’d like to stay notified about that, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Please make sure and select the A-Zs of Worldbuilding option!
Rebecca BradleyApril 23, 2014 - 2:24 am ·
A great series and a great topic on time today. Time is one of those things that interests me in today’s works never mind creating a whole new one in a fantasy world!
Rebekah LoperApril 23, 2014 - 8:24 am ·
My concept of time has shifted in my own life after starting to garden, and after getting chickens. While I don’t always make it up with the sun everyday, I sure take note of when it IS up, because I know I don’t have much longer to lay abed before the chickens start getting upset that they’re not out, lol!
I’m starting to despise clocks more and more, but I’m still constricted to them because hubby holds a M-F job. Someday, I will be freeeeee!
Someday, when we’re completely self-sufficient, lol. Which may be many years in the future.
Sophie DuncanApril 23, 2014 - 7:45 am ·
Calendars can be really complicated! I’ve just been working on a sci-fi story and I have three sets of time to include due to there being Earth time, the planet it’s set on time and the universal intergalactic calendar time – it’s proving quite tricky ;P
Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – A to Z Ghosts
Fantasy Boys XXX – A to Z Drabblerotic
Rebekah LoperApril 23, 2014 - 8:36 am ·
I’ve had to make revisions to half-written stories solely because I hadn’t figured out the calendar ahead of time, and realized I had things happening in winter that were actually taking place in late spring. Such fun, right?
I’ve yet to find a computer program that can handle the type of customization I would need for a calendar, either. It’s very frustrating.
AndrewApril 23, 2014 - 12:11 pm ·
Except in sci-fi if there are multiple planets involved, I think the best way to deal with time spans is to not call attention to them. People will just accept them as they are, so to speak, as long as you don’t make an issue out of it.
Rebekah LoperApril 23, 2014 - 12:18 pm ·
It really depends on how much of a plot depends on the timing of things for the characters. If explanation isn’t needed for the plot to work and the reader to understand what’s happening, then that’s great!