Friday, December 11, 2015

Festivities: Why Your World Needs a Calendar

Yup, I’m talking about worlds again.
I do that on occasion, if you hadn’t noticed.
This time I’m going to do something just a bit different.
Instead of being vague like half a year ago, or being more overarching like a month and a half ago, I want to be rather specific.

Today, I’m going to declare firmly my opinion and then back up that opinion:
Your world needs a calendar.

Let’s all stop and appreciate the way I bolded that for you and so definitively stated you need a calendar.

There, now we can stop appreciating it and wonder why in the world (be it your created world, someone else’s world, or the actual world we live in) we need calendars for our book-worlds.

Let me explain.
How many days are in a year?
Well, 365 of course. That is our kind of year.
What about your world? Does your world have the exact same months and days with the exact same names?
Chances are your world can’t have the same months as our world. That would be rather boring and unrealistic. Why would your world name the seventh month after Julius Caesar anyway? And what are the chances that your world would just so happen to name all their weekdays exactly as we do? The probability there should be very small.
Therefore, there seems to be two choices for the author: make your own calendar, or never reference what day of the week or day of the month it is.

Chances are you’ll want to reference these sorts of things, though. If nothing else, you need a calendar for you. Even if you never mention the day of the week in your novel, knowing that your world only has five days per week will give you, as an author, insight into your world.
Take me, for instance (yes, it’s anecdote time, have a seat by the forge). My current project (Agram Awakens) is set in a fantasy world that I’ve been developing for two and a half years now. Some parts of the world are hugely developed, others sparsely. 

One thing I’ve done is create a calendar. I’ve formed fifteen months of twenty-five days each. No, that doesn’t add up to 365 days, but if you do the math, it’s fairly close. In [soft] science fiction and fantasy, fairly close is close enough. As the earth’s orbit is one of very few orbits which could support life, it’s best to remain close to it, but you can deviate some without stirring up trouble.
Besides, what are the chances that your reader is actually going to do the math and sue you for having a slightly different number of days in your year? So long as you’re consistent, you’re fine.
In my calendar, it makes the most sense for each week to have five days in it. The numbers in my calendar are all divisible by five, so that’s what I did. Each month, then, has five weeks.
The nice thing about the month and week having a common multiple is that each month starts out on the first day of the week. Nice and symmetrical; symmetry often comes across as authentic, even if it’s different from what we expect.
I’ve named each day and month (but I won’t list those names here, as they’re probably just temporary names until I find better ones), but it’s not necessary to do as such unless you intend to reference the names of the day and months in the book.

This project needs a calendar for several reasons:
-Holidays (which we’ll discuss in detail here soon).
-Character and plot arcs (which we’ll also discuss in detail here soon).
-Timelines and history.
-Ease of mind for myself.

Now. Two of those reasons are widely applicable.
First, the latter. If your story is like mine, you’ve got quite the plot. My story has six main characters. Each character has their own plot arc, but they come together over time and their plots mesh together.
In order to do this, I need to be able to follow their separate arcs to make sure they line up just right. If they don’t, I’ll have two characters meeting when the one character couldn’t possibly get to the meeting location in time.
Timelines can be hard to work out. I use Aeon Timeline, myself (well, I just recently started and highly recommend) because it gives me a visual picture of where characters are headed and where they’re coming from.
I need to be able to line up timelines to the very hour of certain events. Else the story won’t make sense. Characters will be skipping days or weeks just so I can get them all on the same timeline.
Instead, by making a calendar, I can mark which day this character is doing this. Then, by viewing each character’s chronological arc, I can see which arc needs a tweak in order to get that character where they need to be.
For instance, I need two characters to end up in one place by the end of the book. Until then, they’re far apart from one another, travelling to the spot they will meet up. One character spends days on a ship, another days waiting in one particular spot. All these days need to even out by the time they arrive, else I’ll be stuck.
By viewing their timelines on a calendar I can see the first character’s boat ride can’t last as long as I first had it. And that’s a simple fix. Just make the ocean a little smaller (because I can do that), and make the ship just a bit faster and take out this storm.

There. It will all work out.

Character and plot arcs are important. Keeping them in time with each other is important. Very much so.
But there’s another reason you need a calendar.
It’s a rather simple reason, when it all boils down, but important.
First a question: how many novels have you read (fantasy especially) that include holidays? How many High Fantasies do you know of which indicate that a certain day is a holiday?
I can think of some that don’t.
And that’s not realistic. Here, have a list of the holidays in our world. That’s... quite the list. Our world has so many holidays, yet so many fantasy worlds don’t any at all.


People like to celebrate. We have holidays that commemorate people, places, events, deaths, births, tacos, countries, the sinking of ships, the discovery of medicines, continents, and holidays for nerds (May 4th, for instance).

It only makes sense that your world has holidays.
One of my favorite examples is the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He does a fabulous job weaving holidays and festivals into his world and countries. Some countries celebrate holidays others don’t and characters find these holidays foreign, strange, and enlightening.
It’s fabulous, in short (that and the series itself is pretty good, if a bit slow in places).

Does your world have holidays?
It should. And the best way to plan holidays is to have a calendar.
Back to my anecdote, my world has nineteen developed holidays. Some are select to certain religions or countries, others span continents in their celebration.
It’s not hard to create a holiday. I’d like to walk you through a personal favorite of mine that I created:

The Feast of the Fallen Goat
-Observed in Teilin during the first month of the harvest season
-Last day of the second full moon of the month
-Festivities begin at sunrise of this day; continue to sunrise of the next, most of the time.
-No one works this day, everyone just celebrates
-Everyone is supposed to gather with family for the noon meal and spend time with family during the morning
-The afternoon is supposedly spent with strangers, but most people end up with friends.
-By evening, everyone is already drunk, but everyone is supposed to toast the end of the full moon by drinking more.
-All night is spent partying and drinking and such.
-At sunrise the next day, everyone sacrifices a goat by pushing it off the cliffs into the sea.

As a character of mine explains it to a foreigner: “It’s some fool’s excuse to get drunk and talk to people… the same fool lost his goat when it fell off a cliff. He went and got drunk and told his friends about it. People been getting drunk over that goat ever since.”

Seems easy, right? That holiday doesn’t mean much, but in actuality it defines holidays. Many of our holidays don’t mean a great deal to us. Like Columbus Day. How many people actually care about Columbus? But we still celebrate it.
Your festivities don’t have to be religious all the time (although some are good; religions like holidays). Some of them can just be times where people use a silly excuse (like a clumsy goat) to get together and have a good time.
Holidays make your world real.

And you can’t have a holiday without a calendar to put it on.

What about you? Do you have a calendar for your world? What about holidays? What kinds of festivals do the people in your world observe? Leave a comment and share!

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