Monday, April 4, 2016

World Blip – Time

This blip is a bit of a crossover.
Because time is important not just to your world, but also to your prose. Things need to happen in this much time in order for your plot to time out, but it turns out that your world has a different moon cycle and so you need to adapt that to fit your world.

Time is a complex idea. It’s created, in essence, by our consciousness to perceive the changing from one state to another. When there is motion, we perceive time passing. Without motion, there is not time.

This idea, when you simplify it, can make novels harder to write. Your character is walking to the village and you’re not quite sure how long it takes, so you don’t really show us. Instead, you’d rather just “he walked to the village” and get on with the story.
At the same time, you also want to show us what time of day it is: “the sun hung low in the sky, dipped its golden glow on the horizon”. And maybe what time of year: “freshly fallen leaves crunched underfoot”.

All of that is great, but that all seems like a prose blip to me, doesn’t it? How does this all relate to worldbuilding?
Shall we inspect such an idea?

A World of Time

What day of the week is it?
Unless you’re a college student or busy mother, you probably know off the top of your head that it’s Monday (if you didn’t know that, I thought I’d let you know: it’s Monday).

Does your character know what day of the week it is?
This is something so insignificant we hardly ever think about it, but at the same time, it can be really important. The day of the week often affects the mood of people (for whatever bizarre reason) and if your reader and character know the day of the week, they might conjure up their own mood (yay for creating emotion).

So what day of the week is it?
For your historical fiction and contemporary and dystopian writes, this is easy: well, it’s either Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? (Admit it, you started to sing the days of the week like your mum taught you; if you didn’t, go back and sing them like the rest of us did.)

For the fantasy and sci-fi novels (and maybe alternate worlds?), however, this just doesn’t… work. What are the odds that in the whole universe, your world just happens to name all of the days of their week like ours does?
That’s like the odds of you meeting Hitler in the next thirty seconds. That is to say, it takes a meddling time-traveler to make it happen.

In addition, why does your fantastical planet use a seven-day week? The influences on the seven-day week are largely religious, upon inspection. So unless your world has a religion which demands a seven-day week, you don’t need a seven day week. Using one will keep readers from being confused, because we naturally think “oh, a week is seven days”, but at the same time, why not be unique?
My current project, Agram Awakens, has a five day week. Each of the days has a different name (although I’m not sure I’ll keep them…). In addition I’ve got not twelve, but fifteen twenty-five day months. You’ll notice that doesn’t add up to 365, but why does that strange number have to be the amount of time the world orbit around its star?
Well, because we’ve scientifically and mathematically proved that the time it takes the earth to orbit the sun is just a bit more than that, so we rounded down.
Easy enough.
Does your world?
Your world might orbit faster or slower. I like to keep mine within ten days or so (the world in my current project appears to take 375 days). The science behind planetary movements can go over your head, if you try researching it, but go for it, if you like that sort of thing.

Now. Why did I choose these numbers? Well, I had to randomly choose, but at the same time, I chose my random numbers carefully. I decided to go for symmetry. Every month has the same number of days and weeks, no week ever overlaps a month. Therefore, a five day week fits into a twenty-five day month five times and so I have five weeks in a month. Then you round that number of days per month to the nearest month per year based on 365 as a basic number of days per year.

It’s that easy.
Well, easy if you can do basic elementary math. I see you complaining about math, but really. Unless you’re ten, you can do this in your sleep.

The Timing of Story

So why is this important to your story?
It allows you to know exactly what time of year and month it is. You know that it’s autumn, and that autumn just started. You know that winter is [these months] so your characters have [this long] to reach the mountain pass and rescue the princess before snow covers the paths and blocks them from ever finding her.

Time, relative to your story, is important.
When you have more than one main character, none of whom are together at the start of your story (like my current project), things get complicated fast. Especially when you need them to meet up at a particular place on the same day.
Thing is, that won’t work out if it takes one character five days to get there in the story, and the other one fifty.
When your various plot arcs don’t mesh, you can’t write a good story. So that is where time comes in. You can plot how long it takes each character to reach their meeting place and then tweak their individual timelines to fit the overall story.

There are many ways to do this. If you’re good with your head, you can do it all in there. If you need to, write it out on paper. Or try Microsoft Excel (or the Apple equivalent which is… something?), or even better, find a timeline application.
I use Aeon Timeline, which is a fantastic program that allows you to creature your own time structure and timeline from scratch. You decide how long the year is, how long the week is, and how many months there are. You can add events and people to multiple timelines, view the time lapse between events, and watch people and objects age over the course of your story.
It’s a fantastic program.

Or, if your story is simpler than that, you can just scratch it out with a pencil on a piece of paper and tack it to the wall. I’ve done that and it works.

Time can help your story make sense, and your world come alive.
Two good things.
Two very good things.

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  1. :/ my mum never taught me how to sing the days of the week

    1. wat
      I feel like your mum missed out on something.
      Here let me enlighten you:

  2. I was actually just thinking about time and my novel today. Good post. *thumbs up*

    1. Well thanks. ^-^
      Good luck with the timing... it's very wibbly wobbly, ya know.

  3. As someone who doesn't like math...I give myself an easy-out by having my worlds have the same time that I do here...but I might change that now. It would be more fun to make up my own time in a story. :)
    I'll have to think about it. Thanks for the post! ^_^

    1. Ehehe
      The math really isn't hard. You don't even have to think about the number for "how many days in a week", you can just pick a random one. ;)
      It's fun to mess around with, see how such things might affect your world (also how people view moon cycles...).
      You're most certainly welcome. ^_^