Monday, May 16, 2016

World Blip – A Bit More About Calendars

Back in December, I talked about why your world needs a calendar. I gave you the more overarching reasons to have a calendar, but today I’d like to give you some specific ways to create those calendars.

After all, creating a calendar can be hard, especially when you haven’t the slightest idea where to start.

A Bit of Math

As a fair warning to you math haters, there is a bit of math involved in creating a calendar. I promise, however, that you’ll never have to use math from your high school classes (yes, that algebra and geometry is still useless for the non-engineers among us). If you’ve taken sixth grade math, you can do this… actually, if you’ve taken fourth grade math, this topic shouldn’t be too hard for you.
I promise.
We good here?

Dust off your addition and multiplication tables, pull out your old textbooks and review how to subtract and divide.
Then let’s build a world calendar.

The Starting Point

You sit down at your laptop and open up your “worldbuilding” files. A scanned PDF of your world’s map, a few character inspiration pictures, links to Pinterest boards, and random Word documents with scraps of information.

Now what?
Start big. Rather than trying to decide what year it is when your story starts, start even bigger. No, not decade and not century.
The easiest way to define a calendar is to define where it starts. Where? Well, that depends on the history of your story. Let the calendar start at 0. The big, big calendar starts at 0, whenever that may be. There can be dates prior to 0, of course, much like the calendar our world uses. You can find symbols similar to “B.C. and A.D” by finding a key and pivotal event in the past. Something that changes history so much that the calendar itself has counted down to zero. Whether this be something given to your world by prophecy or whether people in the aftermath chose to redo their calendars to reflect the monumental impact of this event.

For instance, Agram Awakens starts at zero. My current story has zero centered around a cataclysmic event that sends the world into chaos and throws technology back centuries. It reduces to rubble the past views of time and intelligence and religion and politics. Countries are forgotten in the rubble.
By the time anyone emerges with enough power to start their own country, no one knows what year it is. So they redefine the calendar. They start it at zero.
Time to start over.

For your story, it might be something different. It might be a prophecy causes a people to orient their outlook on time toward a specific event.

Whatever that event is, find zero.

Now you can find the year of your story. The year you choose depends on how advanced you want your society to be. A science fiction story will take place further from the beginning of time than a fantasy will. A sci-fi story can take place a thousand years from zero, if there is time before zero, or ten thousand years after zero. Your choice, really.

As a cautionary note, I would advise against fantasy stories which take place thousands of years into the future from zero, and many, many thousands of years from the beginning of time.
Here’s why: technology advances. Even in fantast worlds, someone is bound to learn about electricity, indoor plumbing, steam engines, even the combustion engine, someday. They’ll learn about gunpowder and incandescent lightbulbs someday. Even if by accident.
The longer your fantasy stays in a medieval world, the less realistic it is. Yes, it can have a thousand years in the Dark Age, that’s fine. But tens of thousands?
That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Look at our world; look at what people have done in the last ten thousand years. We went from inventing the wheel to sending man to the moon and back. Your world might be slower, but if your timeline starts at the “creation” of the world with man as he is in our world, he’ll learn a few things in ten thousand years.
Just a few.

Anyway, pick a date. If it doesn’t matter, then pick your favorite number and add zeros until you have the right number of zeros.
That’s the year.

The Power of Seasons

When does your calendar year start?
You might automatically think “oh, well why not January first?”
Because it’s not January in your world. (See my world blip on time from a few months back.)
The average person in a fantasy story will tell time by seasons, not by calendar days and weeks and months. Those are way too formal for your average peasant.
In sci-fi, they won’t even notice the seasons. Chances are, the people already figured out how to control the weather enough that it doesn’t matter.

One thing that’s always puzzled me was the start of our calendar year here on earth. We start in the dead of winter for… what reason? I’m sure there’s a logical explanation somewhere out there on the internet.

But a people who know things only by the season? They’ll probably start their year at the beginning of what they deem a season. You can use any season you want, so long as it makes sense to the world you’re building. A farming community would probably start their year on the first day of spring, which they would judge based on when they start their crops.

For the sci-fi and more advanced fantasy settings, you probably have to be more specific about the month and week.
That’s where the math comes in.

Using Math (ew)

Our world is perfect.
Well, it’s perfect in one respect: we’re the optimal distance from the star we orbit. If the earth got much closer, the surface would be inhabitable and rather toasty. On the other hand, should the earth drift away from the star, it’d become a frozen wasteland.

Where does your world sit?
Now, one of the easiest ways to do this is simply say “okay, my world is the same size as earth and the same distance from a similar star”.
That’s fine.

But a lot of stories also try to be different: they have more than one star, or they’re a bigger planet.
What do you do then?
Well, you’d have to take some astrophysics and advanced astronomy to be able to correctly place your planet based on size, star-type, and so forth, to account for all the variables, or, like a good fiction writer, you can just guess.

Actually, you don’t even have to do that.
Just pick a number of days.

How long does it take your planet to revolve around its star(s)? When you have a number, you have a year. Of course, this works for any and all sci-fi since they know how planetary orbitals work, but what about fantasy novels?
Those people probably don’t even understand the idea of gravity yet.
How do they know?
Call it convenience.
Because you know what? In a fantasy novel, you never have to explain how long the year is, or how big the orbit of your world is.
That information is for you.

When I decide on the number of days in a year, I like to keep it close to the 365 of our world, but I like to round to a more friendly number. This will make sense in a minute.

Now. How many months do you have? You could have twelve, but why not more? Or less?
An easy way to decide is to assign a given number of days to a month. Don’t be weird like our planet; give each month the same number of days. Then divide your number of days to the year by days to the month (which is why you should round your number of days in the year to a whole number that fits the days of the month).
The resulting number of your division is how many months.
You kind of have to name all of these months, so don’t say “okay, there’s seven days to a month now”. For fantasy, the names of the months aren’t as important, but sci-fi novels are much more likely to use those names.

What about weeks?
You could stick with the “seven days a week”, or you can find a way to make an exact number of weeks fit into a month. That makes everything easy.

For instance, when I created my most recent calendar, I went with fifteen, twenty-five day months. That’s 375 days. Close enough to our world that I don’t have to consider the possibility that the planet will freeze over or burn up. (And my readers probably won’t care anyway.)
The most obvious number of days to a week for this calendar is five.
It’s not like our world at all, but it fits my world best.

What about yours?

(Look, all the math is done. Wasn’t that easy?)

Calendars for You

I’ve talked about why you should create a calendar, but I thought I’d highlight them again real quick:

-Keeping track of seasons
-Weaving character arcs together by time
-Discovering the timing of celebrations and holidays in your novel
-Managing your characters’ perception of time.

You’ll notice that most of those things won’t be important to your reader.
Many of them won’t even think it odd that your world has the same number of days as ours, or even the same months. Some will, but most won’t.

So… why? Why change it?
It gives a sense of realism and depth, a sense that your reader will realize subconsciously.
Developing a calendar for your story world allows you to maintain continuity and reality.

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