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snitchcharm
07-20-2014, 08:59 PM
Hello friends,

So my WIP takes place in a world that is not Earth, not AU, not alternate history, but is similar to our world in many ways. There's magic, but besides that, the main setting could be roughly compared to London or Paris circa 1900 in terms of technology, social structure, cultural mores, etc.

My question is--would it be weird to use the same time measurement systems we use on Earth, e.g. "Today is Sunday, July 20th" or "he'll arrive at 9:00?" I feel like it would be distracting for readers to see made-up names for days of the week, months, etc., but obviously the words we use to divide time have all sorts of roots in Earth history.

What would be less distracting for y'all as readers? Or should I just try to avoid using time-related proper nouns entirely?

RikWriter
07-20-2014, 09:42 PM
I don't think you can have it both ways. If it's not Earth and you're trying to clearly establish that it's not Earth, then you can't use words for days and months that have their roots in European civilization.
Any way of changing it to an alternate Earth or is that set in stone?
If it has to be another world entirely, you're going to have to come up with new names for the days and months.

Lillith1991
07-20-2014, 10:39 PM
Yes, I would find it very distracting. A secondary world is something like Arda/Middle Earth. It has its own rules, languages, groups, ways of telling time and so on. Using a modern calender defeats the purpose of creating a separate world, and to me would make it historical/alt fantasy instead of secondary world fantasty.

rwm4768
07-20-2014, 10:51 PM
I usually go the route of not naming days and months and referring to times in general terms. Mid-morning, early afternoon, etc.

Now I will mention things like seconds, minutes, and hours. When you're writing about a secondary world, you're essentially writing a book in translation. Why not give the reader units of measurement they're familiar with?

Even in secondary world fantasy, you want to provide the reader with some things that are familiar. Save the unfamiliar for the important stuff like magic and creatures and political situations. A world that is so different from ours is often difficult on the reader.

mistri
07-20-2014, 11:05 PM
I'd change days and months but keep units of time the same - though saying that I tend to vague up time (try to avoid saying an hour or a minute), but I will refer to a week or a month. Otherwise it feels like I'm trying too hard to be different.

Dryad
07-20-2014, 11:30 PM
For a secondary world you change things and you leave things the same. You can't come up with an alternate word for everything. Making a new time system makes a lot of sense. Ours is firmly set in details of our own history. New calendars are very common for secondary worlds--perhaps even expected. But if you didn't change that and you did change other things, as a reader, I would simply accept your world for what it is. You can go either way on this one. Fans of world building might be disappointed if you use our standard calendar system, but if world building isn't a highlight of your story then it's not that big of a deal.

benbenberi
07-20-2014, 11:39 PM
It's very easy to avoid having to specify days & months by name.

The names we use are bound to our specific cultural history, so (frex) a world without the god Thor has no Thursday, and a world without Julius Caesar has no July, and world without Christians has no Christmas. If you have to use the names of things, they ought to reflect the story's setting, not ours.

The more generic terms and units of measure are less culturally specific, though not without their own history. There are already a lot of threads on AW discussing the pros & cons of using them. Some of our time units relate directly to physical properties of the world (length of the day, month & year). Tides, seasons, & cyclical weather events are also used to measure time & are location-specific. Hours/minutes/seconds are more arbitrary measures. Why should there be 24 hours in a day or 60 minutes in an hour, & why should every hour or minute be exactly as long as every other one? The Babylonians gave us the count; mechanical clocks gave us standardization; the social/economic changes of the Industrial Revolution made timekeeping & punctuality important to people in industrializing societies in ways they never had been before (& still aren't in every culture).

CrastersBabies
07-20-2014, 11:49 PM
Use minutes, seconds, hours. If you want to frack with weeks and months, go for it. But readers are savvy and they understand that in another fantasy world:

1. They're not speaking English, they're speaking X_language from your world.
2. They may have a similar time system and if it's close enough, it's close enough.

You start using words that require a glossary because you call "60 seconds" a "yarg," you're going to look a bit like an amateur, imho.

If it's an ancient society that has no concept of minute or hour or whatnot, then you might be more creative.

I'm all for renaming months, though, and days of the week.

snafu1056
07-21-2014, 01:05 AM
You could use slang terms. One old term for an hour was a "glass". A moment or a minute could be a "tick" or a "twinkling". Or you could divide the day into watches. First watch, second watch, etc. Or you could use different names for times of day. I know dusk was often called "candle lighting", early afternoon was sometimes called "forenoon", that kind of thing. If you dont want to invent fictional units of time you could just steer clear of mentioning exact times.

Mr Flibble
07-21-2014, 01:10 AM
it's gong to depend on the world very heavily

One of my worlds. or rather cities, depends on clockwork so seconds etc are not out of place. Then again, they also measure the days/weeks in the intervals between clockwork events.

On other worlds, seconds would seem really out of place. I have another world where the phases of the moon are ultra important and no one cares about hours, never mind seconds.


Make the units fit your world -- sometimes this will mean using ours, sometimes not. But make them fit and be consistent.

ScarletWhisper
07-21-2014, 03:28 AM
Don't create a bunch of words for the reader to learn if you don't have to. If it's a week, call it a week. If it's an hour, call it an hour. Creating a new naming system forces the reader away from the story and into their head, trying to remember what "angenblerg" converts to. If it's an hour, they know what it is without having to think about it, and exactly how long it is. The frame of reference is already there.

A -lot- of fantasy books become wallbangers for me because I want to be pulled right into a story. I don't want to keep falling out of it, tasking my brain to work out what is what in this worldbuild.

rwm4768
07-21-2014, 03:40 AM
I've read one series where time is measured in candlemarks. I've never gotten a real sense for how long a candlemark is. I usually substitute the word hour whether it makes sense or not.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-21-2014, 04:43 AM
I've read one series where time is measured in candlemarks. I've never gotten a real sense for how long a candlemark is. I usually substitute the word hour whether it makes sense or not.


Marks and candlemarks are about an hour or so, in all the stories I've seen them in.



If the time system is exactly the same as ours, you might as well use the translation conventions and say "hours, minutes, seconds". If you want to use something different, come up with a reasonable system and introduce it in context. Most authors use English words that seem like time words.


Such as the marks and candlemarks above. Or the "glass" mentioned earlier in the thread.


You can absolutely get fancy with your time if you want to put in the effort to do it right, but there's no harm in just using general English time-words. I agree with those above that months and day names are a bit of a stretch. Lots of fantasies just use number names for days and month. "First-day", etc.

Roxxsmom
07-21-2014, 11:54 AM
Using the same names for days of the week (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_the_days_of_the_week) or months (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_calendar) would knock me out a bit in a fantasy world that is not Earth and does not share any history or have any connection with Earth. The names of some of them refer to things that wouldn't exist in a fantasy world.

If you want to make it simple for your reader, you could just call them firstday, secondday etc. or some derivation of (if you have an ancient conlang, you could use names for those things in that language). If you want to be fancy, you could name months or days of the week after historic or mythic figures in your world, though this has the disadvantage of requiring clarification for the reader and possibly requiring them to be constantly flipping to an appendix.

There are different approaches you can take, depending on what kind of world and story you're shooting for. It might be fun to make a fantasy world with very different day or year lengths, but doing so would require you to consider the ways much longer days (say) or years would impact peoples' perspectives and culture. Most of the fantasy novels I can think of seem to take place in worlds where the lengths of days, months, years etc. are similar to our own.

As for words like hours, minutes and seconds, people have been using various devices (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_timekeeping_devices) (aka clocks) to measure the passage of time since the dawn of civilization, though of course time was reckoned locally until the invention of trains made it necessary to also invent time zones and "standard" times for entire regions of the Earth's surface. Ancient Egyptians had two ten part segments of their day (they had things like sunstones and water clocks to measure time). But the 24 hour day, 60 minute hour, and 60 second minute are very old concepts, and they possible arose independently in different ancient cultures.

I don't find it odd for fantasy characters in a fantasy world to use words like hour, minute and second. Calling a time interval that's roughly similar to an hour a "glass" or a "watermark" or something is a bit like calling a rabbit a smeerp. Though if your world hasn't yet invented timepieces with second hands, seconds might not be as salient a concept to most people as they are to us. So they might not tend to think of very short intervals in terms of seconds. Maybe instead, "faster than it takes to count to three," or "A heartbeat later," or "before she could even take one breath," rather than saying, "a few seconds later."

Once!
07-21-2014, 12:30 PM
I suppose the hard sci fi answer is that it depends on the world. A day is the time it takes for the planet to rotate. A month is the time it takes for the only moon to go around the planet. A year is the time it takes for the planet to go around the sun.

So far so logical. Then it starts to get arbitrary. An hour is a planetary rotation divided by 24. A minute is an hour divided by 60. A week is seven planetary rotations. A month is either four weeks or one year divided (more or less) into twelve.

Now we can stick with those definitions because the reader can understand them. That's a perfectly valid choice.

But if we start to fiddle with the planet and its satellites then we may need to adjust the time units. A fast rotating planet will have a shorter day. A planet with two or more moons will have trouble talking about months. A planet with a long orbit around its sun will have a long year. The best example I know of this is the excellent Helliconia trilogy by Brian Aldiss.

Then we have the choice about whether to fiddle with the arbitrary time units. We could have a digital world where the day is divided into ten. Or we could stick with hours and minutes. After all, if we are translating the language of the world into English, why shouldn't we also translate the time units (and other measurements).

That gives us three valid choices - use earth units, invent your own or don't talk about time (or distance).

I don't think there are any right answers, but a few wrong ones. I wouldn't recommend obsessing about a different set of measurements. Readers aren't generally interested. I wouldn't give a conversion table or include conversions in brackets (which I have seen done).

And it's probably best not to be too specific about days of the week or the names of months. Our days of the week are generally named for Norse gods (which your world won't have) and our months are a mixture of Roman gods (eg January after Janus), numbers (October, November, December etc) and Caesars (July and August). It would seem very odd to have those on an alien planet.

Two classic choices - Star Trek uses hours, minutes and seconds, but AFAIK nothing else. Star Wars generally doesn't mention time or distance, except to get it wrong about the speed of the Millennium Falcon.

Lillith1991
07-21-2014, 02:30 PM
Two classic choices - Star Trek uses hours, minutes and seconds, but AFAIK nothing else. Star Wars generally doesn't mention time or distance, except to get it wrong about the speed of the Millennium Falcon.

The later shows in the Star Trek franchise also use Star Dates as a measure of time, earch day being roughly 24 hours like an Earth day.

Jacob_Wallace
07-22-2014, 05:23 PM
Yes, I would find it very distracting. A secondary world is something like Arda/Middle Earth. It has its own rules, languages, groups, ways of telling time and so on. Using a modern calender defeats the purpose of creating a separate world, and to me would make it historical/alt fantasy instead of secondary world fantasty.

But Middle Earth used regular months/days. At least, it did in the movies.

Once!
07-22-2014, 07:48 PM
Possibly because Middle Earth was set on Earth, so months and days would have the same meaning as they do for us.

But did Tolkien include a reference to the month of July in a world where Julius Caesar never lived? I don't think so.

davidjgalloway
07-22-2014, 08:27 PM
Re Tolkien, all his material is supposedly translated from the Red Book anyway, so there the screen of translation comes into play.

An interesting site that talks a little about his derivations of days and months:
http://shire-reckoning.com/calendar.html

Xelebes
07-22-2014, 09:30 PM
I would do a paragraph of handwavium of translation. You want to use hours, weeks, days and so on? Makes sense. Trying to use July would be a bit too much.

Jacob_Wallace
07-22-2014, 10:19 PM
Possibly because Middle Earth was set on Earth, so months and days would have the same meaning as they do for us.

But did Tolkien include a reference to the month of July in a world where Julius Caesar never lived? I don't think so.

I'm not sure if July is ever used. I remember a handful of days referenced, and Gandalf telling Frodo it was September something, a Monday.

Also, if you're looking for alt words weeks/months, a lot of fantasy/alt-world stories use "unit" and "cycle".

benbenberi
07-23-2014, 03:00 AM
Tolkien was also explicitly translating into English, esp. with respect to Hobbits. (For instance, he mentions in one of the LOTR appendices that "Samwise Gamgee" is his translation of the character's actual name, Banazîr Galbasi, & there are others too.) He did, in fact, create several original calendars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle-earth_calendar) for different peoples of Middle Earth.

Another writer who has put a lot of work into a calendar & timekeeping system is Steven Brust,in his Dragaeran novels (both the Vlad Taltos series and the Dumas-inspired Khaavren Romances), which take place on a world that is explicitly not Earth. There's an in-depth discussion here. (http://www.panix.com/~alexx/dragtime.html#Calendar)

BethS
07-23-2014, 10:07 AM
My question is--would it be weird to use the same time measurement systems we use on Earth, e.g. "Today is Sunday, July 20th" or "he'll arrive at 9:00?"


Yes, that would be weird. Would bump me right out of the story.

No reason you can't make up your own units of time measurement. You don't have to divide it up into the same units we do. Instead of months, you could have seasons, and there can be more (or less than) four. Etc.

LessonsToLiveBy
07-24-2014, 05:22 AM
My two cents would be to agree with those who said don't make up too many new words to mean the same thing. In general, I avoid using 'earth' specific lengths and times as much as I can.

It is a bit different for sci-fi and fantasy. For a character who is on another planet who is not a human, the concept of 'yards' doesn't make much sense. But if the character is a 5-7 foot biped, saying 'steps' pretty much conveys the idea. One difficult thing is 'vague' counting -- to me, saying 'he saw dozens of ships' doesn't work. This is a tough one. Bunch?

For fantasy, there is a lot of discussion on this elsewhere. One idea is to go back to some terms used to define distances based on walking and horseback riding. The term 'league' was originally used to describe how far someone could walk in an hour. It was taken to be 2-3 miles. (Although a 3 mph walk is a very fast pace). I tend to use that one, and for time, use the 'morning, noon, afternoon' etc approach.

RevanWright
07-30-2014, 04:52 AM
I honestly wouldn't mind keeping the same time scales and names. Adds a certain whimsy and keeps it in a perspective the reader can fully understand, even in a fantasy world. Think The Golden Compass.

Orianna2000
07-30-2014, 08:30 AM
I agree with those who've said that naming specific months and days would pull me out of the fantasy, since they're clearly Earth-specific. Using "weeks," "hours," and generic terms is fine by me.

I'm facing this issue with my third novel, actually, which is set on a distant world (it's a colony, but so far in the future, they have only myths to explain how they got there). I avoid the issue by not naming days of the week or months of the year. Haven't had a situation yet where I needed to name a day or month. To keep track of time, I mostly use seasons: late autumn, mid-winter, early spring, etc. If a short amount of time passes, I say, "the following week," or "three days later." So far, it's worked very well.

shestval
07-30-2014, 10:28 AM
I'm not sure it would bother me to see a fantasy character refer to July, but I certainly renamed the months in my own novel.

Generics like hours, minutes, weeks, etc are a little trickier. My novel is set on a sailing ship, and time on a sailing ship was kept in "bells." A bell was half an hour, and an eight-bell was four hours (the length of a work-period). I want to use bells so badly, to add flavor, but my betas have always expressed confusion when I bring it up. Gotta find a better way to explain it, I guess. :I

Orianna2000
07-30-2014, 03:49 PM
Generics like hours, minutes, weeks, etc are a little trickier. My novel is set on a sailing ship, and time on a sailing ship was kept in "bells." A bell was half an hour, and an eight-bell was four hours (the length of a work-period). I want to use bells so badly, to add flavor, but my betas have always expressed confusion when I bring it up. Gotta find a better way to explain it, I guess. :I
Maybe your beta-readers aren't very experienced? While I don't know the specifics (how many bells per hour), I certainly am aware of the concept of ship's time being kept by bells. But then, I read voraciously and do a lot of research into bizarre things, so there's a lot of useless flotsam floating around my brain. :tongue

That said, it is possible to set a story on a ship without getting into things that might be confusing, like bells or other customs. As I recall, Voyager, the third Outlander novel, had a good portion set on a ship sailing from Scotland to America. I don't think they used bells, except perhaps in passing. If so, I'm pretty sure it wasn't explained. (Or my memory could have completely failed me. It's always possible!)

If you have a character who isn't used to ships, you could always have another character explain the concept for their benefit, so the reader doesn't feel stupid.

snafu1056
07-30-2014, 04:45 PM
I agree with those who've said that naming specific months and days would pull me out of the fantasy, since they're clearly Earth-specific. Using "weeks," "hours," and generic terms is fine by me.

I'm facing this issue with my third novel, actually, which is set on a distant world (it's a colony, but so far in the future, they have only myths to explain how they got there). I avoid the issue by not naming days of the week or months of the year. Haven't had a situation yet where I needed to name a day or month. To keep track of time, I mostly use seasons: late autumn, mid-winter, early spring, etc. If a short amount of time passes, I say, "the following week," or "three days later." So far, it's worked very well.

You could just use a lunar calendar and specify with stuff like "the fourth day of the sixth moon" or "the fifth day of the first moon of winter".

Orianna2000
07-30-2014, 06:54 PM
You could just use a lunar calendar and specify with stuff like "the fourth day of the sixth moon" or "the fifth day of the first moon of winter".
So far, I haven't needed to get specific as to dates. I'll keep that in mind, if it comes up, though!

lpetrich
08-03-2014, 03:42 PM
Premodern calendars were usually lunisolar, lunar calendars with extra months added to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons. The Islamic religious calendar is unusual in being purely lunar. Users of these calendars usually named the months, using a variety of conventions:

Numbers
Deities and religious festivals
Heroes
Seasonal events and activities

Wikipedia is a good place to look for month names in various languages.

Many people have divided months up into weeks with varying numbers of days, usually 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 days. Here also, there are various conventions for naming the days of the week:

Numbers
Astrology
Various activities
Religious significance

Wikipedia is a good place to look here also.

As to years, the usual premodern system was the year-reign system, the number of years in the reign of the current leader. In this systems, this year is Barack Obama 6, Second Elizabeth 63, Dilma Rousseff 4, François Hollande 3, Angela Merkel 10, Vladimir Putin Second Reign 3, Benjamin Netanyahu 6, Abdullah of Saud 10, Jacob Zuma 6, Akihito 26, etc. Various longer-range systems were developed by various people, with various events chosen to mark the first year, or calendar epoch:

Jesus Christ's birth
The creation of the Universe as calculated from the Bible
Mohammed's fleeing from Mecca to Medina
When Krishna died
When the Buddha died
One of the first of the original Olympics
When General Seleucus I Nicator reconquered Babylon
When Rome was founded
When the French Republic was proclaimed in the French Revolution

You people could get ideas from some of these.

BethS
08-03-2014, 04:08 PM
Generics like hours, minutes, weeks, etc are a little trickier. My novel is set on a sailing ship, and time on a sailing ship was kept in "bells." A bell was half an hour, and an eight-bell was four hours (the length of a work-period). I want to use bells so badly, to add flavor, but my betas have always expressed confusion when I bring it up.

"Bells" is perfectly acceptable, and context should make it clear what they mean. For heaven's sakes, once church bells were invented, that's how most everyone knew the hour in medieval Europe. Bells as a means to tell time on a ship should not be too great a stretch.

shestval
08-04-2014, 09:10 AM
"Bells" is perfectly acceptable, and context should make it clear what they mean. For heaven's sakes, once church bells were invented, that's how most everyone knew the hour in medieval Europe. Bells as a means to tell time on a ship should not be too great a stretch.
That seems to be the consensus here! Maybe my betas were nitpicking or maybe the first time I used it, I phrased it in a confusing way. Just one more example of why you shouldn't unconditionally follow the direction of your betas.

WornTraveler
08-08-2014, 10:06 AM
I'm late to the conversation and maybe it's already been said, but I noticed someone mentioning Middle Earth as a secondary world, saying that using Earth measurements would jar their experience.

I doubt they stopped reading Lord of the Rings when Bilbo and Frodo's shared birthday was identified as September 22nd. lol

Ignoring for the moment that ME was, both by the author's explicit statement and the narrative's hinting, more or less ancient Britain, if Tolkien got away with it, I think you'll be fine. If you create a rich world and deep history, employing our mundane, recognizable calendar's hardly going to ruin the illusion.

Nobody's immersion was shattered just because Bilbo's birthday wasn't the 22nd of Jabberwocky.

I think your average reader is, frankly, not going to even notice. You're asking a biased crowd- novelists with a keen eye for their craft are going to pay much more attention to that sort of thing than someone casually killing half an hour on the subway or whiling away a rainy weekend.

As for my personal opinion, it's easier to read and understand the real calendar. Unless it's explained delicately- well enough that I understand, but not a hammer of an info dump- made up months/days would probably be even more jarring.

I'm quite familiar with the idea of September or Thursday. The month of Haeighwelia or Gromsday, by comparison, mean nothing to me and require more cognitive effort to wrap my head around. There's worldbuilding, and then there's "I spent so much time taking in new concepts I mistook this novel for a textbook on some utterly foreign civilization."

Not saying you couldn't creatively work the issue out, but it does seem more difficult. My two cents.

snitchcharm
08-12-2014, 02:15 AM
Thanks so much for the conversation, guys, you've given me a lot to think about! I think the consensus is right--days and hours and minutes are fine, Thursdays and July not so much. I'll try to avoid proper nouns where I can.

To be honest, worldbuilding isn't my strength, and I can definitely see how it might drive someone crazy, since everything in our language and culture is rooted in history, to the last word--can you use the word "platonic" in a world that never had Plato? But you could go down that spiral forever...

I love the idea that rvm and some others have brought up, especially in relation to Tolkien--that when you're writing a second-world story, you're essentially writing in translation.

RolandtheHeadless
08-13-2014, 05:18 AM
I usually go the route of not naming days and months and referring to times in general terms. Mid-morning, early afternoon, etc.

Now I will mention things like seconds, minutes, and hours. When you're writing about a secondary world, you're essentially writing a book in translation. Why not give the reader units of measurement they're familiar with?

Even in secondary world fantasy, you want to provide the reader with some things that are familiar. Save the unfamiliar for the important stuff like magic and creatures and political situations. A world that is so different from ours is often difficult on the reader.

Good post. I agree. I would find it distracting to encounter made-up names for measurements of time. What you're reading has presumably been translated from whatever language they use, so why wouldn't the units of time be translated too?

Roxxsmom
08-13-2014, 05:40 AM
Good post. I agree. I would find it distracting to encounter made-up names for measurements of time. What you're reading has presumably been translated from whatever language they use, so why wouldn't the units of time be translated too?

I agree, though things that reference specific things or people in our world may knock me out. July and August, for instance.

RolandtheHeadless
08-13-2014, 05:50 AM
Yeah, I might have to see the context.

But if the inhabitants use dwerbs instead of months, and dwerbs are 32.18 earth-days long, then maybe July will do for a close-enough translation.

LynnKHollander
08-16-2014, 01:17 AM
Hour, minute and second are actually pretty neutral--'season', 'small' and 'next smaller'. I would use those names, possibly with an explanation of their etymology.

The whole system is based on how many rotations of the planet, whatever it may be called, occur in one revolution of the planet in its orbit. The days are fixed and observable, but everything else is tweakable. Pick a number of hours, divide them into minutes, those into seconds: 400.78 'days'; 10 'hours' per 'day', 100 minutes, 100 seconds etc. --figure out where 'leap year' should go and stick a chart somewhere if necessary.
If there are seasons, and I do assume every planet has seasons, there may be variable daylight hours or weird orbits that are, again, observable. Apogee and nadir and equinox and solstice offer divisions of the planetary year that do not depend on a moon. If there's a moon, there probably will be a moon cycle, which gives us months. What the inhabitants call the months will depend on who they are and their history.
Just don't go the 'Safehold' route and have 24 hours + 27, or however many, minutes tacked on every midnight which I find a ludicrous temporal scheme.

Darkranger85
08-16-2014, 08:27 PM
I'd change days and months but keep units of time the same - though saying that I tend to vague up time (try to avoid saying an hour or a minute), but I will refer to a week or a month. Otherwise it feels like I'm trying too hard to be different.

I agree with this advice 110%.

If you have ever played the Elder Scrolls games you'll see a great example.

The renamed days and months give a good feel of being foreign but the use of regular time makes it not as confusing.