In cosmology, the concept of space-time combines space and time into a single abstract universe. Apparently, we all move through time. Here on earth, time either passes us, or we pass the time. It’s all relative (Einstein humor) to how fast you are going and a lot of sub-atomic particle stuff I can’t really take the time to explain here, and you aren’t interested in anyway.
Time interests me because I mostly write fantasy, although I write contemporary short fiction and poetry. Fantasy, and all speculative fiction, relies heavily on worldbuilding, and managing time is a facet of that skill.
But all genres, including contemporary and literary, require worldbuilding. Every story, true or fiction, is set SOMEWHERE, either in this world we are familiar with or in an alternate fantasy universe.
When I begin writing a book, I create a stylesheet in a spreadsheet program like Google Sheets or Excel for the universe, a workbook that has a page devoted to a glossary for that world, and a page for the calendar of events. A calendar is an essential tool that helps you with pacing and consistency.
- Calendars are good for pacing, as they keep the events moving along the story arc.
- They ensure you allow enough time to reasonably accomplish large tasks, enabling a reader to suspend their disbelief.
- They ensure you don’t inadvertently jump from season to season in your visuals surrounding the characters.
So, for me, the calendar is a device that keeps the events happening logically.
HERE is where I confess my great regret: in 2008, a lunar calendar seemed like a good thing while creating my first world.
- Thirteen months, twenty-eight days each,
- one extra day at the end of the year,
- a Holy Day on the winter solstice. They have two Holy Days and a big party every four years.
That arrangement of thirteen months is actually quite easy to work with. Where it becomes difficult is in the choices we made in naming things. You know how planning meetings are–ideas tossed at the wall like spaghetti and seeing what sticks.
We were just beginning to design the game, and while I had the plot and the synopsis, I didn’t have some details of the universe and the world figured out. So, in a burst of creative predictability, I went astrological in naming the months, to give the player a feeling of familiarity.
- Caprica, Aquas, Piscus, (winter).
- Arese, Taura, Geminis (spring)
- Lunne, Leonid, Virga (summer)
- Libre, Scorpius, Saggitus (harvest)
- Holy Month (begins winter). Holy Day falls at the end of this thirteenth month, occurring on the winter solstice. The premise of the game was the War of the Gods, so religion is central.
In an even worse bout of predictability, I went with the names we currently use when I named the days, only I twisted them a bit and gave them the actual Norse god’s name. (The gods and goddesses of Neveyah are not Norse.)
That choice is an example of how what seems like a good idea at the time, may not be.
- Sunnaday – this is the confusing day, as it falls where Saturday is in our normal calendar.
One thing I did right was sticking to a twenty-four-hour day. I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep things simple when we are worldbuilding. Simple things are less likely to add to the chaos when the plot gets complicated.
That game was never built for several reasons, but I retained the rights to my work. I took my maps and the storyline and wrote Mountains of the Moon, an epic portal fantasy. That story was the genesis of an entire series set at various points along the timeline of that universe.
I couldn’t get that story out of my head and onto paper fast enough—it obsessed me. As I wrote, the calendar I had invented for the RPG was incorporated into the world of Neveyah, and now it is canon.
Time can be an abstract thing when we are writing the first draft of a story where many events must occur. Things are accomplished in too short a period to be logical, or we take too long.
Calendars are maps of time. They turn the abstract concept into an image we can understand.
Even though I regret how I named the days in Mountains of the Moon, my characters progress through their space-time continuum at a rate I can comprehend. I can move events forward or back in time by looking at and updating their calendar. The sequence of events forming the plot arc remains believable.
I LEARNED from my mistakes – the timeline for the Billy’s Revenge 3-book series, Huw the Bard, Billy Ninefingers, and Julian Lackland, uses the familiar calendar we use today.
I heartily suggest you stick to a simple calendar. That is the advice I would give any new writer—stick to something close to the calendar we’re familiar with and don’t get too fancy.
Next up: Time and Distance – how calendars and rudimentary maps work together to keep the plot moving and believable.
2 responses to “How the Written Universe Works – Warping Time #amwriting”
Great advice – thank you.
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Hello! thank you, and thank you for commenting!
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