World building is a time consuming process. There is a lot to take into account when you are considering every aspect of a new world…how it came to be, what kinds of people lived there, how its landscape, history, economy, religion, and politics developed over time to the point where your book plot begins. How is what you write going to shape that world’s future for any additional books you may be planning?
Part of building a new world is figuring out how time works. Is your brand new world governed by the same rules we’re already familiar with? Or is it more subjective and non-linear; “a big ball of wibbily wobbly timey wimey…stuff” as David Tennant (still the best Doctor!) describes time in Doctor Who? Do you mark the passage of time with minutes, hours, days, months, years? And are those at the same intervals we are accustomed to? Maybe you are doing something radically different. If so, how do you get your reader to let go of what they know and embrace your vision of how time moves?
When I started working on my series I ran into two issues which affected my perspective on time. First, even though my world is a complete fantasy, the setting mimics that of medieval Europe. I relied heavily on research to inform the details of what daily life would have been like. One thing I discovered is that while people of that era had the ability to keep time with mechanical clocks and other means, ordinary people simply didn’t bother. They didn’t even necessarily know their birthdays. They often had a general idea based on the season, but didn’t keep track of the specific date. They might mark certain years based on memorable events, like the year the river flooded, or lightning struck the bell tower. Religious days and festivals were more regimented, but by the Church, which was more exact with its time keeping. For most, the days were governed by the position of the sun, and the passage of time by the seasons and the demands required by them in turn. I’ve tried to express this different sense of time through the eyes of my characters—hopefully I have been successful. I also purposely did not give my characters specific ages. I have a general idea of how old they are, and so do they. But they won’t be celebrating any birthdays.
Second, our present day calendar and numeric way of tracking the passage of years is unique to our history. It occurred to me that in my world, their way of keeping time should be unique to theirs. Trying to track years with numbers quickly became too complicated, especially since I created a historic timeline that started way back at the very creation of my world.
I decided instead to split my world up into different eras, their names determined by a special group of prophets within the monastic community. Each era of time has its own important events, and its own feel, much like the decades of the 20th century. The 60’s had a very different feel from the 80’s. The names given to each era describe their significance in history, starting with the Era of the Ancients, the very first era in which the world was created and humanity made its appearance. Later on The Era of Desolation marked a period of great turmoil and suffering, followed by The Era of Varol, where my world’s greatest hero (Varol) emerges to change the course of history. I may include a listing of all the eras and their significance as supplemental material when I publish the next book, but am not sure about that yet.
If you’re a fantasy or sci-fi writer, how do you mark time in your world? If you’re a reader, what are some of the most interesting ways your favorite authors have played with the concept of time in theirs?