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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I found myself writing this sentence: "How do the towers stay up? They're so tall it looks like they could tip over any minute, especially the ones that are leaning."

The word that stuck out to me was "minute". I write high fantasy and the thought of how to measure time has really bugged me on more than one occasion. So I decided to write down all my thoughts on it so they would quit distracting me. ::)

http://ryallon.blogspot.com/2011/06/time-in-fantasy-writing.html

The thing is, I'm curious how other fantasy writers decide how to define time. I'd imagine more than a few use a D&D world-building style of figuring it out, but from experience it's easy to spend more time building worlds than actually writing stories. :p
 

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When I'm writing fantasy I try very hard not to use time defining or measuring words that we commonly use in conversation. Inch, year, mile, etc. are the types of words that I try to do away with. Minute and second are tricky ones, because they are small units of time that we reference frequently. I generally try to use moment instead of minute (not quite the same, but you didn't really mean a minute as 60 seconds in your example anyway), and instant instead of second. For measurements I generally go with body comparisons: hand, foot, pace. I would say if you think about it you can come up with something reasonable to use instead that most people will understand immediately.

What I try very hard not to do is make up words. I think it gets confusing when writers make up strange words to describe ideas we already have words for. Scifi is particularly bad at this. Farscape made up different words for every time interval and every time I hear them I cringe a little bit.
 

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Good question. From my casual understaning of the history of keeping time, the idea of the hour has been around a very long time. When I write fantasy, and the land has no concept of minutes, I use words like "instant" and "moment."

Something else to consider: we have months and weeks due to the cycles of the moon. What if your world doesn't have a moon? The late Joel Rosenberg, in his "Guardians of the Flame" books, has people use "tendays." I thought the idea made sense but not the term. I always thought that someone would come up with a term, like how "fortnight" meant two weeks.

Always more stuff to deal with when creating new worlds.  :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Coral said:
When I'm writing fantasy I try very hard not to use time defining or measuring words that we commonly use in conversation. Inch, year, mile, etc. are the types of words that I try to do away with. Minute and second are tricky ones, because they are small units of time that we reference frequently. I generally try to use moment instead of minute (not quite the same, but you didn't really mean a minute as 60 seconds in your example anyway), and instant instead of second. For measurements I generally go with body comparisons: hand, foot, pace. I would say if you think about it you can come up with something reasonable to use instead that most people will understand immediately.

What I try very hard not to do is make up words. I think it gets confusing when writers make up strange words to describe ideas we already have words for. Scifi is particularly bad at this. Farscape made up different words for every time interval and every time I hear them I cringe a little bit.
Good point about the measurements. I debated that one too. Finally I decided to go with miles and feet as most people are generally familiar with that. I thought about using meters but the American in me won out. ;) I agree with not making up any words that aren't absolutely necessary, and definitely not for things that are already defined.
RobertLCollins said:
Something else to consider: we have months and weeks due to the cycles of the moon. What if your world doesn't have a moon? The late Joel Rosenberg, in his "Guardians of the Flame" books, has people use "tendays." I thought the idea made sense but not the term. I always thought that someone would come up with a term, like how "fortnight" meant two weeks.
Excellent point. I have two moons so it adds a different dynamic to the problem. I went with week because the reader already accepts it as a unit of time and new systems have to be invented perfectly or they'll get hammered in reviews.
 

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I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I find what makes worlds believable for me is a sense of times past. So, in times past, they didn't measure age by years, they measured by summers. One month wasn't the varied accumulation of days it is now, it was one moon. A minute wasn't how long it took for the big hand to go around once, it was how long it took for the bucket to fill with water. I think one takes one's measurements from one's surroundings, one's own experiences, one's world. Using simple words to describe larger concepts. I read your blog, and it sounds like the issue is a little bit larger for you than the post here in the forums suggests. For me, a pretty good overview of how the measurement of time developed is When Time Began by Zecharia Stichin. It gave me a good sense of the different ways that time can be measured.
 

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As a reader, I like familiar time frames.  Unless you are introducing a character from "our" world to a different place where they will have to understand different times, stick with the names we use.  A minute on your world may not equal 60 seconds, but it will be understood as a short period of time. 
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Quillhill said:
I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I find what makes worlds believable for me is a sense of times past. So, in times past, they didn't measure age by years, they measured by summers. One month wasn't the varied accumulation of days it is now, it was one moon. A minute wasn't how long it took for the big hand to go around once, it was how long it took for the bucket to fill with water. I think one takes one's measurements from one's surroundings, one's own experiences, one's world. Using simple words to describe larger concepts. I read your blog, and it sounds like the issue is a little bit larger for you than the post here in the forums suggests. For me, a pretty good overview of how the measurement of time developed is When Time Began by Zecharia Stichin. It gave me a good sense of the different ways that time can be measured.
I'll check that work out. Thank you. :) The issue is something I've spent a lot of . . . time . . . thinking about, lol. I like the idea of measuring by summers and moons. With two moons, I could have people argue about how long that period of time is. I'll have to consider that. Of course that means I'll have to figure out exactly how lone each one's cycle is. ;)

@Scarlet, I think you're absolutely right on that. Familiar terms will work, but I can't stress if they're exactly 60 seconds or anything like that.
 

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I write fantasy, and use week, month, hour, minute.  Though, it's not necessarily a 24 hour day, or a 7 day week.  I tend to go with either five day or ten day weeks.  And years don't necessary have 12 months.  I also rename all of the days and months to something appropriate for their culture, whether I use them in the actually story or not.

Two reasons I use week, month, minute, & hour:
1)  On another fantasy world they are not speaking English, so I am "translating" into our language/terms we understand.
2)  KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) It's too confusing for the reader to invent new words andterms for simple, everyday words and terms.  

As for moons...most scientist believe it was the moon that made life possible on Earth.  I keep hearing that only planets with moon will have life.  So my worlds all have at least one satellite (which them call moons like us).  KISS again.
 

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kookoo88 said:
@Scarlet, I think you're absolutely right on that. Familiar terms will work, but I can't stress if they're exactly 60 seconds or anything like that.
Exactly. I don't want you to stress exactly how long a "minute" is, the reader will figure it's a short period of time. I prefer authors use familiar terms than to have to remember that there are 65 slotzys in a forbeg...

In my mind, since your characters are speaking some other language which we're reading as English, the terms closest to the ones we know are logical to use.

edit: TW and I were typing at the same time, I wasn't meaning to duplicate the "English" comments.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
TWGallier said:
Two reasons I use week, month, minute, & hour:
1) On another fantasy world they are not speaking English, so I am "translating" into our language/terms we understand.
2) KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) It's too confusing for the reader to invent new words andterms for simple, everyday words and terms.

As for moons...most scientist believe it was the moon that made life possible on Earth. I keep hearing that only planets with moon will have life. So my worlds all have at least one satellite (which them call moons like us). KISS again.
The language was another serious consideration I spent a lot of time on. I like the way you describe it as translating and not inventing new words for things that exist is really vital with all the other concepts a fantasy novel throws at the reader.
 

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kookoo88 said:
The language was another serious consideration I spent a lot of time on. I like the way you describe it as translating and not inventing new words for things that exist is really vital with all the other concepts a fantasy novel throws at the reader.
In a similar but different vein, think of it as if watching a movie (or in my case, usually a play) set in a different country where everyone speaks something other than English. They don't need to have an accent, since to them, they don't. The best example was in a play titled Golden Child. It was set in China, and all the Chinese characters spoke fine, but the one Englishman (who is described as not knowing Chinese) spoke in broken English. It got the message across just fine.

But, as I often say, no matter what you do, some people will love it, some people will hate it, and some will never get the joke.
 

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If you must use time measurements, hours, minutes and seconds are as good as anything.  You can use other measurements like the time it takes the sun to move one hand-span across the sky--a little over an hour. For distances, I like using leagues and paces. One of my long paces is about a yard, a regular walking step is approx 2 feet. So, I might say that the horse was '20 paces away when it came into sight'. Sometimes I'll group things in fives, as we have 5 fingers on each hand. 'He was a hand of paces away' (5 yards).

In one of Miller & Lee's Liaden books (SF), Val Con says that he waited '12 ticks past the appointed time'.
 
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