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A question about world-building

March 19, 2012

I’m almost 20,000 words into my epic fantasy novel revision, and I’m finally beating my head against a subject I have long dreaded.

Calendars.

Seems like an innocent enough idea, until you think about how in epic fantasy novels, the world is usually not our own. Okay, Middle-Earth was our world, in a sense. But in the quest for an authentic-sounding world, will it really be shaped like Earth? Will it have the same diameter and orbit and axis tilt as Earth? Will it have the same length of year and day? Even if the inhabitants of the world don’t know anything about planets revolving and orbiting suns and what actually causes the seasons, an author has to know that stuff, in order for it to have any internal coherence.

So from the beginning of my fantasy world’s existence in my mind, I’ve always held to an Earth-like calendar, with 12 months in a 365-day year. The month names are the same. It drives me crazy to have to learn an entirely new system in order to read a fantasy novel, and trying to figure out that Istvaharla is actually basically our January, and Furryday is the same as our Friday.

But isn’t it just as frustrating to be immersed in this world where the names don’t sound like ours, and there are magical creatures we don’t have, but still call the months names that go back to Latin-based languages and days that go back to pagan gods?

So I started playing with the notion of a 400-day year, with 96-day seasons and 4-day holidays between each season. The 96-day seasons would divide neatly into 3 months of 32 days each that way, which means easy math and calendaring for me, but a slightly different feel for the reader. Then I renamed the months, using a standard -ien/-en ending to the name, to indicate months. But that would mean I needed to rename the days, as well. It might not matter, since I can’t recall a single time I mention the name of the day, but that probably just means I have a dozen mentions in the novel that I don’t remember.

By this time, I’ve only written 647 words today, and I’m tearing my hair out, especially since the only reason I need to do this right now is because I want to know how much time has passed since the start of the novel. I don’t want to have people in chapter 2 scene 4 reacting to something that isn’t actually going to happen for four more days.

So right now I’m giving up on the calendaring system and numbering things by what day of the book they happen on. Scene 1 happens on DAY 1. Scene 2 happens on DAY 6. Etc.

But I’m curious. When you read a fantasy novel, how much attention do you pay to the calendar? Do you have strong feelings either way about the date system an author uses? Why?

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