Fantasy Literature: World Building: Mistakes of the Masters (part III)

This post, once again, continues the discussion I’ve started on world building in fantasy literature.


The last technique I want to mention concerns how one deals with those things that normally have some kind of numeric designation; particularly those things which require some type of numeric manipulation. Here, again, simplicity is the key. The item that most readily comes to mind is the calendar. Here on Earth, our calendar (in the West, at least) consists of three hundred and sixty five (and a quarter) days. There are twelve months of varying lengths (either 28, 30, or 31 days apiece). And each of the fifty-two weeks consists of seven days. To be sure, one’s fantasy world could use a similar calendar with fifty-two weeks of seven days length, and twelve months of unpredictable length. But I would advise against it. Instead, use easily computable number groups; it makes for far less headaches.


For example, a calendar year of 365 days is not easily divisible into seven day weeks. As a result, on our calendar, the day of the week a particular date falls on changes every year. This need not be the case. In fact, you may find that such a thing causes you difficulties as you write. The solution is to use more easily manageable numbers. There is no reason why a year must be 365 days, or that it should consist of 12 months, or 52 weeks. Yet, ours does, and each of those different slices of time are all inter-related. In a fantasy world, the world builder has the option of simplifying, thus making the inter-relationships of those temporal slices easier to grasp. One of the simplest things to do, is to use a year of 360 days that consists of twelve 30-day months (that was my choice for Athron). From there, you must simply decide on the length of the week. If you want your numbers easily manageable, then you really have only a few options: five 6-day weeks (again, my choice), six 5-day weeks, three 10-day weeks (Tad Williams’ choice in Shadowmarch), or two 15-day weeks (but that last is really a stretch). Tad Williams also had five festival days that fell outside of weeks and months to get the total of the year up to 365 like ours. On the other hand, I simply deleted the five days. 360 is a nice round number that works fine for me.


A final word of advice, dealing with shorter numbers is usually better than longer numbers. It’s easier to keep five different days of a week straight than it is to keep ten. Likewise, if you aren’t going to use a mnemonic device that helps sort through your various months, I’d suggest using a number lower than twelve. Once upon a time, I used a year of thirteen 28-day months which gives you a 364 day year. However, in such an instance both you and the reader will have to keep track of 13 different months, none of which will align properly with our own.

Note: Due to a family emergency, I’m going to be heading out of town for a few days and I’m not sure when I’ll be back to post again.

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