5 Tips – Time and History


5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #9): Creating Time and History

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is time and history. You can read more in Chapter 10, “Creating Time and History”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Create a Universal Calendar”

Each kingdom may have its own calendar, which is fine, but how do we know that year 41 AE in Kingdom X is also year 4560 BI in Kingdom Y? A universal calendar. Create one for your own records even if you never share it with the audience.

Tip #2: “What Does Your Universal Calendar Start With?”

If the world acknowledges that universal calendar, you’ll need an event recognized everywhere. On Earth, we use the birth of Christ. Do you have a religion, technological (or alien arrival), or supernatural event of such magnitude? If you do, it’s probably part of your story world’s consciousness. Invent something you like because you’ll end up using it.

Tip #3: “Be Smart About Names”

Don’t call a month something like “Snowtime.” It is winter in half the world, but it’ll be summer in the other half and this won’t make sense. And places near the equator aren’t getting snow. Ever.

Tip #4: “Be Careful Altering Timeframes”

We can change the number of minutes in an hour, or hours in a day, but this is unwise because it messes with the audience’s sense of passing time too much. But changing the numbers of days in a week, weeks in a month, or months has less impact, particularly if we’re only off by one. Don’t be too extreme unless you really need that for your story. People will forget about your different time frame, or you’ll have to remind them all the time. Neither is good.

Tip #5: “Create Past Events”

There are many events we can put in the past to give spice to the present. Tech events like the first time something happened are easy for SF, like ship launches, weapons usage, or drive experiments or failures. Disasters are good, too, even in fantasy worlds, where spells must go wrong sooner or later, sometimes on a huge scale.  The gods might do something everyone remembers, too. On the more mundane level are the rise and fall of sovereign powers, wars, groups forming, missions being undertaken, and artifacts being discovered, invented, destroyed, or seemingly lost, the more legendary the better. We can even end up with story ideas from these.

Summary of Chapter 10—Creating Time and History

History can enrich a world and provide us with cultural clashes, famous items, and world figures to which our stories and characters can refer or cite as inspiration. To save time, we can create a master history file with short entries that are invented in a few minutes and which do not need long explanations. Some could be turned into stand-alone stories if we stumble upon a great idea. Historic entries can be created at any time and can include events involving the gods, technology, supernatural, wars, the rise and fall of sovereign powers, artifacts, and famous missions by groups or individuals.

We also need a universal way to measure time because each sovereign power might have its own calendar, making the correlation of events across kingdoms harder. The merits of keeping timeframes similar to Earth’s are discussed; this includes the reasons why minutes and hours benefit from little alteration, while the number of days, weeks, and months can experience greater variation without disrupting the audience’s sense of time.

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