This week: Setting the Clock Edited by: Robert Waltz
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|They took away time, and they gave us the clock.
You have to cherish things in a different way when you know the clock is ticking, you are under pressure.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
|Almost everyone knows that there are 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute; and that a day is defined as the average time it takes for the planet's rotation to bring the sun back to the same place. (Well, almost the same place. The same meridian, anyway.) And that it takes about 365 of those days for the planet to make a complete orbit of said sun.
Using such a clock and calendar in your created world is convenient for you and easy for readers to relate to.
But what if you didn't?
Fantasy and science fiction often feature settings other than Earth, or Earth at a vastly different time period when its rotation was faster or when its rotation will be slower. As improbable as it is that some other planet will have precisely the same day or year as ours, using our timekeeping conventions as a shortcut keeps you and the readers from having to keep track of yet another alien thing in a world already full of alien things.
And sometimes, it doesn't much matter. A story set, self-contained, on a different world could involve only the denizens of that world, used to its days and years. It probably wouldn't add to the story if their day were, say, 29.45 Earth hours long; they'd maybe just divide their day up into 24 (or 98 or 13 or whatever) divisions and call them hours.
The difficulty—and opportunity—comes in when a character changes worlds.
So you take, say, a human who's used to our cycles, and throw them onto a different world. Fantasy or science fiction or both; doesn't matter. It's not just a matter of being used to our day, either; every cell and system in our bodies is programmed for a 24-Earth-hour clock. I'm not going to get into the possible consequences here; that's something to explore or not in your own stories. But it could make jet lag seem like a minor inconvenience.
Also, consider even more wildly different settings. A planet that keeps the same face to its sun, where half of it is always in daylight, and the other half at night. One with two or more suns, perhaps rising and setting on their own schedules. And, even harder to translate for readers, different divisions of the day than our hours, minutes, and seconds.
Again, sometimes such things can just get in the way of the story. But it can also add interest or atmosphere, just like how you'd describe different features of the world. Or it could even affect the plot.
|Some fantasy, if you have the time:
|THE WILD BIRD [E]
Long, long ago, two girls set out to have an adventure, they meet a mother and child.
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|No comments on my last editorial, "Getting Around"
So that's it for me for February—see you next month! Until then,
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