How Time Fits Into the Creation of a Fictional World

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Happy New Year! Is it too late to say that? What’s the statute of limitations on wishing someone a happy new year before you start to sound like you’re maybe not from around these parts?

What if you really aren’t from around these parts?

Last time, we discussed creating holidays in your fictional fantasy world. Today I’m going a step farther and talking about time. Not time travel–that’s an entirely different kettle of slimy, confusing, paradoxical fish. I’m talking about how we experience time, how we talk about it, and how in a fantasy world, we can use it.

There are loads of things that are more or less fixed. We are mammals, bipeds, we have five senses, we have dwellings, we have speech, we have gender (that’s a topic for a future post) and we experience time at one rate and in one direction. To create a world where time is counted differently–or not counted at all–forces us to reflect on how much we reference the clock. And not only in terms of ‘be there in 20 minutes,’ or ‘I’ve been working on this post for hours.’ What if your world sees time pass more slowly? What if they don’t have clocks? (*Gasp* How do you know when Happy Hour starts?) And what if you’re writing a fish-out-of-water story (as I did) and you plan on plopping this clockless individual into a place where we do show up on time, we sit down to eat when the circle on the wall tells us to, and we get mad at those obviously disturbed individuals who show up late for the theater? (Don’t get me started.) That person would be mystified, and if because of your plot they are trying to blend in, it could tip off whomever their trying to deceive.

Conversely, let’s toss a typical human into our clockless world. Those folks have to have some sort of Happy Hour demarcation. Is it how shadows cross a wall? Is it when the moon rises? Or maybe they just aren’t as invested in marking off the minutes. Personally, this would drive me nuts. And it would be pretty tough not to reference time in conversation with your new, alien friends. (You have to make small talk with your new mother-in-law, the evil queen, but only for 45 minutes. How will you know when to tell her you’ve got to take an important call? DAMN IT they haven’t invented phones.) Trust me when I tell you ‘search and replace’ was my best friend while writing this series. In my case, my non-human characters have holidays, observances and memorials–lots of them–to mark both hours and seasons. And since they have two moons, that’s a good stand in for Happy Hour and Last Call!

The excellent thing about these sort of mental exercises, whether you employ them in your writing or not, is that it forces you to constantly ask yourself ‘What then?’ And everything doesn’t have to make its way to the page; I have a whole calendar of holidays that will never show up in my series. They aren’t relevant, but I know when they occur. The map of your fantasy world shouldn’t stop at the physical borders. The more you know about the places your mind goes, the richer experience your readers will have. So explore!


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Kim Alexander grew up in the wilds of Long Island, NY and slowly drifted south until she reached Key West. After spending ten rum-soaked years as a DJ in the Keys, she moved to Washington DC, where she lives with two cats, an angry fish, and her extremely patient husband. She began writing when she ran out of authors to interview (and they pulled the plug on her channel, Sirius XM Book Radio.) Kim was in her twenties when she finally read a book not prominently featuring spaceships and/or wizards. Turns out Jane Austen was pretty funny! THE SAND PRINCE is Kim's first novel and begins a fantasy series called THE DEMON DOOR. Her husband tells her she needs to write at least ten more books if she intends to retire in Thailand, so thank you for your patronage. Please visit her at

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