World Building 103: Calendars and Time

Time and calendar world building mostly applies to the fantasy and science fiction genres. But this is a brief and informative post, so hopefully you’ll find it useful beyond those.


Calendars are not just days, months, and years, they include holidays. Canadian and American Thanksgiving, multiple dates for Easter, Chinese New Year, Labor Day, even with today’s standardized 12 month, 365 day calendar, different countries, cultures, and religions means variation.

We currently use the Gregorian calendar which wasn’t introduced until 1582. 1582 guys! That is post Renaissance, half a century after the start of the Reformation, after the Black Plague, and after China and the Ottoman empire started using gunpowder in weaponry. Even if you aren’t fantasy world building in a historical setting, some knowledge of calendars is good to have for your cultural, religious, or varied species groups.

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Over 80 different calendars have existed throughout history and across the world. There are four basic types of calendars: lunar, solar, lunisolar, and seasonal. Not all calendars include seven days in a week.

In my current WIP, The Sword of the Witch, I’ve got one basic calendar but three different year dates: in the south it is 5439; in the north, 245; in the east, it is the thirty-second reigning year of their king. My southern countries share feast days (holidays), but religion is not as important in the north. The year is not split into four seasons.


Think of time as a measurement of (1) day and night and (2) hours of productivity. Whether in a futuristic science fiction setting or a fantasy world with dragons, how you describe and measure time is important. If a world has three days of full sunlight followed by 4 days of dark, or 15 hours of night and 5 hours of sunlight in a day, how that society thinks about, describes, measures, and names those days and hours will vary. Does your rustic fantasy village have a town crier or a bell tower that announces the hour? If so, who is actually measuring the time and how?image

  • The water clock, hourglass, and sundial are ways to measure time
  • The earliest known clock with a water-powered escapement mechanism dates back to 3rd century bc in Ancient Greece
  • The first mechanical clocks were made in the early 1300s
  • The pendulum clock was invented in 1656 and remained the most accurate in the west until 1930
  • Water clocks, or Fenjaan, in Persia reached a level of accuracy comparable to today’s standards of timekeeping and were in use until the 1960s. At least two full-time managers were needed to control and observe the fenjaans and announce the exact time during the days and nights
  • Read more on wikipedia
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From wikipedia

Minutes and Seconds are relatively modern. So you might want to consider phrases like “give me a second” and “a few minutes later” before you write them. This article in Scientific American provides a great summary of the history of time and notes that “in order to keep atomic time in agreement with astronomical time, leap seconds occasionally must be added….a few rare minutes, occurring at a rate of about eight per decade, actually contain 61 [seconds].” Point being, someone or something is always keeping time.

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A brief look at calendars and time here, but a look nonetheless. I don’t share all of my own research on world building in these posts because I like to keep some of it for myself. “Keep it secret, keep it safe,” am I right?

If you enjoyed this post check out World Building 101 where I look at words, culture (pants!), and language, or World Building 102 where I examine government, religion, setting, and diversity.


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