Time Isn’t On My Side

Time is. Time was. Time will be again. However, describing the process in fiction can be tricky; especially if the story is set prior to the invention of the watch.

Seven Stones is gritty swords-and-sorcery. It opens in a dense forest in the rain, and continues with bad weather, ancient ruins, and other grimy backdrops. And that is exactly what I was aiming for.

However, one issue that comes up several times in each sub-arc is time. Not only how the characters might measure it, but how to describe that measurement for readers. Dawn, dusk, and midday are obvious (or at least plausibly estimatable) markers that characters can use and readers can accept that they use. And an instant, a moment, or a breath are similarly universal measures of a very short while.

But what to do with the spaces between? Without a clock, there are no minutes. Without a sand-glass, there are not even absolute hours.

Of course characters who grow up in a world without these technologies will be better at judging the passage of time from surroundings: an instinctive feel for what the position of the Sun means as the seasons shift; perhaps even sensitive enough to unconsciously note the difference in light through clouds even when the Sun isn’t visible. But, when struggling through underground ruins after being teleported to another part of the world?

And – even when there is historical evidence of how accurately pre-industrial societies could measure time while travelling – will readers know it? Or do I write time measurement to fit the perspective of someone used to having a millisecond-perfect clock in their pocket at all times?

So, as you read each episode, imagine me sitting there with the draft picking out every stray minute with tweezers.

How accurate do you prefer your pre-clock societies? And how accurate(sic)?

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2 thoughts on “Time Isn’t On My Side

  1. I think you could describe the effects on their bodies to convey longer periods of time. For an hour, for example, their muscles feel stiff from staying still for so long. For several hours, they could stiffle a yawn.

    Medieval society used the church bells to indicate time. The bell ringer would divide up the day into 12 equal parts and the night into 12 equal parts, and ring on the stroke of each one. It wasn’t accurate, of course, and in the summer the parts were longer than in the winter. But it was their best guess 🙂

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  2. I pretty much want to feel the passage of time the way the characters do. If they have been unconscious of time passage, then somehow I need to know that it has happened, but I don’t need accuracy. Unconscious for months and awakened sensing it is only overnight needs to be expressed somehow. I need wandering through caves to be experienced as it feels to the characters. If a character has a very warped sense of time that is important to the story, then I need to know that someway. Basically if accurate time is important to the story, it is important to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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