Travel and Fantasy World Building

Like all works of fiction, fantasy stories revolve around characters and plot. However, in a fantasy novel, the world itself can also be a major part of the story. A good fantasy book sweeps the reader into another realm, perhaps a place of enchantment or magic, maybe a land of fear or terror, but always somewhere different.

For that reason, foreign travel and fantasy have always been linked in my mind. Stepping into a country where people speak in an unfamiliar language is magical. (And if they write their words without using the familiar alphabet, so much the better!) Castles, pyramids, dungeons, ancient glyphs, statues, temples, cathedrals, and walled cities are the stuff of legends. Merely to walk within sight of them stirs the imagination.

While travel is certainly not a prerequisite for fantasy world building, I have always found it helpful. I do some of my best writing while traveling. The novel (no pun intended) sights, sounds, and smells carry the seeds of a larger-then-life realm. There is no substitute for standing beside the parapet of an actual castle and looking down at the countryside. Other tourists may be taking pictures of the hotel below (and so am I), but part of me is seeing knights and besieging armies instead of parking lots and cars.

Even relatively mundane things can kindle (ok, this pun was intentional) the imagination. I remember walking through an outdoor “wet” market in Singapore and seeing exotic fruits and vegetables which I couldn’t even name. I suddenly felt as if I had stepped into a fantasy kingdom.

Part of fantasy world building is creating a sense of otherness. To travel is to experience that otherness first hand. It can be a marvelous inspiration. I highly recommend it for all budding fantasy authors.

Of course, I also recommend that you wait until after the pandemic to start your exploring. At the moment, it is best to confine your travel to the written worlds of our fellow authors.

-Susan 8/28/20

When is an Hour Not an Hour?

A large part of 60th Hour involves time. The driving force behind the narrative is the countdown to the calendar’s end. In addition, much of daily life in the Kingdom of Kenarin involves time or timekeeping.

At some point during the worldbuilding for the story, the Kenarin day became 60 hours long. I cannot remember specifically when or why that happened, but it undoubtedly involved the symmetry with the other units of time. With 6 days in a week, 60 weeks in a year, 60 years in a cycle, and 60 cycles in the calendar, the number 24 just didn’t fit.

Of course, once the fantasy world has 60 hours in a day, that leads to next question: how does a 60-hour Kenarin day compare to one of ours in the real world? Is their day really long or are their hours really short?

Fortunately, 60th Hour was a fantasy novel, not science fiction. I didn’t have to worry about any of those pesky humans from Earth landing on my planet and comparing it to their home world. Therefore there was no need to determine the exact length of the Kenarin hour down to the micro-nanosecond. I just needed a general idea of an hour for timing the action of the story.

After consideration of the issue, I decided to keep the Kenarin day roughly the same length as ours. That meant each of those corresponding 60 hours had to be approximately 24 minutes in real world time. Likewise, each minute in Kenarin is roughly eqivalent to 24 seconds in our world.

So why, you might ask, did John and I decide to use the words “hours” and “minutes” for units of time that did not correspond to those same units in the real world? Why not just make up fantasy names for those units of time?

Two reasons. First, the story already had a lot of long and easily mixed up fantasy names and did not need additional ones, especially not about the critical timekeeping story element.

Second, do you remember the original Battlestar Galactica TV series? How long was a micron past a centon? Maybe you know. I don’t. At this point, I can’t even remember if the two terms measured time or distance.

And just how many parsecs does it take for the average smuggler to do the Kessel Run?

-Susan 6/19/2020