Part 32: Miles, Feet, Kilometers, or…
When it comes to measuring time, distance and the like, we are of course tempted to use hours, minutes, miles, kilometers and so on. Why? For one thing, it is because they are so ingrained into our lives and minds. Time and measurement are to us as water is to the fish. Ask the fish how the water is and he’ll say, “Water? What water?”
It is very difficult to divorce ourselves from something we use daily. Our sense of time and distance is so much a part of us that we can easily–and quite accurately–estimate both when asked.
The measuring system you use will depend greatly on how you’ve set up your world, your imagination, and how much… erm, trouble you are willing to put your readers through.
If your world is a colony of good old Terra Firma, it is likely, expected even, that your colonists would bring all or part of their measurement system with them. Inches or millimeters don’t change because you’re on another planet. Miles and kilometers are easily mapped onto your new world. Well and good.
But, what about time?
If your world has a slower rotation than the Earth, how would you tell time? Would you increase the number of 60-second minutes in an hour? Could you have a (military) time of 27:30? The math is complex, and explaining it to your reader even more so.
What to do?
Some writers go back to the ancients for help. A month is a “moon”. But what if your world doesn’t have a moon? What if it has six?
The same problem comes into play for distance if your world is NOT a colony, or the people have no Terrestrial reference points. It is not reasonable that the P’Rezian of Glay Major would invent inches, feet or kilometers.
At the same time, coming up with your own clever-sounding words for these concepts can be a challenge. The words have to be simple, easy to remember, and based on a system that can be revealed without the narrator saying, a Pf’mikkle is 2 and 3/8 miles.
Yes, you can handle it in an appendix, but look for ways to explain it naturally in the narrative. Oh, and good luck.
Continued in Part 33