Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Slartibartfarst, I feel your pain

I'm sure I've written before that you only find out what you need to know when you are writing a story. I often find that progress on a story screeches to a halt when I hit a deep pothole in the form of a missing detail that, it turns out, is crucial to the world I'm imagining. Perhaps I should not celebrate that lack of foresight too much but it's surprising what trips me up.

Bust of Emperor Augustus wearing the Corona Ci...Image via Wikipedia

Take as a for instance a story I have just finished. I worked out a way to crowbar in a key part of the plot only to bump up against the realisation that, to do that, I needed to know the names of the months in this imaginary world.

That's not something I've thought about before. I did commit a few cycles to this problem because I like the world I've invented and I wanted it to have that Colgate ring of authenticity. Plus, with an eye on the very long term future, I wanted it worked out if it ever became a novel. Yeah, right.

So, I looked into why Earth months are called that. This is what I found.

January - after the Latin for door ianua (Janus/Ianuarius).
February - Latin - Februum - purification. The ceremony was all about washing and cleaning. Februatio (Lupercalia) was the full name.
March – Latin - Mars - God of War - not for the God but for the fact that it marked the start of the military campaigning season.
April - This one is a bit of a mystery. Thought to be from Aperire, Latin for "to open" but meaning buds and flowers rather than doors. April was sacred to Venus/Aphrodite and might be related to her Etruscan name Apru.
May – Greek goddess Maia.
June – Roman goddess Juno – goddess of marriage.
July – for Julius Caesar.
August – for Augustus – lots of the events that led to his rise to power happened during this month.
September – Septem – seventh - because it used to be the seventh month.
October – Octo – eighth - because it used to be the eighth month.
November – novem – nine - because it used to be the ninth month.
December – Decem – ten - because it used to be the tenth month.

To be honest, it all gets a bit dull once September heaves into view but the general feel is gods, goddesses, numbers and an Emperor or two. Interesting but no cigar. There are lots of other ways though that the Wikipedia has detailed for those that are interested. I am so I had a look and a lot of it is about gods and goddesses but there are other things there too - Sikhs have a day celebrating when a god leaves its Earthly existence. That could be useful.

Minor factoid. Almost all the domains for the months are owned by do

The DiggerImage by macrorain via Flickr

main management companies.

All this is just part of the bigger problem of world building and how to make it cohere or sound convincing enough for the length of the novel or short story. There are some times I really like doing it, sometimes when it is much easier to do than at others. Oddly, I find it easier to do for fantasy rather than SF settings. I'm currently wrestling with a problem for a stranded group of colonists. What do they use instead of matches? Answers on a postcard, please.
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